Katie Causey has wanted to run for a seat on the school board since she was 15 years old.
She was a Palo Alto High School student at the time, surrounded in many ways by turmoil: deaths by suicide of teenage classmates, a national recession and, in her own world, a report of sexual harassment that she said was mishandled by the school district.
Causey, a 26-year-old Paly graduate, is still very tied to the student experience. She campaigns prominently on Instagram, where she also posts explanations of the role of a school board member, seeks student feedback on major school issues — and also talks about voting, seeing a therapist and sexual assault. In response to the coronavirus shutdown, Causey and her campaign team organized a list of local alumni to whom current students can reach out for support — a list she hopes is an early version of a formal alumni-student mentorship program she would create if elected. She's advocated for lowering the voting age to 16 years old in local school board elections and wants to create student advisory groups on specific issues.
"It means a lot to me to help give students a voice and to support community members during this time," she said.
Causey is the sole candidate to receive the endorsement of the teachers union, despite the fact there are three seats up for grabs. Unlike the majority of the candidates, she has taken a firm stance against reopening schools this fall, in alignment with the union.
"I cannot ask our students, staff and broader community to be exposed to a virus we're still learning so much about. If a staff member, student or member of PAUSD becomes severely ill, faces permanent health issues or worse as a result of COVID-19, we cannot recover from that."
She said during a forum hosted by the Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA). "Educating during a crisis means acting cautiously and listening to experts in health and education. Luckily we have some of the best educators right here."
Believing it unrealistic to implement a reopening plan with so much unpredictability, Causey said that the district should instead focus its attention and resources on needs such as student mental health and special education.
"Don't spread ourselves thin focusing on unpredictable goals (we don't know if we'll reopen and immediately get shut down)," she posted on Instagram last weekend in response to a question about her stance on reopening. "We're operating during a crisis, and everyone's first job is to just not get COVID and stay mentally healthy."
If she had been on the board in the last seven months, Causey said she would have hosted town halls to solicit more public feedback. She would have also advocated for partnering with outside organizations to support students who may be struggling while the schools are closed, such as Beyond Differences, a nonprofit that works to end social isolation among middle schoolers, and the Magical Bridge Foundation, to support special education students. She said she sees this time as an opportunity for "trying different approaches, unconventional approaches, and see if we can develop something really powerful out of them."
The union-district relationship must improve immediately, she said. If elected, she would push to include time in every board meeting for regular updates from the presidents of the teachers and classified employees unions.
Causey holds a bachelor's degree in women's studies from The George Washington University, which she credits with furthering her interests in social justice and educational equity.
Last year, Causey advocated in a guest opinion piece published by the Palo Alto Weekly for the Vote 16 campaign. In an interview, she said she sees civic engagement as a means to bolstering youth mental health, particularly during this time. It's why she spends so much time campaigning with students on social media.
"Especially right now when there are a lot of very large, unpredictable issues happening, civic engagement is a way to help students feel much more in control," she said. "It is really important to me that this position (of school board member) is one that students feel as connected to as possible."
Causey frequently advocates for the district to put in place a deadline for creating its equity scorecard, which would measure how the district is performing against its goals to reduce the achievement gap and support struggling students. The scorecard should focus on the district's rather than students' metrics, she said, such as diversity in curriculum and hiring.
"If students can't see themselves in our curriculum, if they can't see themselves in our leadership, then that's something that does impact ... how you build student trust," she said.
Causey opposes the use of school resource officers, or police officers assigned to school campuses, stating that "police are a resource that not every individual can use, and for every student who is made feel safe by a police officer, there is another student who is terrified."
She is also against laning courses as a practice, which she described as a systemic structure of "bias" that negatively impacts underserved students and their mental health.
Causey is currently unemployed but has spent her adult years volunteering in the community and working on political campaigns. Causey is a member of the League of Women Voters, through which she's worked on issues including sustainability, school meal plans and gun legislation, according to her LinkedIn page. She recently was a chair of the Junior League of San Francisco, a nonprofit women's organization that promotes volunteering, where she oversaw budget and fundraising.
Causey served as director of fundraising for current school board Vice President Shounak Dharap's 2018 campaign and was also an assistant to state Senate candidate Josh Becker's campaign in 2019.
In 2017, she was accepted to Emily's List's Run To Win program, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office.
In college Causey studied Title IX, the federal civil rights law that Palo Alto Unified was found to have violated numerous times in cases involving both student and staff sexual misconduct. She said the district has improved when it comes to Title IX policy and procedures but still has work to do on more entrenched climate and culture issues. She noted that there are two Instagram accounts dedicated to Palo Alto Unified students sharing stories of sexual violence and harassment, both launched this summer. Causey thinks the district should make consent education mandatory and that the district should put information for how to report sexual misconduct on the back of student ID cards, much like it added mental health resources several years ago.
Causey identifies as bisexual and believes if elected, she could possibly be the first member of the LGBT+ community to hold this office.
Causey was born and raised in Palo Alto. She attended Ohlone Elementary School and JLS Middle School before graduating from Paly in 2012.
• Age: 26
• Occupation: Community advocate
• Education: Bachelor's in Women's Studies from The George Washington University focused on intersectional approaches to addressing systemic inequality in communities and school
• Family members: Father (retired scientist) and mother (retired benefits consultant)
• I've lived in Palo Alto for: over 26 years
• My favorite high school class: Sociology
• My favorite quote: "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." - Fred Rogers
• My proudest moment: The past months supporting community members and educators.
• Campaign website: katiecausey.org
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