School board grapples with how to improve students' emotional health | May 28, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 28, 2010

School board grapples with how to improve students' emotional health

Mothers lament bullying, 'pressure-cooker atmosphere' in Palo Alto schools

by Chris Kenrick

Emotions ran high Tuesday night as the Palo Alto school board grappled with a proposed policy to prevent suicide and improve students' mental health in the aftermath of four suicide deaths at the Caltrain tracks from May to October 2009.

Several tearful mothers spoke to their children's struggles.

In particularly dramatic comments, Janet Dickens, the mother of William Dickens, who died Oct. 19, said her son was described as happy and well-adjusted by his lifelong pediatrician. But she said he was vulnerable because he felt he could not compete in Gunn High School's "high-achieving, pressure-cooker atmosphere."

"Will did not have a diagnosed mental illness," Dickens said in her written comments, read to the board by friend and fellow Gunn parent Janet Levine.

"He was happy; he wanted to be liked and accepted. He was a star athlete, well-liked, from a strong, supportive and very involved religious family.

"He wanted to be accepted by his peers but was often seen in the background. He was vulnerable because he had a ... learning disability.

"He was vulnerable in a school where achievement and success were valued over and above creating a safe and caring environment."

Another parent spoke of her teen's debilitating struggle with severe depression. She said while some teachers were sympathetic others threatened to fail the girl because of her absences.

"In some ways I can't really blame them — adolescent depression isn't pretty," the mother said. But she recommended schools be more flexible and allow students to take an incomplete in a class if they dealing with depression.

Tuesday night's discussion highlighted the challenge schools face in effectively addressing social and emotional needs of teens while maintaining top-ranked academic programs.

While clearly sympathetic to the outpouring of grief and intensive community response to the suicides, school board members struggled to define a focused, feasible and measurable role for the school district.

"Social and emotional health spans the whole of human existence. There are no boundaries," school board member Dana Tom said.

"It's not like talking about learning about math, or learning about writing."

"We need to pick a couple of things and actually get them done so we can see some progress, because we're a school district and we have a lot of things we do," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.

Several parents advocated a strong curriculum covering social and emotional health.

Emotional well-being is critical to other forms of success in life, Gunn parent Anat Admati said.

"We need a point person in every school to carry this forward. Don't let fear and being overwhelmed with this deter you from doing this, please," Admati said.

Kathleen Blanchard, mother of Jean Paul Blanchard, who died May 5, 2009, also endorsed a policy to address student social-emotional health.

"Key to success is identification of a person who will lead this effort and be accountable for making board resolution a reality," said Blanchard, who has two other children in the school district.

Most if not all of the school district's 17 campuses already have some form of social-emotional or character-education curriculum, including a mandatory "Living Skills" semester in the high schools, the "Steps to Respect" program in elementary schools and several anti-bullying efforts.

School officials this week proposed a new program, known as Project Cornerstone Developmental Assets, as a framework for youth support that could be used by schools as well as by the city and various community agencies.

That program already is in use by Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, the City of San Jose and various YMCAs, officials said.

"Developmental assets" themes include: support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity.

The idea would be for multiple community agencies to reinforce the themes, leading to an atmosphere of greater support for teens, district Director of Student Services Carol Zepecki told the board.

Zepecki, co-chaired a suicide response task force along with city recreation official Rob DeGeus, presented a long list of ways the school and community is responding to the suicides.

The school district plans to train all teachers and staff in a suicide-prevention method known as QPR (question, persuade and refer), school psychologist Wes Cedros said. QPR teaches people to "recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help," according to its website.

With some reservations, school board members endorsed the Project Cornerstone Developmental Assets program but continued to discuss how to implement this and other emotional-health programs for students and staff.

Parents and school board members applauded the volunteer efforts of Track Watch, a group parents and others who have organized to maintain a physical presence at the Caltrain tracks in hopes of discouraging future suicide attempts.

"It's not a coincidence that we've not had a suicide since the Track Watch folks have been there doing their work," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.

"They deserve a lot of credit for that. It makes a big difference in a tangible way."

Skelly said he will work to refine some of the ideas presented Tuesday, particularly those concerning the Developmental Assets, and return to the board with more on the topic at its June 22 meeting.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at


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Posted by oops!
a resident of Barron Park
on May 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Skelly got it wrong. Track Watch has been there since late October. An incident did happen in January. This shows that things can still happen and track watch is not the only solution. Track Watch is doing a wonderful job, but if the district does not do their homework things might happen again. Track Watch should keep doing the wonderful job, but they alone can not solve it. The district needs to step in and help students at school by stopping bullying, no more pressures on student with special needs. No more uncaring teachers.

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Posted by A Palo Alto parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm

My child has been through the ringer in Palo Alto public schools. No bullying from other kids, but from teachers and admin., and the only answer to all her questions has been "No, no, no." The best thing I ever did was pull her out of the PA high school she went to and put her into an independent private high school. We're lucky to have some resources to be able to do this, and are willing to make sacrifices and use money that was set aside for college. She'll get her HS diploma earlier, and she's getting an appropriate education, really learning, and preparing for college. And, thank goodness, she's happier and more relaxed and successful than she's ever been.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 26, 2010 at 1:05 pm

>> A minority middle-school student said a classmate asked
>> if he had come to America "on a ship full of slaves."

This is really typical of the kind of rotten little punks kids today can be. When I was in high-school anyone who said anything like that would really have set themselves apart, but today other kids seem to think it is clever or something. Not all kids of course. That is the kind of comment that could really hurt someone and make them feel bad, why are these kids so insensitive or pretending to be so insenstive? Is it the screwy media we have , or the news, the war, or how insulated they are in real life that they need to hammer out until they touch reality even if it bleeds?

Maybe it's just the syndrome of always having to move to the next higher level to do something new or not boring, like turning music up and up in my generation until people start to go deaf, but there seems to be a lack of people who refuse to accept this kind of bad
bahavior. God I am glad I am not a kid today that's for sure.

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Posted by midtown mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Bottom line sounds like:

We need to be raising more flexible kids, who can figure out how to survive / tough it out, rather than leave. Life sure is full of curves, and the better the children are at flexing, the better they'll be at handling ANY situation, even the tough ones.

That doesn't mean bullies win - it means ANYONE can handle someone who's obnoxious without becoming one. Grace, tact, manners were the rigor decades ago. Maybe it's a good time for a come-back.

Etiquette was the way to "civilize" and agree on how things were done before. Maybe too many rules isn't helpful, but SOME guidelines sure could be use, other than just academic standards.

For the school situation, academics is but one facet of the learning experience.

True intelligence is not only knowledge, but how to use it socially.

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Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on May 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Another excellent article covering this topic and our schools from Chris Kenrick. Thank you Chris. If you missed last night's meeting, the school board meetings are carried live on Comcast 28 whenever they are held. This meeting will playback Thursday evening 6:30 pm and midnight and Friday morning at 9 am. Whenever it is on TV it can also be watched via webcast at www. Additionally, this and all meetings are archived and can be accessed for viewing from the website. Go to the Board of Education TAB and then find the Materials and Meetings TAB and that will take you to the list of meetings available to watch.

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Posted by Grandma
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I think it's a shame that everyone on this blog is blaming the schools and the School District. Why don't you put the blame where it belongs, at the door of the admissions office of every college.

Yes, teachers push our kids but most of you want your kids to go to college, and to get into college today you've got to have high achieving kids. Things will only get more and more competitive as the population increases and admissions to college decrease.

Ironically my kids found college a breeze, getting into the UC system was the hard part!!

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Posted by Another Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Wow! Thanks a lot Mrs. Dickens, for sharing the story of your son. We are all sorry nothing was done to prevent Will from being bullied and for not being accepted by others. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] At least he does not have to suffer anymore the stigma of being a special ed kid. My children do and they have to put up with the teasing and academic by the teachers, who do not understand about disabilities. I hope the district does something about bullying and not putting children under so much academic pressure, so we keep them alive. Parents when your children get home, hug them because they might not be here tomorrow. They might be suffering inside and you do not know it. Love them and listen. Sorry Will we were not there for you!

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Posted by Carole
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

A major problem the past decade or so is the # of parents who have their kids involved in various programs. These kids don't learn coping skills & they mature, at best, much later than kids who have free time to play together. Why don't parents just let their kids play outside instead of organizing their lives so that the parents are more comfortable.

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Posted by bean
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 26, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Any other parents out there with depressed adolescents? I too have a depressed adolescent, and her school staff have also had little sympathy for her absences and symptoms. I would love it if we could offer each other support and share ways to cope with the schools and otherwise. Any one want to meet at Palo Alto Cafe on Middlefield on Wednesday at 10 AM June 2?

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Posted by katie
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Anon - you got it right. I am a teacher and I was just saying tonight that the hardest part of my job is seeing how *mean* kids can be with comments like the slave ship comment. It is astonishing to me. Yes, there have always been mean people, but there has been some sort of cultural shift that makes this attitude less unacceptable. I can only imagine what it feels like for someone who hears stuff like this all of the time. I do my best to work with kids, call them on stuff, take advantage of teachable moments, and of course support the recipients of such comments. (But then I hear from the mean parents...)

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Posted by jon
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2010 at 10:42 pm

For the most part, I think us students at Gunn are coping quite well with school right now. we're all working on a lot of projects. I think teachers should spread out due dates when it comes to finals and these projects, it really does add a lot of pressure. What makes a difference is the school environment. Hanging out in the quad with friends during lunch or pulling a chair up to Mr. Lira's desk in the AC and having a good time has REALLY helped this year (I can't express how much the new freedoms in the AC have meant to me and my friends). Living Skills class is a joke. We all laugh at it. It needs reform.

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Posted by Jorge
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 26, 2010 at 11:08 pm

No one cares about these things. They are just everyday news and events. I, for one, don't put too much thought. We are all too busy with APs SATs sports clubs teams contests etc.

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2010 at 11:27 pm

How about starting with not using our tax money to make our high schools bigger, more impersonal places? Our high schools are now as large as they've ever been, and making them larger will not only cost a lot of money, it will make many of the problems worse (less social connectedness, more bullying, etc).

Why not look seriously at alternatives, like reopening Cubberley, before ASSUMING what it would take and how much it would cost?

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Posted by Another midtown Parent.
a resident of Midtown
on May 27, 2010 at 8:23 am

Concerned Midtown Parent,
You are so right. They are spending our tax money on making school bigger, and that is only making things worst. This is one of the advantages of private schools, they are small and students get to know each other. Too bad the district does not think about opening a third high school. This way counselors will have less students, and will have more time to served them right and get connected. I am guessing at Gunn they have no more than 8 counselors and each of them tries to serve, or is assign at least 300 students. How can they do their job. They just can't, even if they want to. Teacher will also benefit because they will have more chances to get to know students better. All the money they are expending to make and remodel schools could be used to open another one. We are failing to keep our students alive! We have failed as community, schools, and parents.
If we the community do not raise our voices, nothing will happen.

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Posted by History
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2010 at 9:04 am

You must be kidding if you think Cubberley can be reopened. It is in such bad repair with asbestos and lead paint everywhere the whole place will need to be torn down and rebuilt.

So, now you'd have to build a brand new school - how much would that cost? As previous administrations have pointed out, a brand new school to be opened at Cubberley would require another costly bond measure. It costs over $1 Million a year just to run a high school and that doesn't include teachers.

Trust Palo Alto parents to make wild statements like reopen Cubberley and not even consider the cost!!! Thank goodness our School administration watches our tax dollars - sort of.

Incidentally, the City's lease on Cubberley ends after 2014, then the School District can have it back. They will then have the opportunity of selling the land to HP for their headquarter's offices, just like they did before the City took it over.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 27, 2010 at 10:23 am


How big are you willing to make our high schools? They are tottering just under 2000 students at present. Do you wish them to get to 2500? Or even 3000?

With the amount of new development going on in Palo Alto, including one development in the Paly area advertising itself as being in Gunn, we are going to get more and more people moving here primarily for our high schools. Our middle schools are also growing - Terman can't expand and the other two are both tottering just below 1000 students.

Cubberley will have to be used for educating these new residents. The problem of course is how to fund the work which will need to be done, probably the ideal way will be to rebuild.

Is this going to be fair on present residents? No, of course not. But if the developers are going to be building more and if ABAG is going to insist on more, then they are going to have to dig into their pockets to fund it.

The idea that City Council cannot consider impact on schools is another situation that has to be reversed. Of course they need to consider impact to schools when they approve housing in the same way that they have to consider traffic, utilities and other infrastructure when they consider housing.

As for school administration watching our tax dollars - hardly. They are protecting themselves, their unionized teachers and their reputations. They are certainly not watching the property taxes that an average resident is paying plus the amount that PIE is suggesting we additionally contribute. It is reasons like this that the library bond got passed with their backing and we still haven't started paying for that.

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Posted by Harriet Chessman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2010 at 10:45 am

Chris, thank you for a balanced and informative piece on this intricate and challenging issue of students' emotional health, especially in our middle and high schools. I so wish there were an easy fix! I do think it's hugely important to focus on school culture, and yet this is a difficult (elusive) entity to address.

The size of our schools (including classroom size) is clearly one of the problems; the necessity teachers feel to teach toward tests, including SATs; the emphasis on measurement and grades. If each teacher has 125 students, she or he can't possibly teach in an organic way, where each student is encouraged to have a voice and a presence; it's easy for a large number of students to fly (or sink) under the radar.

The counseling system is woefully inadequate as well. Great idea, to have faculty who advise students, yet these faculty are often overwhelmed with their other duties; there is only one guidance counselor per 150 or more kids!

What to do? Fight Prop 13; get more resources into the schools, so that classes can be smaller, and there can be more one-on-one help for each child. The more attention each child receives, the less chance there will be for bullying and unkindness among kids to become a regular part of the culture.

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Posted by anon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 27, 2010 at 11:34 am

Ask any kid, if they ever got any help from guidance..,
As for the budget - there is no shortage of money, there is just really bad judgment what to spend it on. Look at the budget for Jordan Middle school PTA (or any other school for that matter) and see for yourself. There are teachers at Jordan who requested (and got!) expensive SmartBoards and never (not a single time!) used them. Why not spend buck on hiring a psychologist?

Nothing is done about bullying, nothing at all. A few (probably two) year ago my kid brought home a pen from Jordan that said something like "8 out of 10 students in Jordan did not bully anyone this year" Isn't it wonderful, we have only 20% bullies at our school.
Sadly, all these internet discussions are rather pointless. Parents are the only support our kids got. Talk to your kids, be there for them, don't rely on school system and you'll be fine.

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Posted by Frustrated Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 27, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I attended the meeting. It was sad that Skelly mention something like Bully has been going on for many years, not to say that it is ok to be bullied, we have some programs for that at some schools, and then he moved on to the next issue. The problem is that obviously they are not working. Children get bullied a lot, my children too, but they are afraid to speak up, because bullies will take revenge later when no one sees them, and it will be pay off time. How sad, that someone already die as a result of bullying and all Skelly says is what I mentioned before at the beginning of this posting.

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Posted by mom of depressed teen
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm

To bean, who suggested meeting on Weds June 2 at 10:00 a.m. at Palo Alto Cafe. I am one of the parents who spoke at the board meeting about my daughter's depression. I would like to meet but would not be able to be there until about 11:15 that day. Would that work for you?

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Posted by andrea
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 27, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Its been while since I was a teenager in PA but I have to say that I feel sorry for the kids here today. Its so much more competitive than it was in the 80's. We didnt start thinking and worrying about college in elementary school. We didnt worry what activities might help us. There wasn't as much money as there is now. Parents were parenting. Very few nannies. Kids had more guidance. People werent as stressed out and grouchy all the time as they are now. Kids go from activity to activity, playing multiple sports, learning multiple languages and so on. There is so little time for playdates and just to rest, sleep and be kids! I was never running around and stressed out as much as the kids today are. I am seriously considering pulling my kid out of the PA school system for jr high and high school, something i NEVER thought I would EVER do. But Im sad to say I feel the schools are dropping the ball. They are out of touch with what the students need and want. This whole town is! There is even less to do here now then there was 20 years ago. I miss places like the Old Mill, The Edge and others. Places teens could safely go and have fun. Now they want to take away the bowling alley and put up more housing in our already overcrowded city ?? Wake up people. The kids should be our priority and they arent. We have lost how many already. What is it going to take for things to change? For parents to wake up. For the school adm to wake up. This place is not the perfect utopia you imagine it to be. Kids are stressed and miserable ! They are bullied even in elem, school. Many parents are too busy to care or are so clueless that their child is suffering and hurting others. Something needs to change. Soon

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Posted by kmom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 27, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Thank you Janet Dickens for speaking about Will. It was helpful to hear the things you had to say, particularly about being bullied. This is a big problem in our schools across the country and I'm saddened that Will was a victim of this at our own Gunn High School. What's the solution to an administration that has a tolerance for such bullies? Students need to rally behind bully victims and stand up for them only then will the school be forced into action. I say this, because victims of bullies need support and they need it from their peers. Parents are great supporters for their children, but at school parents are often seen as biased, blowing bullying behavior out of proportion and looked at as being too over-protected. Like the students who stood up for the Gay/Lesbian community at Gunn last month, there should be the same outrage against bullying and an all school rally against them. When something works, keep working it.

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Posted by A Dissapointed Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm

The district does not see bully as a problem. They see it as a part of being a child. This is what I got from watching the board meeting. This is the same way the Barron Park Principal, thaught, until a child girl got tired of being bullied and sexually harrased by someone else and took the law on her own hand by bringing a kitchen knife and the next day when she was about to bully her, she said I have something for you. Neddless to say, the police was not called because it will be bad for the school. Sad, sad, sad.
If we parents do not demand that they take care of bullying at schools and make a big deal out of it when it happens, it will continue to happen, until someone gets tired again, and kills him/herself or the bully. Skell
Skelly, Would you then say "this has been happening a lot, so nothing new"
We will all be responsible not just Skelly.

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 27, 2010 at 5:27 pm

The comment about SLAVE SHIPS was disturbing. But what can one expect from a child who has only been taught about slaves, Dr. King, and maybe Rosa Parks. PAUSD needs to teach all the students about the contributions of people of color to instill RESPECT for all peoples. At Gunn there is a proposal to teach a World History course which makes NO mention of non-European cultures. It is just a repackaging of the same old history of dead white men. Here it is the 21st century and two young white teachers are trying to drag us back to the 1950s. When will people learn from past errors?

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Posted by Too Bad
a resident of Juana Briones School
on May 27, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Too bad PAUSD administrators do not take bully as serious as they did with the egg-war, and TODAY'S GUNN incident. They should also call the police when students get bully, not just when students play a pranks.

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Posted by Just a parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 27, 2010 at 7:04 pm

After reading of this article I got a strong desire to take a shower: so indifferently dirty the opinion of the school district sounds! Students died because of “pressure cooker” environment, and the only result is ideas about organizing memorial services and promise to try to educate school personnel to swatch for dangerous signs of depression! It is possible to write endlessly about indifference and heartlessness of some members of schools staff, however, I’d like to hold the emotions for now and suggest real actions that can help improve the situation.
1) Change district policies about absences. Under no circumstances students’ grades must be affected by absences due to health or any other excusable reason. If a student was absent due to illness, he/she must be excused from necessity of submitting of all missed classroom- and homework. Illness is not a crime! Teachers mustn’t be allowed to bully our kids for being sick!
2) Implement fair grading system. 90% homework must NOT be graded “D” or “F”! Yes, this is a real situation, read guidelines from your math teachers: they checks only two(!) problems at random from every homework and deducts one point for each (out of total 5) if they are not correct. Now think about typical homework of 20 problems and imagine 2 students, one of which made a mistake in every single line, and another, who got everything right except for 2 problems. Guess the result? Both homework will worst 3 points out of 5 possible, which is counted as 60% from grade - “D” or “F” in the both students records. The same result for a zero effort and for a 90% completed work! Most of us also can recall a memory about bad grade just because the student’s name wasn’t underlined, or one of the pages numbers in the science spiral was put a few millimeters out of the center, or beautifully made with using of computer graphics cover page didn’t satisfied a teacher because he/she wanted to see an ugly hand drawing, etc.
School district wants concentrate on 2 things, why not to pick up those I described above? It will really reduce pressure and help our kids!

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Posted by Too Bad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2010 at 7:38 pm

To Just a parent, per person who posted before me, your idea is great, but the district will never heard it or consider it till you go and speak up at the district.
There were a lot of parents at this meeting, but more shall be at the next meeting. Only then things will change for our kids.
I hope all of you who would like changes has the time to attend next board meeting. I will be there. Otherwise nothing will change.

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Posted by Janet D.
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 27, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Mary, bullying is color and race blind. Can we get over attributing everything to racism and attacking people of color? Please...we are a community that needs to come together and heal regardless of skin color, etc.

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 28, 2010 at 1:04 am

Janet D. - Wake up and smell the intolerance or racism in the perfect air of Palo Alto. Kids would exhibit better behavior if we deal with the REAL problem in Amerika - intolerance and/or lack of respect for people of color, elderly people, disabled folk. Your perfect world might not be touched by racism (which is absurd), but it is alive and well in PA. Teach kids a healthy RESPECT for differences as a first step to healing the sickness in Amerika (aka racism/intolerance).

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Posted by too bad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 28, 2010 at 1:30 am

I watched to recorded board meeting, and found out that this article only speaks about few things that were spoken at the meeting by the parents who attended. It is upsetting to know that this things go on here in Palo Alto School District. The student who spoke also mentions how he got slapped and hit by other student. Also a mother said how her children have been abused mentally and physically in the schools. Even worst how two teachers bullied her children too. It is unbelievable parents, ask your children how school went every day, and tell them that they will not get into trouble for telling someone when they get bullied. I know the reporter can't fit everything in the article, so if you really want to find out what was said look at Becky Sander's posting on this article, it tells you how to do it. Thanks.

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Posted by NeverSilenceYourVoice
a resident of Green Acres
on May 28, 2010 at 2:58 am

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Janet Dickens and her husband to read the postings of all of the armchair psychologists pontificating on the role of inattentive and uninvolved parents on suicides of our teens? The additional pain this must have caused them? Since October 19, she's had to remain silent, grieving alone or in the arms of a small group of friends or with those other parents who lost children who "get it". Where were WE, HER COMMUNITY, to stand by her side, embrace her and her family with love, with the knowledge that Will could have been many of our own kids, mine included? As you can see from her statement, you sometimes just don't know. Both Janet and her husband were active on the PTA board, never missed a water polo game of Will's, participated regularly in their church together with their kids. And yet, they had to read the criticism about the failure of parents. Perhaps their failure and all of ours, is we SEE the pressure. We see how our kids, especially those that are not academic superstars for whatever reason, suffer, and how we agonize over keeping them on track so that they will have college options. Our call to action as parents - NEVER BE SILENT AGAIN. Speak up. Don't be afraid. The consequence of silence is so much greater. And for those not speaking up, support those who do. When there is tragedy in our community - embrace those affected. I hadn't reached out until this week and I have deep regrets about it. And for those of you armchair psychologists - unless you know facts and details, spare us the sermons. Otherwise, it just feels like a sophisticated form of adult bullying to people that really don't deserve it.

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Posted by Survive and Thrive
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 28, 2010 at 9:44 am

To "Never Silence Your Voice:"
As a parent who has been speaking out, I greatly appreciate your supportive and powerful words. Clearly you do "get it."

To "Another Midtown Parent," "andrea," "kmom" and many others:
I had been feeling discouraged by the apathy of those who would rather not deal with the messiness of kids' emotional needs, and by the louder drumbeat of parents' intensive focus on their kids' striving, status, and achievement. I feel reenergized by you, and by the supportive community that attended and spoke out at the board meeting.

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Posted by awful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2010 at 11:32 am

Mean kids are bred, nice kids get hurt,

it's easier for schools to be on the side of the mean kids and the competitive system only helps breed more mean kids

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Posted by A parent
a resident of Los Altos
on May 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I am willling to come to the next meeting, if more people are coming. I do not want to be the only one there. One person only will not make a difference. We need to demand our district, that even if they are too busy as a district, (this is what I got that they said at the meeting), they still have the responsibility to protect our kids from bullies and from teachers who bully kids too. We cannot expect that only because those parents spoke once at the meeting, things are going to change. They need to hear that we all want our kids to be treated with respect, no matter if they are rich, poor, color of skin, or with high or low IQ.
To make things worst, our kids were also put under a lot of stress with the incident at Gunn yesterday. They had so much already and one more thing had to happened before the end of school year. I hope there is no emotional distress students because of this.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

it's probably better to keep the pressure at the individual schools, some principals are better at helping than others,

the district is too far removed

bullying is also largely about ignorance

you'd think Palo Alto would not have ignorant people, but it does

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Posted by Another Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I just notice that there is another article that speaks about this issue. I am posting copy of the postings.
I am shocked that they are considering one year after. Too many had to die in order for they to react.

The name of the article is "School Board Consider's Suicide Prevention"

Posted by A concerned Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm

It is about time. I hope they learn how to deliver the news to students. Our poor students have been getting the bad news in a non-professional way, and are asked to keep going with their classes like many of them have said "as if nothing has happened" but inside of themselves they are experiencing a lot of pain.

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Posted by RoyRoy, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm

No, this is not what we need. The community has come a long way, and we have official fixed this plague.

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Posted by suicide survivor, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm

It seems to me that the policy doesn't say much. It's just a bunch of general guidelines without a lot of specifics. What curriculum will be used to teach the students about mental health? What will be used to teach the teachers? We don't have to reinvent the wheel here; there are many good organizations, such as the AFPS who have developed curriculua that our district could adopt. And what about offering students an annual mental health screening? That's another plan that's on the AFPS website. In light of our tragedies, our district needs to take concrete steps to help our students, not just another mealy-mouthed policy.

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Posted by relentlesscactus, a resident of another community, on May 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Well, sounds like the school district lawyers will be happy that the liability aspects have been covered. Now maybe they should think about suicide prevention.

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Posted by Neal, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm

This is not the school's responsibility. They have enough to cope with. Let the parents deal with it.

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Posted by >, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 3:46 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Mom 1st, MD 2nd, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on May 24, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Where's the part about regular screening for depression and suicide risk?

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Posted by RoyRoy, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 9:47 pm

We have not had an incident in over 8 months. It is safe to say that the worst is over . It is time to move on

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Posted by midtown mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Well, it's a step in a better direction, albeit a small one. The school system's response to the affected families and students on campus have been somewhat impersonal, ineffectual, and perfunctory, if any action is taken at all. The community's response, whether pro or not, has been more human than how the school has handled the emotions, the mental well-being of the students, and the reassurances to the Palo Alto parents, and communities.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Misha, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on May 24, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I am very glad to see the school district publicly demonstrating leadership in response to this critical issue and embracing the opportunity presented by the significant role schools have in the lives of our children. The first step in addressing this very complex issue is recognizing it as a community health issue in which everyone has an interest; from students to parents to schools staff to medical professions, basically anyone who has any contact with our youth.

Kudos to Dr. Skelly and Ms. Zepecki for placing the safety and well-being of our children first and foremost.

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Posted by Parent, a member of the Walter Hays School community, on May 25, 2010 at 1:47 am

I am upset that my 4th grader was taught what suicide means. What is going on here in Palo Alto? Do 4th graders in other citiies and states understand suicide? I have noticied that there seems to be an over abundance of children of these social worker/psychologists/shrinks in this area. I have noticed that the children of these psychologist parents seem to have a multitude of emotional problems. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Know your child's friends, and use "social engineering". Engineer your child to make friends with children from your church or temple. Religion is very important. Engineer your child to have friends with the open and happy families in Palo Alto.

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Posted by A worry Parent, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on May 25, 2010 at 1:47 am

I Agree with Midtown Mom. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Hopefully a new and fresh mind will be willing to make changes in benefits of our students who are still struggling with the lost of their friends, and who are always worry about what is going to happen next day, and are hoping that they do not lose another friend or classmate. Our kids need to know that the district, parents and the community care and that we are trying to do everything we can to prevent this from happenings. Too bad more had to die in order for us to wake up.

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Posted by Rell Noerton, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 25, 2010 at 7:13 am

How about letting kids be kids and giving them a little less to do in terms of homework ie: stress. Let them find value in things other than academic in nature.

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Posted by JLS Parent, a member of the JLS Middle School community, on May 25, 2010 at 7:57 am

I tend to agree with Walter Hays parent. I am shocked at indoctrinating 4th graders about suicide or any other topic that they are not yet mature enough to handle.

What would be useful is a comprehensive and up to date list of places in Palo Alto where teens can have low stress down time to hang out with peers and make friends outside school. I imagine Churches, Temples, Synagogues would be high on this list.

We need to stop being pc and get this list together, keep it up to date and get it circulated to teens and parents regularly. This would be much more useful than all the pyscho mumbo jumbo.

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Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on May 25, 2010 at 7:58 am

Will the District takes steps to reduce stress for ALL the students? Or just deal with the results of stress? I'd like to see stress reduction as a step toward mental health. Stress and sleep depravation leads to depression. Depression can lead to suicide. Not that stress causes suicide, but it can certainly tip the balance for a child on the edge.

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Posted by Greer Stone, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on May 25, 2010 at 9:16 am

I went to school in the Palo Alto school district from K-12 and during that time hearing that a student had committed suicide was not a rare occurrence. I remember myself and fellow students wondering why this was occurring and who was out there trying to help curb this pandemic that has plagued our schools. In the last year, the numbers have become staggering and something needs to be done. Imagine if the number of suicides that occurred this year was the same as the amount of homicides in our city. Could you imagine the outcry from our citizens and our city council? Could you imagine how many more police officers would be hired to patrol the streets and put an end to the chaos? It is time that we start taking suicide just as serious, it is our children taking their lives prematurely so that they can never experience a life that we take for granted each and every day. I gave a sigh of relief when I read that the school board was taking up the issue, FINALLY, but then I read what their plan is and I was outraged. The people of Palo Alto are not inane in any way. We know when a bureaucratic group like our school district is making policy to please its lawyers and city officials; we know when they take action that is meant to appease parents but not have no bite on the real issue. This issue needs to be dealt with in a firm and thoughtful way, not just throwing some policy that is meant to train teachers in some workshop during the course of the year, or have mental health training seminars. I agree with one forum that says we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. There are plenty of organizations out there with proven methods, specifically SPRC – the Suicide Prevention Resource Center – that is a federally funded organization with proven methods on how to help suicide in our communities. A school is the most essential community for our children, it is there where they spend most of their time, meet most of their friends, and learn social skills and habits that will follow them their whole lives. We need to bring back that community to them and insure that all our children feel like they are part of a community that supports them and that they feel like they are a part of it. That is the first part; the second part is insuring a coalition with the entire community ranging from our teachers and police officers to store owners and our city council. With a strong community aware of the dangers and helping our children on their path to adulthood we can help curb this pandemic that is endangering all of our children. This, plus many other issues that need to be dealt with, is the reason why I am running for the Palo Alto school board in 2011, when the next election is held. We need change in our schools and our community so that these children can feel like they have a support system and that they are not alone as they make this very difficult journey to adulthood. We must send a message to the school board and our city council that we are not happy with a simple bandage to help solve this problem, we want real change and proven methods in order to help our children, and save their lives.

If you have any questions on how I plan to tackle this problem and any other problems that affect our schools please feel free to email me, I would love to address any issues you may have.


Greer Stone

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on May 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm
Walter_E_Wallis is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online

Is it really a school duty to report student suicides to the student body? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by RoyRoy, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on May 25, 2010 at 5:09 pm

No no no no no no no!

I told you!We have solved the problem!We need not make plans so grim like this-we need optimism not pessisimism!

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Posted by jacey, a member of the Gunn High School community, on May 25, 2010 at 10:58 pm

The culture of the school has changed a bit. Teachers are a bit more welcoming now,many teachers are chill about homework and test schedules though some are unrelenting. and students can finally relax in the Library and especially the Academic Center, which is now a safe haven. that might change next year =(

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Well, the Weekly just arrived, and, I saw this article again in print. Everyone should be amazed and outraged that a student suffering from a major illness (such as depression) is given little or no flexibility by some teachers. The good news is the parents who report that after Gunn, college was a breeze for their children.

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Posted by Another Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Anon, I sure hope the parents who posted that college was a breeze for her children is right. I used to think that once my kids where out of town,they will be ok, but my hopes changed when I heard the news that two other college students (former Gunn students) committed suicide too. Now I am thinking that the stress and ugly experiences they went through at Gunn will haunt them for the rest of their lives, especially if they were bully and humiliated by friends, teachers or coaches.

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Posted by Barron Park Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on May 30, 2010 at 12:40 pm

To: Bean

I, too, have a high school student who suffers from depression. I'd love to meet with other parents but generally can't before noon. If you go ahead with June 2, I'll get there as early as I can.

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Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I have one of those at home too, but can't meet till noon.

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Posted by mom of depressed teen
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm

It looks like a few of us can meet at noon tomorrow, June 2, at Palo Alto Cafe in Midtown. Let's start with that. I hope "bean" sees this message since he/she was the one to suggest it in the first place.

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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2010 at 8:22 am

Reopening Cubberley is a fabulous idea but it will never happen. Large overcrowded impersonal schools are our future as long as Palo Alto keeps growing rapidly. Condos are going in everywhere so get used to it. Private schools are the only option if you are looking for a smaller environment for your student. We have some great private schools in this area - we are very lucky to have good options.

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Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2010 at 9:54 am

Cubberly should be reopened. I disagree with this poster's comment: Posted by History, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on May 27, 2010 at 9:04 am "You must be kidding if you think Cubberley can be reopened. It is in such bad repair with asbestos and lead paint everywhere the whole place will need to be torn down and rebuilt."

If that were truly the case, then Cubberly would not be in use--on the contrary, it currently serves many different community organizations. I love having Cubberly there for that. But our students matter more. Our high schools are too crowded.

I don't think the teachers or the parents bear the blame here. It's the admissions process that is driving all this stress. Change the admissions process. It can be done -- students have to meet a minimum of requirements, for example, say 650 on SAT to qualify for the UC's, and many more would qualify. They would have to enter a lottery. This would go a long way to showing them that they are worthy. They could focus on learning for the sake of learning!

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Posted by A Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 2, 2010 at 10:38 am

The UC system can't lower their standards for admission--they're already swamped with more students than they can accommodate. The state univ. system has raised their requirements now because of overcrowding. There are a lot more people wanting (needing) to go to college than there were 20-50 years ago. Maybe one answer is for people to think about other states, other areas, even other countries for their college careers.

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Posted by HPA
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 2, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I just read about the coffee house gathering that you had today. If I had known, I would have liked to have joined you. If you do it again, and wish to invite people who didn't make the first meeting, please write me at Thanks

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Posted by Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 3, 2010 at 6:58 am

Did you read that they passed the suicide prevention policy? It is under the article that speaks about the Major New Building Palo Alto High School. They do not say much about it. But at least it was mentioned. It is almost at the end.

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Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 3, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I was away and just getting caught up now with what's happening -
Our experience is sort of different - having our kids lost in the shuffle - very little personal interest from any teachers here (not the case elsewhere) - so I hesitate to recommend PAUSD schools as a result -
It's disillusioning when students who are "projects" of their parents are rewarded all the time -

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Posted by Midtown Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Concerned parent, I agree with you. It is sad that they do not look at the whole child. Most of the times they only look at the academics, and how good is at sports. I do not see them honring students ro other reasons, except for once that I awarded a child for being nice to my daughter who is a special needs student. Usually people tend to do what they see, but this time only one more parent copied me and another child was honored. That's about it. This is what is wrong with our culture.

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Posted by --
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Praying for his family. Rest in peace.

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