News


With sexual misconduct reports going down, Palo Alto school district restructures Title IX office

Report: Change 'is not reflective of a decreased need for attention'

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.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by count again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2019 at 5:49 am

Hummmm.

Bd Pres. Jennifer DiBrienza says good news: PAUSD's new, fully-staffed Title IX Department "ensure[d] IX compliance in the district."

UCP logs: the Title IX department made no difference.

33 Title IX complaints two years ago.
Web Link

28 last year, the year PAUSD hired Farrell.
Web Link

33 so far this year.
Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by didn't staff tell you?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2019 at 8:06 am

Dear School Board President Jennifer DiBrienza and Vice President Todd Collins,

It's way too early to proclaim "success" since PAUSD finds itself, again, in the middle of another rare formal Federal US Office for Civil Rights investigation to see if your staff retaliated against someone who sent a Title IX complaint to your new Title IX Department.
Web Link

Certainly, PAUSD's new Superintendent and Title IX Coordinator informed you that the OCR is back on your doorstep investigating malfeasance in their Title IX report to the School Board last week.

It's not a minor matter if Trump's OCR agreed to open an investigation given its "high [complaint] dismissal rates and OCR's whipsawing on its authority not to investigate" compared to Obama's OCR. -- Obama's OCR lead Catherine Lhamon. Web Link

Love, PAUSD taxpayer


Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2019 at 8:22 am

@Count Again, I can't replicate your counts. Per the board presentation (Web Link ), both logged items and formal complaints are both down by about a third. Logged Gender/sexual harassment incidents are down the same amount. That seems like progress.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jun 25, 2019 at 8:41 am

@didn't, that's interesting, though not sure how "rare." Looks like there have been 157 investigations opened in 2019 (that are still open), through late May. Given that PAUSD is operating under an OCR resolution agreement, I imagine the bar to investigate is set low there.


11 people like this
Posted by didn't staff tell you?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2019 at 9:22 am

Jennifer DiBrienza and Todd Collins,

I just read the Title IX report staff gave you. Web Link June 18, Agenda 7D.

Neither Superintendent Don Austin, Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks, nor Title IX Coordinator Megan Farrell mentioned the Federal government investigation.

OCR is sharing it with the public on its website.

Staff should have shared it with you too.

It is hardly forthcoming to put in a Title IX report to the School Board that PAUSD's Title IX Office was "praised" by OCR and omit that PAUSD is now the subject of another OCR investigation to see if it violated Title IX, again.

Taxpayer


9 people like this
Posted by didn't staff tell you?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2019 at 10:53 am

Parent,

It is rare. There are 1000+ school districts in California. Trump's OCR is only investigating 3 CA school districts for Title IX retaliation on complaints his OCR decided were egregious enough to pursue.

That OCR has been watching PAUSD for Title IX compliance makes this investigation more unusual. OCR and PAUSD agreed that concerns OCR had with PAUSD's handling of Title IX complaints would be dealt with informally via a meeting and a corrective action plan. OCR would start a formal investigation only if PAUSD didn't follow the plan. Web Link

Sounds like PAUSD didn't do what OCR told it to do and forced OCR to escalate this to a full investigation.

If Superintendent Austin and his Title IX Department continue to not be forthcoming about what's going on, what PAUSD did and didn't do will be spelled out, in detail, in OCR's published findings.


10 people like this
Posted by Note to School Board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2019 at 12:07 pm

Unbelievable.

No change in the number of Title IX complaints and a brand new OCR Title IX investigation.

PAUSD agreed to pages and pages of things OCR said it needed to do to comply with Title IX. Web Link

It then invested $ millions staffing a dedicated Title IX Department to help ensure compliance, paying off victims to settle their mishandled claims, buying out the contract of the Superintendent whose staff mishandled Title IX complaints so that he could be replaced, and hiring "gold standard" Title IX lawyers to fix everything else so PAUSD staff and students could finally comply with Title IX.

None of that moved the needle.

I bet that the investigation OCR just opened is intended to be a signal to the School Board that the Federal government is not at all pleased with the district and that the Board needs to sit up straight and get a handle on why its Superintendent and employees still can't manage to get Title IX right.


Like this comment
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2019 at 1:28 pm

member1 is a registered user.

If you do not answer they phone, you will have less complaints. If you investigate yourself, not much will be found. Parents can file with the state and can file against teachers or admin. or even counselors. Failure to report suspected sexual assault is a reason to file against a credential.


10 people like this
Posted by history lesson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2019 at 3:17 pm

Given the millions of dollars our community has paid to fix PAUSD's "Title IX problem," it is fair for it to expect Superintendent Austin to share everything OCR related that he can, plus some. It looks like he hasn't done that.

The School Board should take some of the heat for this too. President Jennifer DiBrienza (PhD) and Vice President Collins (MBA) accept, without question, a misleading staff report and then proudly proclaim to the media "Title IX victory" giving a free pass to a Superintendent whose lips are zipped on OCR's evaluations and investigations of PAUSD.

Sound familiar?

The Weekly, "Superintendent Max McGee resigns" Web Link

The Weekly, "Palo Alto superintendent Kevin Skelly to resign" Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by C. Walters
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 25, 2019 at 3:37 pm

What a.bad conclusion.
Women already see the message that society sends that no one will believe anything’s no you say (our recent Supreme Court payoff, Trump, etc)
Tromp taught them that nobody really cares.
Now Palo Alto says “ why even to have an office to address the concerns”

Shame on Palo Alto.
I guess women don’t matter here either


7 people like this
Posted by clear instructions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2019 at 11:26 am

Shame on the School Board for giving a passing grade to the Title IX report they were just given.

The OCR set out exactly what PAUSD is required to do here. Web Link

"U.S. Education Department Reaches Agreement with Palo Alto Unified School District to Ensure Prompt, Equitable Responses to Reports of Violations of Title IX, MARCH 9, 2017....after finding that the district's handling of complaints violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972...the district has agreed to ...provide an annual report from the Title IX coordinator to the superintendent and Board of Education summarizing the reports and Title IX complaints that are filed with district."

I doubt 6 numbers on a Power Point slide is the level of detail OCR had in mind for the "annual report" which summarizes all reports the Title IX Coordinator prepared and all complaints she received that year. Web Link

All of those things must be summarized and shared with the School Board and community.


2 people like this
Posted by Person of Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 26, 2019 at 12:32 pm

@clear, that was the standard monthly report presented to the board since January or so, in addition to the full log that is published on the district web site every year or two. I don't know what the OCR "had in mind" - that looks like a summary to me. Here's the summary presented in March 2018 - Web Link .

What kind of annual report do you think is appropriate?


5 people like this
Posted by clear instructions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2019 at 2:41 pm

@Person,

Only 6 numbers in the "report" only tells you that, with 85 Title IX complaints this year, PAUSD STILL HAS A VERY BIG TITLE IX PROBLEM that its Title IX Department is not even close to fixing.

The "report" needs to include a substantive summary of the case resolution reports which PAUSD writes up, redacted of course, as the OCR agreement states. Here's what OCR's public case summary reports look like: Web Link

More numbers would help too like the total number and type of complaints that were groundless and that had merit.

Much more is needed to make this report Grade A-worthy but, at a minimum, it should include these to get a passing mark.


11 people like this
Posted by One of many harmed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2019 at 4:39 pm

The district response to reports of retaliation have been horrendous for years. If this complaint moves forward, I would like to see the district finally required to investigate retaliatory behavior, beyond the Title IX complaints.

District, you can once again do this the easy way by finally learning how to remedy bad behavior and mistakes yourselves, or the hard way by waiting for the dam to break and being forced to. There’s a lot behind that dam, that you thought intimidation, retaliation, and gaslighting would make go away. You have been warned.


8 people like this
Posted by One of Many Harmed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2019 at 7:13 pm

“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.”

Double take. That’s 134 through June, isn’t that half of the year? So, what am I missing? Jan, Feb, March, April May, five months of full school, plus a little summer school in June. The rest of the year is July (mostly vacation), August (school starts pretty early in August here including orientations) , Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec. Fewer long vacations,so, close to five months of school, too. If you double the 134 from the first half of the year, you get 264, which means complaints are not going down. But I don,t think it’s possible to honestly argue for a trend either up or down yet. I think it’s dishonest to see any kind of a trend or suggest there is a reliable rate when so many factors such as sense of trust or fear of retaliation that play into whether people come forward.

There are way more complaints for Title IX, for example than disability. Is this because people with disabilities are so much happier? No, no, no. It’s because they weren’t clearly part of who was being supposedly helped here, and invited to finally come forward, and thus the coverup culture depresses the complaints on the disability side. The numbers there suggest something is still really wrong.

I would not put too much stock in expectations from Washington that OCR is moot. Palo Alto is probably on the administrations radar as famously liberal and people on the board have democratic political ambitions. The administration would probably love nothing more than to show up liberals for hypocrisy. Plus anyone leftover from the previous administration isn’t going to be happy to see how undermined/Potemkin villaged the work they did was by the illegal retaliations that were actively swept under the rug.

McGee was warned to look in the trunk when he took over, or he would eventually own what came to light when the stench became too great to ignore. But he, like his predecessor, figured he could ignore anything they weren’t already forced to face. For all his talk, Austin still hasn’t done anything proactive, either.

Retaliation is illegal, immoral, and emblematic of serious culture problems. Did I mention illegal? If an administrator retaliates by lying and savaging the reputation of a family or student behind their backs, teachers are going to pile on without even appreciating how they are being used to do something illegal and traumatizing.

The district should proactively engage in failure analysis. Austin ought to do this fast before he can’t blame the stinking mess on the previous guy anymore.


10 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2019 at 7:40 pm

Jim H is a registered user.

Something's fishy here. Why would someone, in this case Megan Farrell, agree to have their position nearly cut in half? Are we to believe that she's ok with making 60% of her salary going forward?

Giving the schools oversight in this is how they got into trouble to begin with.

Looking at all of the complaints received by PAUSD, I hardly see this as a success.


5 people like this
Posted by where are the Daubers now?
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 27, 2019 at 9:09 am

Too bad that Ken and Michele Dauber, the Palo Alto Weekly's usual go-to people on PAUSD and Title IX, weren't contacted for this article.

Ken Dauber does not hesitate to speak out when the topic is sexual assault and Title IX. He was Acting Board President when the OCR Resolution Agreement was brought to the School Board. He voted yes to give millions in the general fund to Title IX lawyers, hires, fires, settlements and pay offs. His wife Michele Dauber is national news' go-to expert on Title IX and sexual assault. She spent years pushing Stanford and PAUSD to comply with Title IX and takes it, and harm to women, seriously. They must have some thoughts about this.

I bet their honest assessment of PAUSD Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks' Title IX report is not glowing. How could it be?

No School Board member or Title IX expert would say "good work" when given a report that

shows 85 Title IX complaints this school year

and

fails to mention that the Federal government is back formally investigating PAUSD, this time to see if staff retaliated against someone who filed one of them,

while

the Federal government is still actively monitoring PAUSD because of 10+ serious Title IX violations the OCR found in its last round of investigations. Web Link



5 people like this
Posted by this may be why
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2019 at 9:50 am

@ Where

Before Ken Dauber was re-elected to the School Board last Fall, he crowed about PAUSD's interim Title IX report. He said it showed that PAUSD's Title IX compliance work is "one of the best things this board has done ...it's clearly paying off...the community can take a lot of confidence in what it's seeing." Web Link.

Both papers believed and endorsed him, and he won a second term. The Post "Dauber ...contends that now the district is doing a better job of obeying these [Title IX] laws, and the litigation costs should be declining in the years ahead [so] we think Dauber has put the district on the right track." Web Link The Weekly "he was a leader in bringing about [Title IX] personnel changes" too. ttps://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2018/10/05/editorial-ken-dauber-shounak-dharap-for-palo-alto-school-board

They weren't fully informed though.

For reasons only Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks knows, she waited until AFTER the November School Board election to release the Title IX stats for the school year that ended the prior June aka the school year Ken Dauber claimed on the campaign trail had been such a success. Web Link

That school year 130 Title IX complaints were filed.


3 people like this
Posted by hard to know what to believe
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 27, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Don't forget.

To get the Weekly's endorsement last Fall, Ken Dauber told Bill Johnson this: Catherine Lhamon viewed PAUSD's new Title IX compliance system as the "model for K-12 Title IX compliance" nationwide. Web Link

The Weekly printed his claim. It did not verify it.

This was before Superintendent Karen Hendricks presented final numbers so, if Catherine Lhamon did say that, she probably didn't have the full picture.

Lhamon headed the OCR when it investigated PAUSD's Title IX complaints. After Donald Trump was elected, she resigned and Obama appointed her Chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights. She was not working for the OCR when the School Board discussed the changes they would make.


3 people like this
Posted by sounds familiar
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 27, 2019 at 2:33 pm

@ Hard to know,

Wow.

Ken Dauber used the exact same line when he ran for a California Democratic Party Delegate seat earlier this year. "The Palo Alto Weekly's endorsement editorial called me a 'force for positive change'... citing my leadership in ...Title IX ...Now Palo Alto is considered a national model for K-12 Title IX compliance." Web Link

I doubt anyone, especially not US Civil Rights Commissioner Catherine Lhamon, considers PAUSD "a national model for K-12 Title IX compliance" with its staggering Title IX complaint count on claims filed AFTER Ken Dauber and the rest of the School Board promised the OCR they would do better. Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Pa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2019 at 7:10 am

Complaints are closed without investigation or any contact with the complainer, verified by ocr investigator. Retaliation by board and administrators takes place in libeling family broadly in community. I know of one parent who lost their job because of this because parent was labeled as dishonest when it was the many PAUSD players that were engaged in a discrediting strategy to avoid paying parents legal fees with no regard to terrible horrific trama to child.


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