News

Palo Alto Unified to pay $50K to family of bullying victim

Case from 2016 spurs school district to examine policies, procedures

The Palo Alto school board approved on Sept. 22 a $50,000 settlement with the family of a former special education middle school student who was repeatedly bullied at Jordan Middle School (now known as Greene Middle School). Photo by Veronica Weber.

The Palo Alto school board unanimously approved Tuesday a $50,000 settlement with the family of a former special education middle school student who was repeatedly bullied in 2016.

The family filed a lawsuit against the school district in 2017 alleging the district failed to protect him from harassment at Jordan Middle School (now known as Greene Middle School) that included bullying online and in person, as well as an incident in which a student brandished a knife at him on campus, which they said resulted in severe academic and emotional harm.

The district "denies and disputes" all claims and allegations made in the lawsuit, the settlement states. Both parties agreed to settle "in order to avoid the substantial expense and inconvenience of further litigation," the document reads.

Seth Rosenberg, the family's attorney, said in a statement that the district "failed in its responsibilities to protect its students at every level — in educating its students regarding bullying prevention, in investigating and remedying bullying once it occurs, and in working to prevent bullying from occurring again. For these errors PAUSD fairly compensated my client.

"We hope PAUSD learns from this experience and works harder to protect its students going forward," he added. "I couldn't be prouder of my client and his family for sticking up for their rights. I have been honored to represent them."

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The district's Joint Powers Authority will pay the settlement, which also includes a portion of the family's fees from a mediation this summer. The family agreed to dismiss five defendants in the case for a waiver of costs, according to the settlement. The named defendants were former Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers; former Juana Briones Elementary School Principal Tom Jacoubowsky, who was Jordan's interim principal at the time of the bullying; James Lubbe, a physical education teacher who was an assistant principal at the time; then-Vice Principal Jim Cox; and Jane Miller, a special education aide at Jordan at the time.

The case spurred the school board to examine how staff was implementing policies and procedures for addressing complaints of discriminatory bullying.

The boy's mother told the Weekly at the time that she decided to file the lawsuit after feeling unheard by the district for months. The prospect of reform and better treatment of children like hers, she said, is more important than any financial outcome.

"It's not the money, it's the respect that a person deserves," she said in an interview conducted in Spanish. "Money will not recover what happened."

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Palo Alto Unified to pay $50K to family of bullying victim

Case from 2016 spurs school district to examine policies, procedures

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 23, 2020, 12:32 pm

The Palo Alto school board unanimously approved Tuesday a $50,000 settlement with the family of a former special education middle school student who was repeatedly bullied in 2016.

The family filed a lawsuit against the school district in 2017 alleging the district failed to protect him from harassment at Jordan Middle School (now known as Greene Middle School) that included bullying online and in person, as well as an incident in which a student brandished a knife at him on campus, which they said resulted in severe academic and emotional harm.

The district "denies and disputes" all claims and allegations made in the lawsuit, the settlement states. Both parties agreed to settle "in order to avoid the substantial expense and inconvenience of further litigation," the document reads.

Seth Rosenberg, the family's attorney, said in a statement that the district "failed in its responsibilities to protect its students at every level — in educating its students regarding bullying prevention, in investigating and remedying bullying once it occurs, and in working to prevent bullying from occurring again. For these errors PAUSD fairly compensated my client.

"We hope PAUSD learns from this experience and works harder to protect its students going forward," he added. "I couldn't be prouder of my client and his family for sticking up for their rights. I have been honored to represent them."

The district's Joint Powers Authority will pay the settlement, which also includes a portion of the family's fees from a mediation this summer. The family agreed to dismiss five defendants in the case for a waiver of costs, according to the settlement. The named defendants were former Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers; former Juana Briones Elementary School Principal Tom Jacoubowsky, who was Jordan's interim principal at the time of the bullying; James Lubbe, a physical education teacher who was an assistant principal at the time; then-Vice Principal Jim Cox; and Jane Miller, a special education aide at Jordan at the time.

The case spurred the school board to examine how staff was implementing policies and procedures for addressing complaints of discriminatory bullying.

The boy's mother told the Weekly at the time that she decided to file the lawsuit after feeling unheard by the district for months. The prospect of reform and better treatment of children like hers, she said, is more important than any financial outcome.

"It's not the money, it's the respect that a person deserves," she said in an interview conducted in Spanish. "Money will not recover what happened."

Comments

Samuel L
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Sep 23, 2020 at 1:18 pm
Samuel L, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2020 at 1:18 pm
27 people like this

"The district “denies and disputes” all claims and allegations made in the lawsuit..."

If the district is serious about caring about students and listening to them, statements like this need to be eliminated. Doesn't matter if they are "standard". It's insulting to the victims. The district is essentially saying, "We don't believe you. Here's some money. Now go away."

I don't think anyone ever disputed what happened in this case. But as is always the case for the district, their first duty is to protect their own people. Why did the district ask to get the five staff members removed as defendants? Probably because it shows how deep the issue goes. The side was found to have treated the boy poorly including being physically aggressive with him. The district determined that it wasn't a Title IX issue because the aide treated other kids the same way donut wasn't about the boy's race. What a stand up school district we have!


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 23, 2020 at 1:37 pm
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2020 at 1:37 pm
25 people like this

Samuel L -- I think you are absolutely correct.

The family is saying this isn't about money. More than anything, we feel we were ignored and not heard, and we want that to change.

The district responds by making sure everyone knows they admit no wrongdoing, albeit while spending taxpayer money to settle.

They seem to write a lot of checks for never doing anything wrong.


Samuel L
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Sep 23, 2020 at 1:56 pm
Samuel L, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 23, 2020 at 1:56 pm
27 people like this

What wasn't mentioned in the article is that the district also settled another lawsuit for $200k. Not sure why PA Online left that one out. PA Daily Post reported on it.

Feels more and more like the district and PA Online have an agreement to keep the bad press to a minimum. Thought true journalism was about telling the whole story.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 24, 2020 at 12:17 am
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 12:17 am
20 people like this

Just think how much money our school district would have saved, if it just actually protected the victim, rather than using the victim's own tax payments to fight against the victim's rights.

Time and time again, when given the choice between solving the problem and spending millions of taxpayer dollars to deny the problem, the district chooses the latter.

Meanwhile, the cause of this problem always has been clear. Although the school district loses by fighting the victim in court, and the victim loses by having to pursue expensive and often traumatic litigation, and taxpayers lose by having our limited tax dollars wasted in this utterly avoidable, intolerable manner, there is one group of people who wins.

The sole winners are, and always have been, the outside litigation law firms, who receive millions of taxpayer dollars every year to fight against the rights of taxpayers. Yet -- confoundingly -- the School Board and Superintendent continue to turn solely to these same outside law firms, whose business model is based on defending lawsuits against the PAUSD, for advice on whether the District should solve the problem, or fight the victim in court.

It is equivalent to paying a bankrobber millions of dollars to clean the bank by emptying the vaults.

Yet, this is what the School Board and Superintendent do. Will this change if new school board members are installed? I doubt it, unless we fire those law firms and hire a grownup to manage the PAUSD's legal matters with an eye towards compliance rather than towards litigation. I used to want that job, but now, even though I still have a child at a PAUSD school, I can't imagine wanting to interact with people who demonstrate such a complete lack of empathy or compassion for our public school children and their families.


Samuel L
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Sep 24, 2020 at 9:44 am
Samuel L, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 9:44 am
12 people like this

@Rebecca Eisenberg - You are correct although I would also say that the winners are the PAUSD staff members who continually get protected by the board and the lawyers when they mistreat and neglect students.

You also wrote that things won't change, "unless we fire those law firms and hire a grownup to manage the PAUSD's legal matters with an eye towards compliance rather than towards litigation," Didn't PAUSD hire Komey Vishakan over a year ago to be the district's legal counsel? And didn't they also hire Megan Farrell as the Title IX coordinator? (Although once Don Austin came aboard they seem to have essentially sloughed her off to the side.) Vishakan gets paid over $190K/yr plus benefits. She is in the mediation meetings with the JPA lawyer. She also gives reports to Austin and the board.

What is Vishakan doing? She seems to be merely continuing the district's practice of forcing every complaint to be fought out by the lawyers. Does the board see this as benefiting the students? Does someone like Ken Dauber, who campaigned as the champion against bullying, not see the issue with making the victim suffer through years of rehashing their story in front of strangers for nearly 2 years only to finally settle for sum that costs the district $0?

How can these board members look at themselves in the mirror every day knowing what they are putting these children through? How can we continue to vote them into office? Todd Collins and Jennifer Dibrienza are up for reelection this year. Vote them out of office for candidates that are more compassionate towards students. And, when Dauber and Dharap come up for reelection, do the same.


Chris Zaharias
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2020 at 10:38 am
Chris Zaharias, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 10:38 am
7 people like this

When I attended Jordan in the 80's:
- P.E. teacher _____ fondled me during cringe-worthy 'tumbling exercises'
- I was called 'Zeke the Greek Freak from Mozambique' incessantly because I'm 100% Greek and my dad was working in Africa at the time
- A newly-arrived student punched my head super-hard for no reason during P.E. and the teacher did nothing

Like a large minority of those who attended any middle school, I have psychological scars from it, and any fond memories are irrelevant to my case. Where can I find a lawyer to help me make PAUSD pay for damage done?

Oh wait, that's just life.


Menlo Mom
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2020 at 11:56 am
Menlo Mom, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 11:56 am
14 people like this

@ Chris Zaharias - you raise a really interesting point. There is an AMAZING (I just can't recommend it highly enough) video on NOVA I just watched with my kids. It's called "The Violence Paradox." I'll link below. But the salient point I want to share with you here is that perceptions of what's acceptable evolve over time. I am reading what happened to you in the 80's and am horrified. I was also in middle school in the 1980s and I recall horrible things happening (though not any fondling I was personally aware of). The historians in the NOVA video scoured centuries of documents of legal cases in the UK. They noticed that there were cases early on that read something like "A man jumped out on a family riding in their horse buggy. He sliced the husband with a knife, punched one of the kids in the face, and stole 16 pounds of goods from their wagon. The charge is: robbery." It took time before the charge for an incident like this would have also included battery and assault and the highway robber would've been held accountable for the personal injuries the family sustained.

Isn't that incredible??!! I thought so. This video asserts that society is actually becoming LESS violent, and less tolerant of violence. It sure doesn't feel like it, with the news we see (our awareness of horrible things happening everywhere), but a more scientific, measured study shows that humankind is treating one another better, and things that were once acceptable now are not.

What for you and me and people of our generation was "just life" is now being viewed in the eyes of the law and in social construction as unacceptable. I don't want to urge you to judge whether this is a good change or a bad one, but only to help explain the gap you sense in how things were then and how they were now.


Menlo Mom
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2020 at 11:56 am
Menlo Mom, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 11:56 am
5 people like this

Apologies - I forgot the link. It's really a great documentary! Web Link


Karen Gibson
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm
Karen Gibson, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 12:00 pm
8 people like this

My kids have (thankfully) been out of the district for a few years now. And so disheartening to see that the same behaviors and coverups are occurring. I'm not sure this district will ever care enough to change. Maybe if they put half the energy they put into APs/test scores into bullying/harassment issues we'd see a change. But that's just not where their focus is. My heart goes out to this family.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 24, 2020 at 2:03 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 2:03 pm
1 person likes this

Bullying online - that portion of the complaint - is OUTSIDE the purview and responsibilities of the school district. It’s terrible, make no mistake, but how could you expect any educational institution to have time and staff to monitor online behavior? When is a line crossed - a direct threat?
I suggest suing the offending student personally.
That said, once civil or criminal responsibility IS assigned by appropriate police authorities - or, I suppose, subpoena of online records!? - (subpoena served to a particular student or group of students), then I certainly do agree with a penalty from the educational institution on top of criminal or civil penalty.
Oh, whoops: liberal politicians made recent changes to virtually forbid discipline and suspensions, etc. in CA public schools. Look at San Francisco, NOT the place where many want their kids in public education owing to kooky administration.
I know a teacher (not in Palo Alto) who retired because there was no recourse of violent special ed students in the classroom.
Special ed teachers are needed but are not afforded protection amd backup especially in socioeconomically challenged areas.


Samuel L.
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Sep 24, 2020 at 2:33 pm
Samuel L., Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 2:33 pm
9 people like this

Online bullying is not outside PAUSD purview or responsibilities. From the PAUSD Board Policies:
Under California law, “Bullying” is defined as any severe or pervasive physical or verbal act or conduct, including communications made in writing or by means of an electronic act, and including one or more acts committed by a pupil or group of pupils that constitutes sex harassment, hate violence or creates an intimidating or hostile educational environment, directed toward one or more pupils that has or can be reasonably predicted to have the effect of one or more of the following:

Placing a reasonable pupil or pupils in fear of harm to that pupil’s or those pupils’ person or property.
Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantially detrimental effect on her or her physical or mental health.
Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantial interference with his or her academic performance.
Causing a reasonable pupil to experience a substantial interference with his or her ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

Bullying Complaint Procedures

“Electronic act” means the transmission, by means of an electronic device, including, but not limited to, a telephone, wireless telephone or other wireless communication device, computer, or pager, of a communication, including but not limited to, any of the following:

A message, text, sound, or image.
A post on a social network internet web site including, but not limited to:
Posting to or creating a burn page. “Burn page” means an Internet web site created for the purpose of having one or more of the effects listed above
Creating a credible impersonation of another actual pupil for the purpose of having one or more of the effects listed above. “Credible impersonation” means to knowingly and without consent impersonate a pupil doe the purpose of bullying the pupil and such that another pupil would reasonably believe, or has reasonably believed, that the pupil was or is the pupil who was impersonated.
Creating a false profile for the purpose of having one or more of the effects listed above. “False profile” means a profile of a fictitious pupil or a profile using the likeness or attributes of an actual pupil other than the pupil who created the false profile.
“Reasonable pupil” is defined as a pupil, including, but not limited to, an exceptional needs pupil, who exercises care, skill, and judgment in conduct for a person of his or her age, or for a person of his or her age with his or her exceptional needs. (Education Code 48900(r))

The school district has jurisdiction to respond to bullying behavior that is related to school activity or school attendance and that occurs at any time, including, but not limited to, while on school grounds, at a school sponsored activity, while traveling to or from school, on a school bus, or during the lunch period whether on or off campus. (Education Code 48900(s))

Indicators of Bullying Behavior

Behaviors may include, but are not limited to, the following:
Verbal: Hurtful name-calling, teasing, gossiping, making threats, making slurs or epithets, making rude noises, or spreading hurtful rumors.
Nonverbal: Posturing, making gang signs, leering, staring, stalking, destroying property, insulting or threatening notes, using graffiti or graphic images, or exhibiting inappropriate and/or threatening gestures or actions.
Physical: Hitting, punching, pushing, shoving, poking, kicking, tripping, blocking egress, strangling, hair pulling, fighting, beating, pinching, slapping, "pantsing", biting, spitting, or destroying property.
Emotional (Psychological): Rejecting, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, intimidating, humiliating, blackmailing, manipulating friendships, isolating, shunning, ostracizing, using peer pressure, or rating or ranking personal characteristics.
Cyber-bullying: Sending insulting or threatening messages by phone, e-mail, Web sites, or any other electronic or written communication. This policy pertains to cyberbullying that is related to school activity or attendance and is directed toward a pupil or school personnel.


Mike
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 24, 2020 at 2:57 pm
Mike, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 2:57 pm
2 people like this

@ Menlo Mom I'm happy you shared the info from Nova's The Violence Paradox. I recall seeing it a while back, and that it featured Steven Pinker, author of "The Better Angels of our Nature," which I've recommended to many people (and which Bill Gates called "the most inspiring book I've ever read"). While there is a good reason to identify and address abuses and violence in society, this book will quite literally restore one's faith in human nature.


Facts and Figures
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 24, 2020 at 9:31 pm
Facts and Figures, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 24, 2020 at 9:31 pm
1 person likes this

Re-electing current board members perpetuates a culture in which Admin is not held accountable for instilling the values of integrity and kindness in our district.

We must have accountability.


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