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School district settles Gunn High sexual harassment case for $150K

Lawyers for girl called district's reversed decision over boy's participation in robotics team a 'prejudicial abuse of discretion'

Palo Alto Unified will pay $150,000 to a female Gunn High School student who the district determined was sexually harassed by a male Gunn student in 2018.

The school board unanimously approved the settlement in closed session on Tuesday. The district will pay half and the other half will be covered by the Northern California Relief Joint Powers Authority, which functions as an insurance company representing school districts in liability claims, board President Jennifer DiBrienza said after the board convened in open session. She did not comment further on the settlement.

What was initially a school district Title IX case was brought into the legal system in January by the girls' parents, who sought to reinstate a district decision to prohibit the male student from participating in robotics altogether. The two students both belong to the Gunn robotics team and dated briefly.

After determining last fall that text messages the male student sent to the girl and comments he made to other students constituted sexual harassment, the district initially banned him from participating in robotics activities starting in January, but later decided to allow him to attend on an alternating schedule with an escort. This prompted the girl's family to seek a court order to prohibit the boy from participating in robotics.

Her lawyers called the district's reversal a "prejudicial abuse of discretion" unsupported by the district's own sexual-harassment finding. It "unconstitutionally deprives her of her right to equal access to education," they alleged.

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A judge ultimately ruled that both should have access to the school robotics team, but with more hours and scheduling preference given to the girl.

The six-page settlement releases each party from any future claims. It is not an admission of culpability on the behalf of the district, which "expressly denies all allegations of wrongdoing asserted against it and intends merely to avoid litigation and expense by entering into this agreement," the settlement reads.

A lawyer for the girl and her family, Crystal Riggins of San Jose law firm Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, signed the agreement on Sept. 12. Riggins declined to comment on the settlement.

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School district settles Gunn High sexual harassment case for $150K

Lawyers for girl called district's reversed decision over boy's participation in robotics team a 'prejudicial abuse of discretion'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 25, 2019, 8:32 am

Palo Alto Unified will pay $150,000 to a female Gunn High School student who the district determined was sexually harassed by a male Gunn student in 2018.

The school board unanimously approved the settlement in closed session on Tuesday. The district will pay half and the other half will be covered by the Northern California Relief Joint Powers Authority, which functions as an insurance company representing school districts in liability claims, board President Jennifer DiBrienza said after the board convened in open session. She did not comment further on the settlement.

What was initially a school district Title IX case was brought into the legal system in January by the girls' parents, who sought to reinstate a district decision to prohibit the male student from participating in robotics altogether. The two students both belong to the Gunn robotics team and dated briefly.

After determining last fall that text messages the male student sent to the girl and comments he made to other students constituted sexual harassment, the district initially banned him from participating in robotics activities starting in January, but later decided to allow him to attend on an alternating schedule with an escort. This prompted the girl's family to seek a court order to prohibit the boy from participating in robotics.

Her lawyers called the district's reversal a "prejudicial abuse of discretion" unsupported by the district's own sexual-harassment finding. It "unconstitutionally deprives her of her right to equal access to education," they alleged.

A judge ultimately ruled that both should have access to the school robotics team, but with more hours and scheduling preference given to the girl.

The six-page settlement releases each party from any future claims. It is not an admission of culpability on the behalf of the district, which "expressly denies all allegations of wrongdoing asserted against it and intends merely to avoid litigation and expense by entering into this agreement," the settlement reads.

A lawyer for the girl and her family, Crystal Riggins of San Jose law firm Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, signed the agreement on Sept. 12. Riggins declined to comment on the settlement.

Comments

Cover up culture
Community Center
on Sep 25, 2019 at 1:20 pm
Cover up culture, Community Center
on Sep 25, 2019 at 1:20 pm
36 people like this

The district, hoping to avoid a lawsuit w the disabled student, then dared the girl's family to sue. That's the way the district rolls, constantly playing chicken w families, while shortchanging students and the law. Then covering it up.

Too bad the girl's family didn't hold out for more.


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2019 at 2:01 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2019 at 2:01 pm
40 people like this

The truly annoying thing about this is that it is not the District's money but ours that will be paid.

The District looks at Palo Alto residents as a money pit. Whenever they need money they put the begging bowl out and the good people of Palo Alto will vote to give the District money for the sake of our children.

I expect that they will look to us to make up this shortfall, claiming legal expenses or some such so that they will not be out of pocket. It is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I am not amused.


Cover up culture
Community Center
on Sep 25, 2019 at 4:05 pm
Cover up culture, Community Center
on Sep 25, 2019 at 4:05 pm
34 people like this

Wait, so the District paid Cozen O'Connor $1million to do the Cozen report for an incident that Paly's admin messed up and the Title IX/UCPcoordinator at the time, Holly Wade, messed up, then more $$ to do more reports on all the other Title IX /UCP incidents the district messed up, and that OCR said they had to write reports on, and the district spent an additional $500K or so on John whatever his name was to try to get the district on the right side of the law, hired the new Title IX person Megan Farrell and have been paying her, then they created a new administrative position for over $300k/year and installed Karen Hendricks, who had been the HR person, but now to help with Title IX and oversee, etc, and the District hired someone else to do HR and thus created an extra very costly position and a Title IX coordinator position, also expensive. They they hired a General Counsel, Komey Vishakan, expensive too, and she's hired staff as well. Oh, and we got rid of Max McGee since he messed things up with Title IX/UCP and blew an extra $6 million. And we hired Don Austin to replace him as Superintendent at over $300k. Oh and Kathie Laurence messed up with Title IX at Paly during the aforementioned incident, breaking the law, but then she was promoted to be Gunn principal, even though she couldn't follow the law. And now this incident has happened at Gunn, under the promoted principal Kathie Laurence's watch, and Don Austin's, and Megan Farrell's and Karen Hendricks, and Komey Vishakan's. And so, judging by the district paying out $150k, it seems they ALL messed up. And so did the School Board, who 4-1 supported fighting the girl and her family in court, instead of just doing the right thing and choosing to protect her and keep her safe at school and making sure she could access her education in her public school, which she is entitled to under the law. GREAT JOB EVERYONE!!!


Concerned Pareu
Midtown
on Sep 25, 2019 at 8:50 pm
Concerned Pareu, Midtown
on Sep 25, 2019 at 8:50 pm
20 people like this

Who is sitting on the school board? Why can't we get people without a political agenda elected to the School board? Sad. The culture in PAUSD is getting worse.


Missing details
Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2019 at 10:24 am
Missing details, Barron Park
on Sep 27, 2019 at 10:24 am
1 person likes this

What’s the $150k for ?
There should be some explanation of how that amount was determined and for what damages it compensates.


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