The school board approved unanimously on Tuesday night a $190,000 settlement agreement with the family of a former Palo Alto High School student who said she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2015.
Palo Alto Unified Board of Education President Jennifer DiBrienza announced the terms of the settlement agreement after it was approved in closed session.
They also agreed that district staff would meet with the young woman, who the Weekly is not identifying to protect her privacy, to discuss the handling of her case and "steps taken to improve similar processes going forward," DiBrienza said. This meeting took place in December, she said. Title IX Compliance Officer Megan Farrell and Trustee Todd Collins attended the meeting, according to the settlement agreement.
The family declined to comment. They previously alleged that Paly and district administrators failed to properly handle the young woman's report that a male student sexually assaulted her on the school quad in November 2015, when she was a junior. They started the process of pursuing legal action against the district more than a year ago.
The district agreed in 2017, at the family's request, to sign a tolling agreement, in which the district waived its right to claim that any litigation should be dismissed due to the expiration of a statute of limitations, which would have occurred that month (two years from the date of the alleged assault).
Cozen O'Connor, a national law firm the district brought in to investigate its handling of this and a 2016 report of student sexual assault at Paly, found that district responded promptly but failed to take the legally required steps to investigate and assess the impact of the incident on the young woman.
The Cozen O'Connor lawyers found that the district initially provided her with unspecified interim measures (that section of the report is redacted), reported the incident to law enforcement and took "some steps" to investigate what took place. But on the whole, the report states, the investigation was "inadequate."
The investigation was not documented — there was no written investigation report — and the school failed to determine whether the female student was experiencing a hostile environment at school as a result of the alleged assault, which is required under federal civil rights law Title IX, the lawyers said.
Paly also did not notify the female student and her family of their right under district policy and federal law to file a complaint through the Uniform Complaint Procedure, a process for investigating discrimination-based complaints.
The two Paly sexual-assault reports led to substantial public outcry and eventually, a series of personnel changes. They underscored the need for Title IX reform in Palo Alto Unified, which the federal government found to have repeatedly violated federal and state law in its handling of sexual misconduct cases. The district now has a full-time Title IX officer and new leadership that has committed to charting a more legally compliant and responsive path forward.