When Palo Alto Unified hired its first-ever full-time Title IX coordinator a year and a half ago, the district was embroiled in crisis.
Parents and community members were outraged about the district's mishandling of a report of an on-campus sexual assault at Palo Alto High School. The district had only recently emerged from a yearlong federal investigation that found repeated legal and policy violations in other cases. Shortly after hiring Title IX Officer Megan Farrell, desperate for more support, the district added an investigator and administrative support person as reports of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment poured in at unprecedented rates.
Less than two years later, the district appears to be charting a new path on these issues — so much so that Farrell will be shifting to part time.
This change "is not reflective of a decreased need for attention to leadership and supervision related to compliance of Title IX and Civil Rights, but rather a building of internal, sustainable capacity for managing these critical responsibilities," a staff report reads.
School board members approved on Tuesday as an item on their consent agenda (consent items are routinely approved without discussion) revised job descriptions for the Title IX office staff. The changes are geared toward shifting more investigative responsibility to school sites. The investigator will stay full time but move "from a more singularly focused investigator role" to providing support at schools. The administrative specialist will remain part time.
The number of reports of alleged Title IX and other violations has dropped from 210 last year to 134 through June of this year, according to the district.
This year, the bulk of reports were alleged Title IX violations (85), racial harassment (27) and disability-based harassment (12).
This year, there were 42 formal Uniform Complaint Procedures filed with the district compared to 61 last year. Of those, 23 cases resulted in formal resolutions and four in informal resolutions.
In brief comments, school board members were enthusiastic about the changes.
The restructuring is a "testament" to Farrell's successful efforts to ensure Title IX compliance in the district, said President Jennifer DiBrienza.
Extensive training of staff throughout the district is also "paying big dividends not only in terms of the items being properly reported and investigated at the sites but just fewer incidents, which obviously is the best thing," said Vice President Todd Collins, noting he didn't believe last year that the district would be able to reduce staff and costs in this area.
"I think it's a real success story," he added.
The restructuring will happen for the beginning of the next school year this fall, according to the district.