Letters to the editor | December 6, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - December 6, 2013

Letters to the editor

Students in good hands


There's a simpler way to look at the story depicted in "New school district policies given 'green light' by feds and state" (Weekly, 11/8).

It's in everyone's interest to resolve allegations of school-based bullying as quickly as possible. While we are frustrated by delays in some policy revisions, our district has not waited to comply with new federal and state laws designed to make students safer.

Working with school leaders and parents, our new reporting and investigation forms will make it easier for students and parents to notify staff of incidents, and easier for staff to document and follow up on complaints. These strengthened response procedures support all students, whether or not they belong to legally protected groups.

While we have been cooperating with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to complete a resolution agreement, our school district is not pressing to develop a new model policy for the state. On the contrary, we asked the California Department of Education (CDE) and the California School Boards Association (CSBA) to work with OCR to develop guidelines for all school districts in our state.

Over the past year, OCR met with both CDE and CSBA to address federal compliance concerns with state procedures, and we believe they continue to work together to resolve different viewpoints. All California school districts will benefit once there is clear and consistent guidance on meeting both sets of requirements.

Students are in very good hands at our schools, with skilled and conscientious principals, teachers, staff members and parents who care deeply about their well-being. We want all students and parents to let them know if safety or inclusion is ever a concern.

I'm writing as an individual, and not on behalf of my school board colleagues.

Barb Mitchell

N. California Avenue, Palo Alto

A matter of architectural taste


Twenty-three members of the Palo Alto architectural design community and I wish to voice concern about some residents' current efforts to resolve their discontent about what they call "ugly" modern architecture in Palo Alto.

The Weekly reported their solution promotes restriction of commercial projects to "traditional" architectural design styles matching existing historic buildings. They mistakenly think the code's goal of "compatible" design strives to have projects be identical with or imitate existing style. Design compatibility refers to materials and construction quality, overall building massing and site organization, a basic architectural premise for successful design of projects within a context of existing development.

We agree discussions with agencies responsible for design standards should be held and can be productive from all viewpoints. We believe, rather than dictating design style, the public would be better served by improved design review processes and regulations and city agency enforcement with the goal of good design above city benefit trade offs or quick result. Education of all concerned about basic architectural design principals improves the ability to communicate and should also be part of this process. The American Institute of Architects, Santa Clara Valley has experience in assisting in these activities.

We urge consideration of the fact that Palo Alto is a modern, creative community with changing demographics whose sense of place is NOT an imposed historic style. Palo Alto's architectural design style should reflect the here and now of this valley and not replicate the past.

Kent Mather, architect

Emerson Street, Palo Alto

Slow progress on freedoms


I just wrote a paper in my history class about same-sex marriage. I can't believe that we're still talking about people's right to marry whom they want. Less than 50 years ago it was illegal to marry anyone outside of your race. A mixed-race family like mine would not have existed. People fight same-sex marriage because it's against their religion or they claim that it's not in the Bible. In this country there is a separation of church and state so that argument should not be considered when talking about laws. It's unfortunate how slowly we are progressing as a society. I know we will get there eventually, but it should not be this hard or take this long to give people the freedoms that our country is supposed to be based on.

Amber Valentine

Van Auken Circle, Palo Alto

Excellent re-entry article


I thank Eric Van Susteren for the excellent article on the David Lewis Community Re-Entry Program. I had the pleasure of having known David, and the continuation of the program in his name and honor is commendable. I have also known Robert Hoover, executive director of the program for decades. Both individuals are tireless and selfless public servants. Bob referred to me a former participant in the program, who had gone into business, to contract for work at my home. I was very pleased.

I heartily support Bob's position that — while the re-entry program is urgently needed — early age, preventive measures are warranted to minimize the number of individuals who might become a part of this pipeline.

Henry Organ

Euclid Avenue, Menlo Park

Too many cars


Palo Alto's downtown parking problems and solutions are simple. There are too many cars. If Palo Alto had a world-class transit system matching its world-class wealth, we would not have a problem. Good transit systems encourage biking and walking. Getting out of our cars and onto bikes will improve the quality of our lives and relieve the parking problem.

Steve Eittreim

Ivy Lane, Palo Alto

Unclear on the concept


"All our schools are feeling enrollment pressure ... not enough space ... some families face the possibility of being overflowed to a school ... miles away from their homes ..." All this from Diane Reklis, former president of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board. So what does our City staff and City Council do? They fine Castilleja (a private, non-tax supported school) $256,000 for having too many students, so many students who want to go to Castilleja may go to overcrowded public schools. This is sometimes referred to as "being unclear on the concept."

John Paul Hanna

Crescent Drive, Palo Alto

A great anti-hunger alliance


Congratulations to the alliance of the Food Bank and Safeway (and possibly other markets) for the "$10 bags of groceries" donation drive. I imagine that a lot of people are participating. You don't need to know about the cutback in Food Stamps (SNAP) or the fact that it was stripped from the Agriculture Department budget, for your heart to be touched by hunger!

Oh! Would that we find something similar for people who have lost their homes!

Gertrude Reagan

Moreno Avenue, Palo Alto

No more density increase


The Palo Alto City Council can help the City move beyond the effects of the election. To effectively convince the residents that they are listening, the Council can calmly convince the owner and the developer that the City Council will never rezone the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park site for increased density. As a former employee of the Prometheus Group, Mayor Scharff is in a good position convey this message clearly to them that no density increase is politically possible. This is something almost everyone can agree on!

Margaret Fruth

El Camino Way, Palo Alto


Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

@Barb Mitchell [Portion removed.]

You're writing about facts that you only know because of your secret meetings and crazily redacted correspondence. You're asserting facts that are blatantly, totally false but only you know that because only you, and not the public, has been privvy to those conversations and communications. You are not acting in good faith, not being honest, and not acting in the public interest.

You state that "our district has not waited to comply with new federal and state laws designed to make students safer." But a California State auditor's report found that Palo Alto is one of only 20% of districts that have failed to comply with Seth's law on bullying. That is in the story that you are supposedly responding to:

"By the district's own report on a recent state survey, Palo Alto has been missing legal deadlines when it comes to compliance with state anti-bullying laws. Palo Alto is among 20 percent of districts statewide reporting that they had not yet complied with Seth's Law, effective July 2012, according to a State Auditor's report released in August."

We STILL TO THIS DAY DO NOT HAVE A UNIFORM COMPLAINT PROCEDURE THAT COMPLIES WITH THE LAW OR EVEN APPLIES TO DISABILITY HARASSMENT. After all this -- OCR complaints, state audits, Title IX investigation -- the whole shebang, you and your fellow board members still have not figured out how to adopt, implement, or enforce policies that are minimally compliant with the law.

You are burning through hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars ("mad money" to you) to pay for lawyers from Laure Reynolds, to Chad Graff, to Dora Dome to stall, delay, resist, and ultimately delay compliance. You have sought to obstruct public knowledge about these matters -- violating the Brown Act by having closed and secret meetings of the Board Policy Review Committee. You have instructed your lawyers to research (at public expense) resisting OCR, and have refused to allow OCR to interview child witnesses, obstructing the investigation at Duveneck School.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Marc Vincenti, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Dear Community,

As a teacher at Gunn for 15 years, I'm leaving this online message to commend Ms. Mitchell for her letter, to express my approval of her comments and my appreciation for her devotion to the well-being of the District's students and teachers.

Marc Vincenti

Posted by Keep writing, Barb, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2013 at 4:09 pm

With every out-of-touch word Barb writes, it is clear her just-trust-us incoherent plea illustrates how bad this district has sunk. You cannot be a reader of the Weekly and ignore all the smelly revelations of the past few years. Every new discovery and every pathetic response by a board member only makes it worse. Here's some free advice: say nothing, hunker down, and pray that the Weekly stops asking basic questions. Enjoy Barb and the other members of this ongoing debacle, you voted for them.

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Hi Marc:

Please tell us more about how handling bullying is really hard because "it's tricky." Or perhaps you want to remind us about how you found the most significant part of the OCR report to be the completely irrelevant fact that there was a teacher's aid who trembled due to a disability and the disabled student thought the aid was shaking with anger at her. Once it was explained to her she was fine and felt better.

Marc: the most significant part of the OCR report is that a disabled girl was hazed, harassed, intimidated, bullied, belilttled, called "stupid" and "retarded," children teased her by making a game out of avoiding her, she was excluded, punched and kicked., The police were called. The board was notified. Dr. Skelly and Dr. Young were notified. The child was taken to the office in a wheelchair. Parents complained many times orally and in writing. Parents warned the district that they were going to go to OCR in writing. Do you know what Katherine Baker did about all that?

She didn't intervene to stop the abuse.

Do you know what Kevin Skelly did about that? On the basis of the known recordd? Nothing.

Do you know what Dana Tom, school board president did about that? He urged the family to trust the school.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Town Square Moderator, online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Dec 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

The letter submitted to the Weekly by school trustee Barb Mitchell ended with the disclaimer, "I’m writing as an individual, and not on behalf of my school board colleagues." During the editing process, this sentence was changed to say "I'm writing as an individual, not a school board member."

This editing change inadvertently changed the intent of Ms. Mitchell's disclaimer, which was designed to simply make clear that she did not speak for the board. We regret the misunderstanding created by the editing and have replaced the edited language with the original language in the online version of the letter.

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 5:56 pm

So now the Weekly edits the letters to the editor of public officials?

Why does the public know so much less than the board members, individual, collective or otherwise and why is the Weekly helping Board member Mitchell to use it as a PR vehicle rather than telling her to announce her views in open session of the school board where they belong?

I can appreciate that the Weekly wants to allow her to respond to the Weekly's coverage. However, in this instance a letter to the editor is not the right way to go about it. The right way would be to interview her on the record and subject her statements to fact checking. Instead, you handed her the megaphone [portion removed.]

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Let's just be clear. Mitchell says that "Over the past year, OCR met with both CDE and CSBA to address federal compliance concerns with state procedures, and we believe they continue to work together to resolve different viewpoints. "

According to Mitchell, Palo Alto was complying with state law but since state and federal law differ, OCR is penalizing Palo Alto for following state law. She hopes that CDE and OCR will work together to ensure that no district is caught this way again.

Not a single statement above is factual. The truth is that Palo Alto followed neither state nor federal law. State and federal law are consistent -- both bar discriminatory bullying of disabled children -- and Palo Alto ignored both.

1. Palo Alto ignored California Law:
California law requires that districts, when they have actual or constructive notice of disability harassment will take effective action to stop the harassment, remedy its consequences, and ensure that the harassment does not continue under Cal. Ed Code 200 and 220. Palo Alto failed to do this.

Palo Alto's Uniform Complaint Procedure does not, as required by law, apply to discriminatory disability harassment. That hardly matters, because Palo Alto ignored its Uniform Complaint Procedure.

Cal Ed Code 234.1 requires that Palo Alto have a complaint procedure for receiving and handling complaints of bullying based on protected classifications. Palo Alto did not have that for a number of categories. Palo Alto instead offers a site-based, randomly enforced, ad-hoc process.

Palo Alto violated federal law.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that school districts that receive federal funds must, when they have actual or constructive notice of bullying based on disability, intervene to stop the harassment, remedy the consequences, and ensure that it is not repeated. Palo Alto failed to do this at Terman.

Federal law requires a prompt, accurate and fair process for investigating complaints of discrimination, including discriminatory harassment. Palo Alto did not have one at all regarding disability (and still doesnot). Even had its complaint policy applied to disability, Palo Alto ignored it, so that didn't matter anyway.

If I had a buzzer I would be pressing it after each law we violated so please visualize a buzzing sound after each of the above screw ups.

Now, why did OCR enhance Palo Alto's version of the UCP so much to make it stronger than the model used by CDE? That was for 2 reasons.

A. Palo Alto fought back and negotiated hard against OCR on certain things. PAUSD wanted to use site-based policies for nonprotected classes and it wanted to have a 10 day site-based informal resolution, neither of which were typical or provided for in the Resolution Agreement. In exchange, OCR negotiated for some things it wanted. That is what "settlement" means. Stop whining, PAUSD. You bargained for what you got and now you just seem like a big baby.

B. Palo Alto is in the dock because it screwed up royally at Terman. PAUSD is one of only 15 districts (out of 1500 with similar complaints) to earn itself a Letter of Finding for being discriminators in the NATION. So we have to have a more restrictive policy because it is a PUNISHMENT because WE SCREWED UP. That is why. If you want to stop crying and whining about why us, why, why, oh Lord why, I'll tell you exactly damn why. It's beacause Katherine Baker screwed the pooch over at Terman and then her staff lied to investigators and then she said that her staff was so "sophisticated" that they didn't need any training from the guv'mint.

So that is what happened, and that is why. Now all we need to know is why isn't this done. Why is it still a mess? Why is Dora Dome in over her head? Why doesn't she know basic facts about how the law works? Why are we paying her and Chad Graff and FFF and Lenore and Laurie? How many PAUSD lawyers does it take to screw in a lightbulb.

Oh my God someone just end this.

Posted by More than Furious , a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Barb, you are one of those who fail the student. You knew it because she plead for help to all of you who weresitting down at the board meeting like kings on those chair and did not move a hand or say anything to make the lessen the paint that the little girl was feeling. The pain of being bullied everyday, for not just one kid, but many. So if I was you, I will hide my face and do what you did the times the girl came to plea for help, NOTHING. Now is to late to try to make us believe otherwise. The truth is out, and nothing you say will change it. I cannot believe that in your handbook was not even mention that it was against the law to harass others based on their disability. i am wonder how many young adults who passed this district are out there trying to heal, because I am sure that this little girl was not the first one. She was the only first one whose parents had the guts to make it public, when they saw no other ways to get her help and protection. I am wonder if there is a way that we can all make it up for all the pain she went through. I am not talking about $$$, because that is not going to reverse the mental damage that she suffer on the hands of the bullies. Sorry to tell you, but I do not believe that our kids are in good hands, at least not special education students. Probably the rich and the ones who are professionals and know their rights and how to make you respect them without having to make the abuse public. The poor and the ones without good education God helps them.

Posted by More than Furios, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2013 at 7:42 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Here is the language from PAUSD's current version of the UCP:

"The district shall use the uniform complaint procedures to resolve any complaint alleging unlawful discrimination in district programs and activities based on actual race, color, ancestry, national origin, ethnic group identification, gender, gender identity or expression, or genetic information; the perception of one or more of such characteristics; or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics."
See: Web Link

Scavenger Hunt 1: find the word "disability" in the above policy!

Here's the California Law on complaint procedures (Ed Code 220 and 234.1):

"Adopted a process for receiving and investigating complaints of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying based on any of the actual or perceived characteristics set forth in Section 422.55 of the Penal Code and Section 220 of this code, and disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived

Scavenger Hunt 2: see how many missing categories you can find that are in the law but not in PAUSD's policy!


Posted by Thank you, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Thank you, Barb. Unfortunately you see the response to anything you say. When the choices are between the hounds on these forums and the best interest of our children, I'm proud of your choice to work in the best interests of our children. Please continue.

Posted by No thank you, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2013 at 9:11 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Voter, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 7, 2013 at 8:21 am

Thank you for your letter. I voted for you twice because I was impressed by your intelligence and independence. You are disappointed me in your handling of the OCR matter. You and the rest of the board have mishandled this situation so severely that it has called into question your fitness. This matter calls for oversight and for reassuring the public through transparency. You have not governed conscientiously. If you run again I think you will be defeated .

Posted by More than Furios, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

They did something, they gave a promotion to Katherine Baker (former Terman principal) to keep her away from our kids, and so no others will suffer as the disabled girl did.

Posted by No hounds!, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Dec 7, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Stop picking on Katherine Baker. Poor leadership starts at the top. Basically, the district is flush with our money. It's not going to kids, it's going to Kevin Skelly, Charles Young, Holly Wade, and all the principals and teachers. And the lawyers. I almost forgot them. Post your anonymous support of Skelly-Young and the board right here or be brave and post your name, too. Or post your displeasure. I've posted mine. Barb Mitchell: instead of rambling about how our kids are in good hands, do what you are supposed to do and vote No on December 10 to paying Skelly $300K per year. And please no more so-called letters to the editor, I am embarrassed for this district.

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Now just a cotton-picking minute! Kevin Skelly, like Kenneth Lay, Dick Fuld and Angelo Mozillo, deserves his bonus. Just because he peddles a combination of faith-based success and hidden toxic failures that are blowing up around him -- is that a reason to deny the man his inflated lifestyle? His million dollar interest free taxpayer funded loan? His three deep bench of incompetent cronies? Have a heart, Mr. Hound.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2013 at 12:16 am

I don't think that not listing disability in the student handbook should be as big as a deal as it is being made out to be in these forums. Almost no students read the handbook, and even those who do probably skim what to not be discriminatory based on. Isn't disability implied, as are income, hair color, intelligence, and athleticism? It's not like students are going to selectively bully the disabled because it isn't explicitly prohibited in the handbook.

Posted by Commenting person, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

C is right that the handbook language likely has very little effect on student behavior, but this whole thing isn't really about student behavior - it's about the way student behavior, or complaints about it, is handled.

The handbook/policy language is not just for students. It is also intended to shape the way the administration responds to things. The school administration, if it followed the handbook language in handling complaints, would not have the express policy of the handbook to rely on in case of discrimination or harassment claims based on characteristic not listed (and likewise under the district policy would not use the UCP for types of complaints not listed). That's not to say they would ignore complaints entirely if they involve conduct that isn't enumerated, but part of the reason to have policies like this is to frame expectations and identify the types of issues that are automatically coded as high-concern, action-needed. So leaving something important out does matter from that standpoint.

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 8, 2013 at 9:16 am

The categories listed in the policy as those that are covered by the policy. The policy in question is the Uniform Complaint Procedure and the implication of the missing categories is "a big deal" because (1) the law tells districts which categories are covered by the Uniform Complaint Procedure and (2) the policy is given to parents and students and they are told that this is the district's procedure for handling discrimination complaints including bullying and (3) our policy violates the law, and also gives parents incorrect information about what to do if their child is bullied on the basis of disability.

As a result of the lack of disability in the uniform complaint procedure, the district failed to respond correctly when a disabiled student was severely bullied at Terman. That fact has already cost our district tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands of dollars and the meter is still running.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Correctimundo, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 8, 2013 at 9:50 am

Most of the PAUSD kids are in good hand most of the time, but those times that they are not are the ones that do untold damage.

We cannot ignore the fact that there are bullies here and that the problem is not taken seriously enough. Nor are the teachers empowered enough to do much about it. Kevin Skelly is the one in charge here, yet he just smiles and changes the subject.

Bullying can, though rarely does, lead to school shootings. Those few times it has have been hugely catastrophic. Do we discount bullying because of the rare catastrophe? Ideally, no. Yet Mr Skelly continues to downplay the severity of it in PAUSD. He completely ignores the sexual and reverse-racial harassment and Jordan and Paly.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Integrity--try it, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2013 at 9:59 am

[Post removed]

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 8, 2013 at 10:49 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Correctimundo, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Dec 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 8, 2013 at 11:47 am

For a sampling of Kevin Skelly's frequent memos to the School Board regarding his fondness for drinks at Antonio's [portion removed] please see the Superintendent's weekly memos. These memos are the place that he should be telling them about things like federal findings against the district or agreements he entered into with the federal civil rights investigators or state audits of our special ed program. Nope, none of that. [Portion removed.]

October 2012 memo to Board: Web Link

BOARD CALENDAR [fall 2012]

October 26 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. PAUSD Happy Hour at Antonio’s Nut House on
California Ave.

November 2012, memo to board:

"I enjoyed my time at Antonio’s Nut House last Friday. We had a decent crowd and all present
seemed to be enjoying each other’s company." Web Link

May 2013 memo to board:Web Link
"Below is an email I sent to staff, and another to parents, for your information.

Dear Colleagues:

Happy End of the School Year! I have been travelling around the district visiting schools and folks have
never looked happier! Summer is upon us.

Below is an email I sent to parents last night, for your information. I know from my own experience that it
is often terrifying to have to be responsible for your children all summer. Never underestimate schools’
value as a daycare provider!

It is late notice, but if you are free, I invite you to join me at around 3:00 p.m. at Antonio’s Nut House for
a farewell refreshment and a toast to another great year, and a chance for me to thank you in person for
all you do on behalf of the children and families of our community.

Antonio’s is at 321 S. California Avenue, near the Caltrains station.

In any case, here’s to a great summer.



Posted by furious, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 8, 2013 at 11:53 am

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.


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