News

Gunn students file claims over violent and racist bullying

Six boys and their families allege administrators failed to protect them after multiple attacks

The empty Henry M. Gunn High School campus in Palo Alto on April 3, 2020. Phoro by Magali Gauthier.

A group of six Gunn High School boys have faced violent bullying and harassment, including racial slurs, that administrators didn't adequately respond to, according to claims recently filed by the students and their parents.

Since the beginning of the school year, the six students, who are all freshmen or sophomores, have been "constantly bullied, harassed and physically attacked by fellow students," according to a redacted version of one of the personal injury claims that Seth Rosenberg, the attorney representing the families, shared with the Weekly.

The students include one who is Black, others who are of European or Middle Eastern descent and some who have an IEP or 504 Plan, Rosenberg said. The Weekly is not naming the students or parents involved to protect their privacy.

The claim, which was mailed to the school district Oct. 29, describes alleged physical assaults that led one student to go to the emergency room, two more to see the nurse and another to suffer a head injury. It also describes the Black student being repeatedly called the N-word.

The response from Gunn administrators has been "unreasonable, impractical and ineffective," leading to "ongoing and pervasive" problems for the students, according to the claim.

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"This situation has been ... extremely difficult for our children and our families, and is not something we ever expected to face," the parents said through their attorney. "The harassment and intimidation has continued and is impacting the academics and mental health of our children."

According to Rosenberg, the school district has 45 days to accept or reject the students' claims from the date they were received. If the district rejects the claims or doesn't respond in time, Rosenberg said the families would typically have six months to file a lawsuit.

The district's Board of Education met in a special closed session Nov. 2 to confer with its legal counsel about the families' claims, which were listed on the agenda as "anticipated litigation." The board took no formal action at the meeting, board President Shounak Dharap said.

Dharap and Superintendent Don Austin both declined interview requests for this article. Dharap said that as a practice, board members don't comment on pending or anticipated litigation, but he referred questions to the district's legal counsel and Austin, who said he was unable to discuss the situation.

Gunn Principal Wendy Stratton said in a text that the school's administration "is committed and works diligently to ensure the safety of our students on a daily basis," but declined to comment further, citing student privacy protections and an active investigation.

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Bullying has long been a concern in Palo Alto schools, including a 2011 case in which a middle-school student's long struggle against bullying triggered an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which concluded the district's mishandling of it violated federal antidiscrimination laws and required remedial actions.

There was also a 2016 case in which a special-education student at Jordan Middle School (now known as Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School) was repeatedly bullied, [causing the school board to examine how staff were responding to complaints of discriminatory bullying. Rosenberg also represented that family in a lawsuit against the district, which ultimately led to a $50,000 settlement.

Students: A violent ambush in bathroom

The classroom buildings and benches at Gunn High School in Palo Alto. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

The bullying of the current six students began on the first day of the school year, when a student asked one of the boys for a piece of fruit he had and then threw it at the back of another kid's head, according to the claim. Students then started picking on the Black student and calling him the racial epithet, the claim states, as well as calling one of the six boys gay.

The group also allegedly noticed the students who were bullying them "slapping the rear ends of girls at school and verbally harassing them with sexual advances."

In September, three of the boys spoke with Gunn administrators to report the students who were bullying them, according to the claim. When the behavior wasn't addressed by the school, they allegedly returned to report that it was continuing.

Administrators then called the boy's parents, assuring them that their children were safe and the situation was being appropriately managed, according to the claim. However, "the incessant bullying and harassment continued," the claim states, with students threatening and insulting the boys for reporting them to school staff.

The situation allegedly turned violent on Oct. 5, when two students ambushed some of the boys in a bathroom. They "screamed for help in the bathroom, but no help came," according to the claim. As a result of the attack, one of the boys went to the hospital because his ear was bleeding, while two more went to the nurse because they had been struck in the neck, the claim states.

Shortly afterwards, a group of students attacked one of the boys in the locker room and "pummeled" him with fists and kicks, while recording the attack and later posting it on social media, the claim states, going on to say that he suffered a head injury and experienced headaches and back pain.

'Gunn High School wanted to curtail these boys' school experience and treat the assailants and victims as equals.'

-Six Gunn students and their parents, in claim filed with Palo Alto Unified

The boys were then "interrogated" in the school's administration office and their parents were only notified four to five hours later, according to the claim. Although the perpetrators appear to have been briefly suspended, the boys allegedly continued to receive threats, both in person and online.

The school's response to the attacks and other bullying was to tell the boys to use only specific restrooms and to check in with the school before attending certain Gunn events.

"Essentially, GHS wanted to curtail these boys' school experience and treat the assailants and victims as equals," the complaint states. "This is especially troubling as the assailants had a history of violent behavior known to GHS even before the issues addressed herein."

Because Gunn wasn't able to keep them safe, the six children didn't attend school for a period of time and, after returning Oct. 24, they have continued to face threats and insults, the complaint states. Administrators have not excused those absences, even though they were due to "legitimate safety concerns," the parents said through their attorney.

The parents say they want the district to transfer their children to a different and safe school and to "start taking bullying and the associated violence seriously and not allow or tolerate retribution when students report harassment."

The families went on to say that they want to see administrators respond quickly and effectively, so students feel safe.

"They should be able to walk the school campus without constantly looking over their shoulders for danger and be able to go into a locker room or a bathroom without fear of an attack," they said. "School should be a place to learn, make friends, and have fun, without needing to be alert, guarded and hyper-vigilant."

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Gunn students file claims over violent and racist bullying

Six boys and their families allege administrators failed to protect them after multiple attacks

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Nov 12, 2021, 6:56 am
Updated: Fri, Nov 12, 2021, 5:00 pm

A group of six Gunn High School boys have faced violent bullying and harassment, including racial slurs, that administrators didn't adequately respond to, according to claims recently filed by the students and their parents.

Since the beginning of the school year, the six students, who are all freshmen or sophomores, have been "constantly bullied, harassed and physically attacked by fellow students," according to a redacted version of one of the personal injury claims that Seth Rosenberg, the attorney representing the families, shared with the Weekly.

The students include one who is Black, others who are of European or Middle Eastern descent and some who have an IEP or 504 Plan, Rosenberg said. The Weekly is not naming the students or parents involved to protect their privacy.

The claim, which was mailed to the school district Oct. 29, describes alleged physical assaults that led one student to go to the emergency room, two more to see the nurse and another to suffer a head injury. It also describes the Black student being repeatedly called the N-word.

The response from Gunn administrators has been "unreasonable, impractical and ineffective," leading to "ongoing and pervasive" problems for the students, according to the claim.

"This situation has been ... extremely difficult for our children and our families, and is not something we ever expected to face," the parents said through their attorney. "The harassment and intimidation has continued and is impacting the academics and mental health of our children."

According to Rosenberg, the school district has 45 days to accept or reject the students' claims from the date they were received. If the district rejects the claims or doesn't respond in time, Rosenberg said the families would typically have six months to file a lawsuit.

The district's Board of Education met in a special closed session Nov. 2 to confer with its legal counsel about the families' claims, which were listed on the agenda as "anticipated litigation." The board took no formal action at the meeting, board President Shounak Dharap said.

Dharap and Superintendent Don Austin both declined interview requests for this article. Dharap said that as a practice, board members don't comment on pending or anticipated litigation, but he referred questions to the district's legal counsel and Austin, who said he was unable to discuss the situation.

Gunn Principal Wendy Stratton said in a text that the school's administration "is committed and works diligently to ensure the safety of our students on a daily basis," but declined to comment further, citing student privacy protections and an active investigation.

Bullying has long been a concern in Palo Alto schools, including a 2011 case in which a middle-school student's long struggle against bullying triggered an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which concluded the district's mishandling of it violated federal antidiscrimination laws and required remedial actions.

There was also a 2016 case in which a special-education student at Jordan Middle School (now known as Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School) was repeatedly bullied, [causing the school board to examine how staff were responding to complaints of discriminatory bullying. Rosenberg also represented that family in a lawsuit against the district, which ultimately led to a $50,000 settlement.

The bullying of the current six students began on the first day of the school year, when a student asked one of the boys for a piece of fruit he had and then threw it at the back of another kid's head, according to the claim. Students then started picking on the Black student and calling him the racial epithet, the claim states, as well as calling one of the six boys gay.

The group also allegedly noticed the students who were bullying them "slapping the rear ends of girls at school and verbally harassing them with sexual advances."

In September, three of the boys spoke with Gunn administrators to report the students who were bullying them, according to the claim. When the behavior wasn't addressed by the school, they allegedly returned to report that it was continuing.

Administrators then called the boy's parents, assuring them that their children were safe and the situation was being appropriately managed, according to the claim. However, "the incessant bullying and harassment continued," the claim states, with students threatening and insulting the boys for reporting them to school staff.

The situation allegedly turned violent on Oct. 5, when two students ambushed some of the boys in a bathroom. They "screamed for help in the bathroom, but no help came," according to the claim. As a result of the attack, one of the boys went to the hospital because his ear was bleeding, while two more went to the nurse because they had been struck in the neck, the claim states.

Shortly afterwards, a group of students attacked one of the boys in the locker room and "pummeled" him with fists and kicks, while recording the attack and later posting it on social media, the claim states, going on to say that he suffered a head injury and experienced headaches and back pain.

The boys were then "interrogated" in the school's administration office and their parents were only notified four to five hours later, according to the claim. Although the perpetrators appear to have been briefly suspended, the boys allegedly continued to receive threats, both in person and online.

The school's response to the attacks and other bullying was to tell the boys to use only specific restrooms and to check in with the school before attending certain Gunn events.

"Essentially, GHS wanted to curtail these boys' school experience and treat the assailants and victims as equals," the complaint states. "This is especially troubling as the assailants had a history of violent behavior known to GHS even before the issues addressed herein."

Because Gunn wasn't able to keep them safe, the six children didn't attend school for a period of time and, after returning Oct. 24, they have continued to face threats and insults, the complaint states. Administrators have not excused those absences, even though they were due to "legitimate safety concerns," the parents said through their attorney.

The parents say they want the district to transfer their children to a different and safe school and to "start taking bullying and the associated violence seriously and not allow or tolerate retribution when students report harassment."

The families went on to say that they want to see administrators respond quickly and effectively, so students feel safe.

"They should be able to walk the school campus without constantly looking over their shoulders for danger and be able to go into a locker room or a bathroom without fear of an attack," they said. "School should be a place to learn, make friends, and have fun, without needing to be alert, guarded and hyper-vigilant."

Comments

MarkW
Registered user
University South
on Nov 12, 2021 at 9:07 am
MarkW, University South
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 9:07 am

Why havent the perpetrators been suspended from school?! Terrible response by the school administrators.


Samuel L.
Registered user
Meadow Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 9:24 am
Samuel L., Meadow Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 9:24 am

Typical of PAUSD. Hide behind the lawyers, blame the victims.
The bullying students will stay at Gunn and the victims will be moved. The bullies will continue to bully and sexually harass students and administrators will act as if there's nothing more they can do.
But they'll make numerous statements that they keep your students safe.
It's a broken record on a 3 year cycle


PAUSDSUCKS
Registered user
Atherton
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:22 am
PAUSDSUCKS, Atherton
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:22 am
Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:24 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:24 am
Barron Parker Too
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:03 am
Barron Parker Too, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:03 am

Violent assaults, resulting in hospitalization. This is criminal behavior. Why did the Gunn administration not call the police in, and why were criminal charges not filed against the attackers?


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:31 am
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:31 am

Is there social media evidence? Camera footage? Very sad circumstances but hearsay is hard to work with. Better investigation appears necessary. Were these kids individually or collectively bullied per their assertions?


Chris F
Registered user
Barron Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:36 am
Chris F, Barron Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:36 am

This is outrageous that school administrators let it get as far as hospitalization! Those perpetrators need to pay legal consequences for their actions let alone disrupting another students education/academic life. Parents of perpetrators should pay consequences as well, take some anger management classes with these kids, behavior classes for dummies or something! Bullying starts from behavioral and discipline from home! Get these kids off our school grounds and start focusing on our kids who are there to learn!


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:47 am
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:47 am

Why is there no zero tolerance policy on bullying at PAUSD? PAUSD website says when bullying gets escalated, it goes up to Student Services. Who is in charge of Student Services at PAUSD? I'm curious how Student Services handled these bullying cases at PAUSD?
Web Link


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 12, 2021 at 1:28 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 1:28 pm

I agree that there should be no zero tolerance for bullying. PAUSD let the ball drop as evidence of the cases of six young
people attacked by aggressors at school.
We all know that bullies are cowards. The courts will undoubtedly force change upon
the district. To tell the victims to avoid certain bathrooms is akin to segregation. Yes Gunn is a competitive environment but
so are other schools. Rotten parenting, low self-esteem and stress to arrive do not EXCUSE bad behavior.

Why were these victims’ absences not excused? These absences were necessary
to protect these young people from the bullies. These alleged bullies need to expelled.The school district’s policy must include consequences for example expulsion.

I urge Mayor Tom DuBois, Palo Alto city council and the school board to get together and research successful school policies in the US. Both groups must collaborate to find working models regarding bullying because the policy as it stands now is ineffective and harms our youth. Maybe the parents of the bullies must be required to attend counseling.

Thank you PA Weekly for covering this critical issue.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2021 at 2:22 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 2:22 pm

There is no excuse for bullying or this type of behavior and I am not condoning it.

However, young people who have been locked up at home and kept away from peers could possibly be showing antisocial behavior as a result of no interaction with society, peers, authority, etc. There has been a type of solitary confinement and why are we surprised when young people who have spent 15 months away from society unable to act properly? [Portion removed.]


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 12, 2021 at 3:11 pm
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 3:11 pm

Bystander, I beg to differ with your explanation for totally unacceptable behavior! Bully behavior has been going on at both high schools and junior high for decades! My son and his friends were bullied at school, mostly in middle school in the late '80s. The aggressive kids in middle school were training for high school bully behavior. Their parents need to take control of them! I tried to help our kids understand that, the bullies are insecure so stay away from them! Those kids might have problems and are acting out at school. I do agree that the school needs to do a better job talking with the kid's parents but the school can only do so much. My son is now working on a Ph.D. from Harvard and his friend is a medical Dr. Suing the school will not change the behavior of kids or their parents!


No heat
Registered user
Fairmeadow
on Nov 12, 2021 at 3:31 pm
No heat, Fairmeadow
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 3:31 pm

How the @#[email protected]#$ are you supposed to "stay away" from somebody who ambushes you in the bathroom?

Putting the responsibility on the victim is completely ineffective. It. Does. Not. Work.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 3:37 pm
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 3:37 pm

"Interrogate the victims" is 100% the m.o. of this district. The gaslighting of parents and kids, too, telling them "they are safe" when it's not the case, sounds totally in character.

When will the culture change, in the admin and and the board, to believe and serve your parents and students? Board members, serve and listen to your parents. The admin is not the enemy, but they are who you are supposed to oversee on behalf of the parents. Instead, the attitude on the board is to work with the admin to best 'manage' the parents... totally backwards.

PAUSD creates these lawsuits not through the incidents, but through the callous and evasive response we give to parents. In Palo Alto, folks aren't suing for the money. They are suing because it's the only way this district ever listens or changes.


long view
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2021 at 4:48 pm
long view, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 4:48 pm

I am proud of the students who repeatedly reported the bullying.


PA Community Advocate
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2021 at 6:38 pm
PA Community Advocate, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 6:38 pm

Time for some loser adults to get fired and loser kids to go to juvenile hall.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2021 at 7:36 pm
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 7:36 pm

Some of the attacks described here cross the line to criminal assault. Has a police complaint been filed?

@S. Underwood, totally agree. Every time PAUSD gets into trouble, admins/board seem to think as long as they can ignore/bury/push out the current problem/families, they can reset and do better next time. So they never learn from their mistakes or how to actually solve a problem like this. If you don't learn from mistakes by truly doing what's right by children and families who have been wronged, then you'll be condemned to repeat it in oen way or other to the detriment of the next families. I don't think anyone in the district truly knows how to even make a decent apology.

You're absolutely right about the relationship between the board and admin, with the oversight role abdicated. All the administrators who should have been fired here in the last 20 years just moved on happily to inflict themselves on other districts.

@PA Community Advocate. No one will be firing anyone. Who's going to do it? Our board is good at sweeping things under rugs, NOT solving problems and certainly NOT standing up for students the district has wronged. (Speaking of not living by example...) If you want a district with that kind of accountability, you as a community member will have to find a way to advocate for change in the structure of the school district so that it's less insular. One possibility is to create an ombudsman position that is charged purely with advocating for families and the law, and who has authority through a different governmental structure such as the City Council.

The way you make that happen is by creating an amendment to the CITY's charter (not a charter school, a charter amendment to our City's "constitution" to change the structure of the district organization). It would have to be voted on, the State of CA only allows amendments to City Charters by vote. But that's where you change the structure of the school board as a governmental body.



atotic
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:04 pm
atotic, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:04 pm

The familias are still trying to understand how this happened. The large number of bullies is very unusual. . One thing we do not have is historical perspective. If anyone has information about such incidents in the last few years, please reach out to my username here at gmail.
With historical perspective, we could drive for the systemic change.


Paly Teacher
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:09 pm
Paly Teacher, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:09 pm

Wow. I feel awful for these kids. I hope each of them find justice.

These assaults and cases of bullying are partly because the school district and site administration for years has created a culture of non-accountability. Kids cheat and get a slap on the wrist. Now they can turn in homework assignments months after their due and get full credit. They can ditch and fail classes but they remain academically eligible for athletics.

After the students who perpetrated these acts are fairly punished, all administrators need to reflect and think about what they’re going to do to foster more responsibility in students. Otherwise, these incidents will sadly continue to happen.


Paly02
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:28 pm
Paly02, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 10:28 pm

I CANNOT BELIEVE the answer was "well just don't go into certain bathrooms." If they went into that bathroom anyway, was it their own fault if they got hospitalized?

It sounds like many of the victims were Black or Middle Eastern - should we be worried that we are not living up to our values an an inclusive society?


Paly02
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:50 pm
Paly02, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 12, 2021 at 11:50 pm

@Paly Teacher - can you explain how cheating on a test or asking for extra time to finish an assignment is the same as bullying (possibly with a racial motive?). I know plenty of folks with anxiety disorders who would ask for extra time to finish an assignment but that wouldn't mean they would go on to bully someone.

@atotic When you say you are looking for a historical perspective, I assume it is Gunn specific and not related to Paly? I could ask about Paly 2002 but I doubt it would be much use. Do you think Palo Alto's Human Relations Commission would be good to reach out to?


atotic
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:13 am
atotic, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:13 am

> When you say you are looking for a historical perspective, I assume it is Gunn specific and not related to Paly?

I think last 3 years would be most relevant. We are also interested in Paly/middle schools. We do not know what we do not know, better to learn too much than too little.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:13 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:13 am

To the families whose students were bullied: What can we as a community do to help your children feel safe and embraced by the community?

I am troubled by past experience with the district and the retaliation we ourselves experienced that was its own serious trauma that we deal with today.


atotic
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 13, 2021 at 3:30 am
atotic, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 3:30 am

> What can we as a community do to help your children feel safe and embraced by the community?

The community has been great (except for the bullies part). The institutional response can be improved. While I have many ideas of what could have been done differently, I also feel like an amateur. These problems are nothing new, and hopefully best practices for dealing with them have been developed. I am trying to learn what these are. Again, anyone who's interested in helping, email my username @ gmail.

For example, our kids returned to campus on Unity Day, "a national event to promote kindness, acceptance and inclusion in our schools and communities during Bullying Prevention Month". For me, this would have been a perfect opportunity to talk to the entire school about what happened, and ask everyone to come together and fix this.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2021 at 8:38 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 8:38 am

As I said above, bullying is never acceptable, but I do ask whether our young people are OK after being out of school with what societal norms school life brings evaporated away because of the pandemic?

For many children, particularly those who live in a family without siblings, lives have been altered and for a young teen this has been a large amount of time in their young lives. The freedom that being away from family, home and social distancing has brought back into their lives is probably hard for all of them. Most are adapting without bullying of course, but not using social skills, interacting with a large community, and the anonymity that doing school online has brought, probably has effects on their lives we cannot possibly understand.

Bullying is not acceptable. Cyber bullying has been reported as increasing during the pandemic. In person bullying could be increasing the same way now that school is back. Children don't always deal with change well. Their lives have been impacted so much. Rebellion and problems with social interactions are a consequence of insecurity.

Bullying is not acceptable. The consequences of bad behavior have to be handed out by school authorities.

Understanding the anguish some of our teens does not mean making excuses or acceptance of what is wrong. Helping our teens adjust to mixing back with society in their own world is going to be necessary for some time to come, I should think.


Samuel L.
Registered user
Meadow Park
on Nov 13, 2021 at 8:47 am
Samuel L., Meadow Park
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 8:47 am

This is NOT a pandemic issue. This is a lack of acting properly on the part of Gunn and PAUSD. I would almost guarantee that this is not.the first time the bullies have acted this way. The district allows this behavior in grade school and middle school. They try to hide the fact that some PAUSD students are not model citizens or good students. So they move them along from grade to grade no matter how they perform or.what needs to be done to make them appear to deserve it.

The district is hoping that everyone will vent their frustration and then forget about the whole thing in a few weeks/months. And the cycle will continue.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:12 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:12 am

This isn't a pandemic issue. Sadly, bullying has been going on for years, and administration (in most schools) turn a blind eye. Boys will be boys, and then it escalates out of control, and lawsuits are filed. The litigation lawyers win.

Hold everyone accountable, and hug your children.


Local Resident
Registered user
Community Center
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:18 am
Local Resident, Community Center
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:18 am

PAUSD administration has ineffectively responded and not resolved this situation. If Wendy Stratton cannot ensure a safe learning environment for Gunn high school students she needs to go. This is on her and Don Austin.


Same Experience
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:42 am
Same Experience, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:42 am

Wow! This lawsuit as well as the math one mirror our experiences exactly. In this particular case, our child ("Victim") was also interrogated and forced to make a written statement. I can only hope the perpetrator went through worse.

I wonder who is giving Administration counsel because it's awful advice / training. I guess even schools are not immune to the CYA-first mentality. Pity.

In any case, parents be forewarned. Protect your children. Hope that PAUSD does the right thing, but prepare in case it doesn't.

(By the way, I have high respect for PAUSD teachers. PAUSD administration? My experience has been some positive, but more negative.)


shockedNsad
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 13, 2021 at 10:03 am
shockedNsad, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 10:03 am

First of all, thank you, Palo Alto Online, for this detailed report. I read it with tremendous sadness. I drove by the school often in the past. Each time I admired the wonderful achievement of the students, teachers, and all school members. I could never expect this had happened in a school, a secured and safe place where youngsters came in to study, to build social skills, and to develop personal interaction. Instead, some came in with constant fear, not knowing what could happen next.
The claims are very serious. Recording attacks and posting it to internet is way beyond simple bullying. Attacking and causing bodily injuries definitely need to be handled by the law enforcement.


atotic
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 13, 2021 at 10:28 am
atotic, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 10:28 am

> This is on her and Don Austin.

The issue predates Gunn principal, who's only started during COVID. The superintendent might not have been aware of details of what happens at Gunn.

What would really help is to focus on how we can do better: protect the victims better; help bullies realize bullying is bad, and find a different purpose in life.


mauricio
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:11 pm
mauricio, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:11 pm

The offenders are much more than bullies, they should have been expelled from school permanently, arrested, charged with hate crimes, tried and sentenced to spend long quality time in juvenile prison.

After the four years of the previous US administration, this kind of racist violence has become more of the norm nation-wide rather than an exception, but this is still shocking in a town that claims to be progressive and enlightened.

The PAUSD is a disaster, and should be dissolved taken over by and run by the state.

I am so thankful on a daily basis that I moved out of Palo Alto several years ago. What an awful place it has become.


Michael Weiss
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:13 pm
Michael Weiss, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:13 pm

As a youngster who was constantly bullied because of my ethnicity (Jewish), diminutive size, and profound intellectualism, I eventually took it upon myself to effectively deal with this problematic issue.

I learned martial arts and eventually put an end to this unwarranted harassment once and for all.

Unfortunately the PAUSD did not intervene and address this matter as it is the responsibility of school administrators to ensure a safe learning environment for their students.

We do not want another Columbine incident where a bullied student went on a shooting rampage to rid himself of his perpetual tormentors.

The key question...how could any of this been avoided?

It is the duty and responsibility of the PAUSD to prevent, investigate, and eliminate such ongoing incidents.

If not, former students like myself will have to take measures into their own hands and parents should emphasize the ability to defend oneself against wrongful aggression.

After sending three oppressors to the ER (broken jaw, dislocated shoulder, and dislodged eye socket) the bullies learned to leave me alone.






shockedNsad
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:41 pm
shockedNsad, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 12:41 pm

There are so many questions to be answered by the school. I have one for the medical staff at the school: When the injured student(s) came to you for treatment, what did you do? Did you report the group attack to the police? I believe by law, you were required to. Thank you.


shockedNsad
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 13, 2021 at 1:42 pm
shockedNsad, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 1:42 pm

California Penal code 11160 a(2) mandatory reporting by a medical practitioner upon treating “A person suffering from any wound or other physical injury inflicted upon the person where the injury is the result of assaultive or abusive conduct.”.


It.is.what.it.is
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2021 at 4:27 pm
It.is.what.it.is, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 4:27 pm

Let’s not alarm everyone. PAUSD is no ghetto school. Bullying is due to poor parenting and most parenting here is good. However, with so many students in the school district, there is bound to be some deficient parenting. I attended PAUSD in the 70s and 80s and raised my children for the past 17 years in Duveneck/Jordan/Paly. I do feel like there is more bullying now than when I grew up, perhaps due to more moms working? Or us being more sensitive? Bullying is very rare but yes, it’s a big district and will occur at times but not as much as in public schools elsewhere across the nation. My children said that the best aspect of this district is the lack of bullying. There have been lesbians attending prom, a boy dressed in drag twice for prom, same boy hitting on guys, and more. The students in the schools my children attended were very open-minded and there were many stay-at-home moms. That said, we did have a few issues with bullying at Duveneck and Jordan and I reported it immediately to the teachers and principals and it was resolved. The three different bullies did have dysfunctional parenting. Just like anything else in life, your approach matters. Be respectful and polite when speaking with staff.


Screeedek
Registered user
Stanford
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:00 pm
Screeedek, Stanford
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 9:00 pm

- " Very sad circumstances but hearsay is hard to work with."
A trip to the hospital with blood coming from one's ears is a lot more than hearsay.

My guess is the bullies have influential parents that the District does not want to offend so they roll over. The bullies should be expelled. Immediately. Why is this not happening?


Samuel L
Registered user
Meadow Park
on Nov 13, 2021 at 10:01 pm
Samuel L, Meadow Park
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 10:01 pm

Wow, how many more excuses can people make for criminal conduct? Let's see, so far we have bad parents, covid, moms working, people being too sensitive and it's always happened.

What has always happened is that PAUSD and the administrators at the PAUSD schools have always tried to discourage the reporting of bullying and any other type of harassment that might reflect poorly on the school. The school's will tell victims that they'll take care of it while at the same time making them feel that they will also be punished.

The bullies/perpertrators won't be punished because the school/district is afraid the parents will complain. If any of the bullies are Special Ed students or have IEP's or 504 plans, it's basically a get out of jail free card.

At Paly, Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson does as little as humanly possible and students know they won't get in trouble. Wendy Stratton was at Paly before Gunn and is probably taking her cues from what she learned while she was at Paly.

The district will end up settling with the families, insurance will pay for it. No one will be held accountable and the cycle will repeat itself soon enough. The only people that will suffer any consequences will be the students getting bullied.


Anon123456
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2021 at 11:07 pm
Anon123456, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 11:07 pm

I wonder what the parents of the bullies would say about the situation? I wonder if the bullies themselves have been bullied or learned the behavior somehow? I wonder if the bullies themselves are minorities or special needs? I wonder if the adults involved are thinking about holistic solutions rather than appeasement measures?


atotic
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 13, 2021 at 11:48 pm
atotic, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 13, 2021 at 11:48 pm

@Samuel L: you seem to have deep knowledge of how bullying is dealt with at PAUSD.
The protagonists in the current incident are trying to learn more about this topic. If you do not mind sharing, email my username @ gmail.


Marion Davis
Registered user
Los Altos
on Nov 14, 2021 at 10:12 am
Marion Davis, Los Altos
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 10:12 am

If the parents are to blame for having children who are bullies, the solution is simple...make the parents criminally and financially responsible for the actions of their offspring who are still minors.

The bullying students should also be remanded to Juvenile Hall where they will most likely encounter other youthful offenders who are far more adept at dishing it out as what comes around goes around.

In a worst case scenario, the parents should be stripped out their children who are chronically bullying others and creating havoc in what is supposed to be an educational environment.


PA Streets
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Nov 14, 2021 at 10:14 am
PA Streets, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 10:14 am

This is terrible. These bullies should be dealt with accordingly. It’s extremely disappointing that the school has apparently tried to ignore this. There are just some students who are bullies in middle and high school. I faced bullying at JLS, Jordan, and Paly from time to time. What these students experienced is terrible. It does not reflect the community we are and our school district should take this seriously.


mauricio
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 14, 2021 at 11:01 am
mauricio, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 11:01 am

Over the years individual school administrations and the PAUSD have dealt with bullying which is nothing less than a form of violence by engaging in meaningless lip service. These particular racist bullies should have been permanently expelled from school and their actions reported to the police.

Since the pause never actually addresses bullying beyond cliches, platitudes and meaningless lip service, these racists will undoubtedly continue to target more victims, and other bullies will be encouraged to imitate them realizing there are no consequences for such behavior. There's Nothing new here. The PAUSD is a badly run administration where bullied kids are chronically not protected and it should be dissolved and taken over by the California department of education.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2021 at 4:15 pm
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 4:15 pm

Marion Davis, instead of sending these bullies to juvenile hall, where they will learn new violent skills, how about mandatory FAMILY THERAPY? The parent and their children will be better off for it. The kids will not be able to return to school unless they are in a program. Oh, but wait, it's much cheaper to put the kid in jail, paid for by taxpayers, than to pay for a therapist. The family problems and issues will never be resolved and these kids, who are sometimes victims of their environment, will continue to act out. The schools need to mandate therapy and pay for it if the families can't. It is way cheaper than paying for lawsuits!!


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2021 at 5:00 pm
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 5:00 pm

Whenever there's a problem in this district that might have legal implications, the district staff and teachers go into this mode in which they treat the child and family like something less than human. They keep the child at arms' length, and don't allow anyone to develop a normal relationship with the child or family. To the family, it feels like a kind of whisper campaign, because that's what it really becomes, no matter how false, it metastacizes;because there is no normal relationship with the family, the misinformation ends up demonizing them. All of this ends up hurting the child's education, the family and child's sense of safety and actual safety. Back when we had a head of student services who one board member admitted was "not truthful", that person would absolutely gaslight families behind their backs and do it so convincingly.

There is an equivalent situation here, in auto accidents and medical malpractice. It turns out that when the party responsible for harm takes responsibility and makes a good apology (including good faith efforts to fix things so they don't happen again), the damages are usually less and the likelihood of being sued is less. This is completely opposite of what lawyers have told their clients forever, but of course lawyers make out like bandits. The evidence is that the suits are more likely if the perpetrator doesn't adequately apologize, and suits end up costing way more.

Our board members and admins go into a mode in which they feel that if they (illegally) simply ignore parents' complaints, that they can get away with something, and they don't give the harm they are doing to children a second thought--unless someone sues. Not everyone can or does sue. So our district thinks that their harmful, unlawful behavior somehow saved a lawsuit when all it did was traumatize yet another child and rob them of their education and the chance to develop a good relationship with our educators.

I'm concerned this will happen here too.


shockedNsad
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 14, 2021 at 9:49 pm
shockedNsad, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 9:49 pm

I honestly don't believe that the school officials have realized how serious this is. The act of using an ethnic slur and causing bodily injuries is way more than simple bullying -- it's a hate crime. Let me take this opportunity to educate the school officials by showing some quotes in stopbullying.gov, an official website of the United States government.

Under the "Federal Laws" page, " Unfortunately, sometimes behaviors can become criminal. For example, when a violent crime or threat to commit such crime is motivated by bias against a person or group with specific characteristics, then it is called a hate crime."

" In some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment, which is covered under federal civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). No matter what label is used, schools are obligated by these laws to address the conduct when it meets all three criteria below. It is:
-- Unwelcome and objectively offensive, such as derogatory language, intimidation, threats, physical contact, or physical violence;
-- Creates a hostile environment at school. That is, it is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school; and is
-- Based on a student's race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion

"The types of discrimination prohibited in schools are the same types of discrimination that federal civil rights laws prohibit. A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students based on a protected class may be violating one or more civil rights laws enforced by the ED and the DO"

Let me repeat: "schools are obligated by these laws to address the conduct", "A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students based on a protected class may be violating one or more civil rights laws".


Samuel L
Registered user
Meadow Park
on Nov 14, 2021 at 11:06 pm
Samuel L, Meadow Park
Registered user
on Nov 14, 2021 at 11:06 pm

PAUSD's goal is to protect its resources, which do not include students. Lawsuits and settlements get paid by the district's insurance. Their goal is to drag it out as long as possible so that the plaintiffs/victims eventually just settle for a small amount of money and sign a non-disclosure. The school will pay the families while at the same time saying they did nothing wrong.

Ken Dauber has claimed to be against bullying. 5 years ago, Dauber was quoted as saying, “When we have a student with special needs who suffers this kind of bullying that’s severe enough that they ultimately transfer to a different school, and I see staff not correctly following our District’s policy and also not being responsive to the parents, that’s a serious management issue that we need to address.”

Not sure why it matters if the student being bullied is special needs, or not. It sounds like these students are talking about the need to change schools. According to Dauber that would signal a "serious management issue".

In 2020, PAUSD (their insurance) paid $50K for a case that started in 2016 at Jordan. Web Link

Nothing has changed. Nothing will until the district decides to make students a priority.


atotic
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Nov 15, 2021 at 1:01 am
atotic, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 1:01 am

@Samuel L: again after reading your comments I'd really appreciate if you'd contact me at my username at gmail. You seem to know a lot about history of bullying at PAUSD. I am a participant in the current case.


Phillip Taylor
Registered user
Los Altos
on Nov 15, 2021 at 10:21 am
Phillip Taylor, Los Altos
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 10:21 am

> "how about mandatory FAMILY THERAPY?"

This is an appropriate starting point but oftentimes therapy doesn't work due to non-cooperation or apathy and besides, a sizable number of so-called therapists are rarely firing on all eight mental cylinders themselves (which is why so many of them got into the field).

It's time to get tougher with these adolescent troublemakers and there are other options besides incarceration in juvenile hall including sending the incorrigible youths to (1) a private military school where they can learn both self-discipline and how to re-focus their aggressive behavior towards enemies of our country, (2) a sports academy (if they have any viable athletic talent) where they can refine and develop their individual sports skills, or (3) a seminary where they can learn to serve their maker and the community as a whole.

The key is to get the majority of these juvenile delinquents and thugs off the streets and out of the public school system where they wreak havoc.

As an adolescent of 17, I was arrested twice for grand theft auto (joyriding) and given one of two choices by the judge...either finish up in reform school or join the Navy upon turning 18.

I chose the Navy where I trained as a Navy Corpsman (medic) and with the assistance of the GI Bill, I was able to attend college and later completed med school.

The only way to deter and neutralize these punks is to separate them from the pack.


Not worried
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2021 at 5:14 pm
Not worried, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 5:14 pm

Section 504 and IEP students should be protected.
Web Link

California Penal Code Section 241
Web Link

Get a thorough investigation of all parties involved.

Web Link


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Nov 15, 2021 at 6:14 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 6:14 pm

PAUSD has a problem with institutional bias, as has been determined both by the courts and also by the United States Justice Department. Most of the bias undoubtedly is unconscious, but the results are the same: minorities are harmed. At all schools, but especially at the high schools, students of color, African-Americans in particular, rarely receive the benefit of school policies and laws against harassment, discrimination, and bullying. These Gunn incidents comprise one example of many, as this article correctly notes.

These bias problems impact not just students but also teachers and staff. At Paly, last week the Principal "fired" the one black baseball coach (a former Pro ball player who was volunteering his expertise), claiming only that Paly is going in a "different direction." Given that last season, Paly baseball performed better than any other season in years, one wonders why Paly would want this exceptional direction to change. Additionally, given that this assistant coach was a *volunteer* rather than a paid staff member, and Paly lacks budget for a paid coach, Paly can't replace him.

Despite a full week of parent and student outcry, Paly has doubled-down on its choice to remove one of its *only* black role models as well as its most beloved mentor to most of the baseball players. Optically, this looks terrible for Paly. What reason can Paly offer to cut loose a *volunteer* coach that helped herald the team to one of its best seasons in recent history, esp given no budget to replace him? Once again, PAUSD's inexplicable decisions result in harm to minorities.

PAUSD never considers the bigger picture. It acts like an entitled spoiled toddler, acting out of laziness, greed, jealousy, spite, or simply willful blindness, without consideration of the harm caused by its actions on others.

I do not know why we stand for this. Our community and these children deserve *much* better.


Jon D
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2021 at 6:40 pm
Jon D, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Nov 15, 2021 at 6:40 pm

I agree with everything you wrote, Rebecca. Not only are the optics bad for Paly "firing" a VOLUNTEER coach with no explanation (to the Head Coach, the volunteer, the parents, or most importantly the kids) or reasoning.

The bigger issue, as many people have stated, is the obvious pattern PAUSD exhibits in all things either racial in nature, willingness to blame the victim, and then go on a secrecy/cover of darkness campaign until it goes to court. Why? Why is this the pattern and how can we actually stop it as a community.

By the way - one explanation the Paly Principal, VP in charge of Athletics, and the AD gave on the dismissal of the volunteer coach was, "It came from above." Well, OK Dr. Austin - what do you have to say about it? It's going to come to light, so you might as well address the concerned parents and players.

This is in no way to equalize the Paly situation with what is going on at Gunn - that is immeasurably worse and wholly unacceptable. The point is the pattern continues and the dots all line up...


Jason Beck
Registered user
Woodside
on Nov 16, 2021 at 8:49 am
Jason Beck, Woodside
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 8:49 am

In lieu of any constructive and pro-active corrective measures by the PAUSD, the bullied children/students should be encouraged to fight back against their oppressors regardless of the outcome.

Those of us who grew up in the past know that most bullies when confronted, will often turn away or re-focus their attention to others unwilling to challenge them.

Self-defense should be taught in P.E. classes with an emphasis on neutralizing one's attacker. This training could also come in handy in later years for women trying to avert a sexual attack.

As the saying goes from The Karate Kid..."No mercy."


shockedNsad
Registered user
Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2021 at 1:28 pm
shockedNsad, Mountain View
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 1:28 pm

This in-depth report by Palo Alto Online appears in the official website of National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environment, the US Department of Education:

Web Link

There are so many questions and concerns raised in this forum. Palo Alto Online can do a great service to the community by publishing a follow-up report. So far we have not heard anything from the officials. Thank you.


staying home
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2021 at 10:37 am
staying home, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 10:37 am

@Rebecca Eisenberg @jon D how do we get PA Online to investigate why Coach Jamal was fired from the team?

You want to eliminate bullies? put their offenses on their transcript. Let their prospective colleges know about their disciplinary issues.


BillyBirch
Registered user
Community Center
17 hours ago
BillyBirch, Community Center
Registered user
17 hours ago

Thank you for telling us about this case, it would be interesting to know how this case will develop further. I am now researching similar cases of racism in schools and colleges. I will eventually have to write an assignment, at first I wanted to buy it by this Web Link but then I realized that this is an important social issue. It is so urgent that I have to figure it out on my own.


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