Under threat of lawsuit, school district releases documents | November 16, 2018 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 16, 2018

Under threat of lawsuit, school district releases documents

Palo Alto Weekly request for leadership emails languishes for nearly a year

by Elena Kadvany

For the second time in as many years, it took a threat of legal action from the Palo Alto Weekly to compel the Palo Alto Unified School District to address months of non-compliance with the California Public Records Act.

This story contains 787 words.

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Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com.

Comments

56 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 8:48 am

Wasn't this caused by Kathy Jordan's massive requests for years worth of emails between Paly staff members? Hard to fully blame the district for being behind, if the task became impossible.

[Editor's Note: The district's non-compliance long pre-dates the requests made by Ms. Jordan.]


40 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 16, 2018 at 9:42 am

How about the district address the reason for many of Jordan's public records requests --- which is district employee misconduct --- which harmed students.

The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic. It is to end the injustice.


31 people like this
Posted by fox in charge
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2018 at 9:46 am

"[Dauber said he] intends to pursue a policy to bring "visibility and regular accountability" to the district's compliance with the Public Records Act."

Been here before:

"I pledge myself to make available to the public, via the Web, all of my communications with district staff and other board members that are not legally confidential."

4 years later and still waiting on Daubers unfulfilled election promises.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 9:58 am

[Post removed due to incorrect factual assertion.]


41 people like this
Posted by Parent86
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 10:40 am

Parent86 is a registered user.

To all the people that are looking for a scapegoat and want to blame Kathy Jordan for everything - please read the article. The problems date date back to 2012 through 2014, well before Kathy Jordan made any requests.

I agree with The Public Interest - if we had an honest District Administration that did not try to cover-up misconduct, we would not have the need for so many public requests. Please remember that the released records have shown a pattern of misconduct and cover-ups by district and school personnel. They have proven to be important in uncovering the truth that the District would not provide and certainly were not wasted time for parents and students that want truth and accountability.

The District PR campaign to vilify anyone that questions them has certain won over many of the parents on this forum, but not all of us.


7 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2018 at 10:42 am

Alum is a registered user.

What I don't understand is why the PRA requests that ask for single documents such as enrollment data or contracts take so long to fulfill... there's several that have been open for over a month.


10 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2018 at 10:51 am

Is the delay by the school district in releasing records caused by (1) being overwhelmed and understaffed, or (2) deliberate management efforts to drag things out?

How I would feel about the issue discussed in this article would depend on whether #1 or #2.


30 people like this
Posted by Do the right thing
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:08 am

From the article:
"Like so many instances in the past, this has the makings of advice from attorneys determined to steer the board away from doing the right thing because it would establish an expectation of compliance and therefore potential liability if it didn't comply," Johnson wrote.

How about just doing the right thing, PAUSD? Public school district, paid for by taxpayers, produce the public's records.


20 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:14 am

McGee was terrible at PRAs - he didn't care. He was also bad at producing Board meeting minutes (years behind, kept promising to catch up, never did. When he left about 14 months ago, board meeting minutes were rapidly brought up to date and have not since fallen behind. New management made it a priority and fixed the problem.

The same would have happened with PRAs, except that Kathy Jordan showed up. Looking at the District's PRA page, she made 95 separate PRA requests, starting in May 2017 and continuing through to July 2018. My understanding is that it came to over 500,000 pages of requests (some requests were marked "abandoned"), which overwhelmed the district's ability to respond. The board actually discussed options to handle this in open session in January 2018.

So it seems clear that under new management, starting in late 2017, the District improved its PRA efforts, but the onslaught of requests from Jordan was a game changer. The Weekly can threaten to sue if they want, that's fine. But let's be clear that once McGee left and new management came in, the primary cause was inability to respond, not unwillingness.


25 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:25 am

Transparency? is a registered user.

@Barron Park dad,
Looking at the timeline, it's pretty apparent that the issue was the district deliberately not wanting to produce the records. Records sat unfulfilled until the Weekly threatened to sue. After discussing in closed session on 10/9 and 10/23, all of the sudden the district was able to hammer out 8 months worth of records in two weeks. It's not a staffing issue.

Looking back at the Weekly's log in the article, PAUSD used to give them weekly records at the end of every week, essentially in real time.

Look at the PRA requests that have been filled. There are many of them that were requested after the Weekly's monthly requests, yet the district filled those first.

Looking at a PRA in March where the Weekly requests the disciplinary records of several employees, PAUSD pushes back and Bill Johnson sends this to Komey Vishaken, PAUSD's Manager of Legal Compliance:

Korney,
I am very disappointed and surprised at your response (provided at 5:30 p.m. on the
Friday you had promised a response to our request) regarding the objections raised by
"redacted" as this is settled law and the district and its law firm have
previously acknowledged this and have acted accordingly in the past under the exact
same circumstances.
Asking us to provide you with a counter argument "redacted" is completely the
opposite of what the law requires, which is to inform the employee that the district will
be releasing the records unless the employee serves you with an injunction issued by a
court blocking the release.

So yes, it appears the district is intentionally trying to drag things out and let as little information as possible. There are also instances where board members Dauber and Collins explicitly tell Vishaken to release records as required by law. So, someone, at least Vishaken is filtering the message.


21 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:36 am

Transparency? is a registered user.

On March 5, 2017, in response to a fully redacted email by Komey Vishaken discussing the "non-release" of the disciplinary records, Todd Collins responds by saying, "I like avoiding litigation when we can; thank you for your prudent approach. But I also LOVE following the law, especially the laws about how we govern and interact with the public who the board represents. I view the trust that comes from following the law, especially when it is inconvenient, as a fundamental bulwark of our
democratic institutions. From my read, the law requires the District to fulfill the request "promptly," not within a month. I hope that you will do so and release the documents in the next couple of days."

Why is Vishaken, as the manager of Legal Compliance, not complying with the law?



34 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:39 am

@Paly Parent

Didn't the District just report it spent $2.5 million for legal expenses in 2017-18 ---- with $1.2 million of that due to costs associated with District and employee non compliance? And didn't public records disclose that another $500 k more was spent for an interim Title IX coordinator --- for just 5 months of work ---- since the prior District Title IX coordinator had left, and the district's own report concluded that that District Title IX coordinator didn't follow the laws?

Didn't the District promote two employees to be HS principal who separate reports (one from a public records request) show they didn't follow the laws in response to student sexual assault incidents?

Isn't the District still shielding the names of the district employees in one of the reports on one of the sexual assault incidents?

Don't PRAs show a teacher advisor, who advises the District's own publication, discussing messaging strategy to help mis portray an on campus sexual assault incident with some of the district employees shown not to follow the law?

Maybe the district should just clean up its act, instead of attacking someone who's been trying to do so.




30 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:40 am

Transparency? is a registered user.

@Paly Parent,
This has nothing to do with Kathy Jordan.

If they were unable to respond then how'd they manage to get through 8 months of PA Weekly requests in two weeks? Why were they fulfilling other requests in front of the Weekly's?

Kathy Jordan also has grounds to sue. The law is pretty clear.

Board members are telling staff that they need to follow the law. Staff is STILL trying to hide behind the lawyers to NOT follow the law. It's all very clear if you read the emails.


22 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2018 at 11:46 am

Alum is a registered user.

@Paly Parent—Kathy Jordan's requests are broad, yes. However, the amount of dragging things out and the level of redaction that's going on is silly. See all the shenanigans about the principal names in the Cozen report, email from Bill Johnson posted above, the lack of response to simple requests, etc.


4 people like this
Posted by Not a Jordan fan
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 2:27 pm

[Post removed.]


15 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2018 at 2:55 pm

questions for the Weekly.......

Why did you wait so long this time to pressure the school district?

When did PAUSD's lawyers tell the district that repeatedly failing to follow the law is a defense if sued for not following the law? More likely the Superintendent didn't want to dedicate staff time to this.


25 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Transparency? is a registered user.

@Not a Jordan Fan
Read the article and the comment by the Weekly on the first poster. This has NOTHING TO DO WITH JORDAN!

None of what you wrote is relevant to the issue.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 3:20 pm

@Transparency, that's just wrong, sorry. Since McGee left, Jordan has been the number one factor impacting PRA responsiveness. With 95 requests for hundreds of thousands of documents, how could it be otherwise?


17 people like this
Posted by PAUSD non compliance habitual
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 3:43 pm

[Editor's Note: The district's non-compliance long pre-dates the requests made by Ms. Jordan.]


4 people like this
Posted by Elephant
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 16, 2018 at 3:49 pm

I get that PAUSD wasn't responding to these requests before Jordan. But dumping requests that are 10x or 100x the size into the queue obviously isn't going to help matters. Seems like both things can be true.


21 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Transparency? is a registered user.

@Paly Parent,
Where do you get that information? The responses are not being filled chronologically. It's not that they are working through any of Jordan's and therefore others are falling behind. That's just not the case. If it were, you'd have a point. But, when more recent requests are being filled then your point doesn't make any sense.

Read the article.

Bill Johnson writes to Don Austin, ""We were burned before by this false promise," Johnson wrote to Austin on Oct. 26. "'Trust us' is simply no longer credible, and the absence of a board commitment on the future handling of these communications neither acknowledges the long history of this problem and the district's past failure to adhere to the promises made in 2016 nor conveys a belief that it considers timely release of routine documents important."

A quote from Ken Dauber, "It makes good sense to adopt policies and practices that state the district's intention about complying with the Public Records Act because clearly what the district has been doing to this point isn't working well,"

Even that Weekly edits comments that try to put any onus on Kathy Jordan. It's not a new issue. Read the emails where the district fights to not disclose disciplinary records for Diorio and Laurence even though they are required to by law.


4 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 4:40 pm

@Transparency, I can't speak for the Weeklys's views or editing. And yes, the district did break trust before, when McGee was in charge. By the time new management came in, 14 months ago, Jordan's massive requests had made catching up impossible. To say Jordan wasn't a factor doesn't make sense; her requests crowded out all others.

[Portion removed.]


22 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2018 at 5:35 pm

Transparency? is a registered user.

@Paly Parent,
Just because you keep saying something over and over doesn't make it true.

Read the article.

Read the emails from the Weekly to the board. Read the ones from the board to Komey Vishakan which implore her to stop dragging her feet and follow the law. Please find one that calls out any community member for being the cause of PAUSD only fulfilling the requests after being threatened by a lawsuit.

Notice that most of Jordan's requests are not filled. Those requests are not holding up anything. If anything, they are giving the district an excuse. However, the law does not allow for excuses.

Read the article. Please.

Read the article.


8 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2018 at 8:11 pm

I did read it. And followed along independently. Yes most of Jordan's requests are not filled - that's the definition of being overwhelming. Even partially fufilling some of them took all the resources the district had, plus those they added. This was all discussed at the January board meeting that the Weekly seems to ignore.

The Weekly can keep editing it if they like, but it's still true: first it was McGee's lack of effort, and then it was Jordan's overwhelming the system [portion removed.] The comparison to the board minutes plainly shows this. The Weekly is hardly an impartial reporter when reporting on it's own publisher!


19 people like this
Posted by White Elephant
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2018 at 8:15 pm

It is amazing that instead of taking the time to get informed about serious mismanagement and obvious obfuscation of facts by PAUSD, the community finds it more convenient to find an escape goat in Jordan and blame everything on her. Please at least take the time to read the Cozen Report, prepared by lawyers independent from the politics of PAUSD, and your escape goat. Incidentally, we all paid a big chunck of money for the investigation of an on campus sexual assault.
Dauber et. al., it is NOT enough to say nice stuff any parent wants to hear, your actions are the opposite of your words.


17 people like this
Posted by Online
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 17, 2018 at 4:31 am

@paly parent

Whoever you are you are not informed there for your arguments are not valid and you have not experience the wrath of PAUSD.

There is a lot of damage being done to students and families in this district by unethical and illegal behaviors practiced by those hired paid for with our tax dollars to support and educate our children. It’s like I am paying to hurt my own kids. We still have some bad apples and that culture will be the hardest to change especially if you don’t do a clean sweep, all the way to the current score board. Let’s hope the new school board members don’t get indoctrinated before the old can rolloff .

Note 2 weekly : Please help expose all the dirty dealings and shenanigans. I’d like to see an article on how many lawsuits could’ve been avoided by the school doing the right thing which they usually end up doing anyway just years later.

And shame on you for not supporting Jordan more. You were sueing the district when she was only asking for the information. Imagine if Jordan had been doing the same, what kind a headlines would you have printed then?

Anyone with the goodwill to trust the District is just a Patsy, take it from another Patsy, whose trust achieved nothing but harm to the child because nothing that was agreed to was provided, even with a number of laws in noncompliance. The IEP‘s were written without any documentation of what the District said it included and what they had specified In their agreement . The District does not acknowledge the value of a trusting relationship and that you are demonstrating you are trying to work with them. As soon as you say enough is enough you are full fledged attacked, which includes lies, retaliation, doctored and fabricated evidence that implicatesand prior and current school board members, administration, principals, assist. superintendent, and some teachers.

There is no Goodwill bank account for your patience for the months that become years your student has gone without what is due to them by law. No one wins. The child definitely loses. It’s not about saving money, in fact our experience is a 5x expense. All issues were known and reported to the school board after years of failure by the administration and all that came out of it was a lawsuit which escalated to an OCR investigation which has still not been made public.

Kathy Jordan was one of the only people that help on this one to . Any silly detractors would have to be a school board member or asministration because the information is not public yet .


3 people like this
Posted by blame
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2018 at 6:19 am

Transparency,

The delay went on for over a year with tons of records requests that weren't being filled.

Why pin this on lower level staff?

Maybe regular staff owns this the first or second time records aren't timely released but after that it is on the Superintendent to hire people to help or assign someone different to the task.

So why didn't either of our Superintendents pre-Don Austin do anything about this?

Seeing that the Superintendents weren't getting it done, why didn't the Board fix it?

Probably because they all felt that spending money on other things better served their, students' and the public's interest.



21 people like this
Posted by Scapegoating
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2018 at 10:48 am

Isn't it the district's own conduct making the district look bad? Not following the laws, repeatedly, see OCR investigation and see Cozen report, and see how the Board has continued to shield employees from being identified for their misconduct (another Cozen report0 and has even promoted those who didn't follow the law and who harmed students.

Isn't it the district and Board who have spent $$ millions of taxpayer dollars due to employee non compliance and misconduct? $1.2 million just in 2017-18 alone on legal fees due to non compliance, an additional $500k for an interim Title IX coordinator since the district's previous one was shown not to have followed the laws, and additional legal fees since OCR started investigating PAUSD in 2013? Seems like the district spent $1.7 million just since June 2017 due to district employee non compliance --- how much did it spend on this before then?

Isn't it the District's and Board's conduct making them look bad?


18 people like this
Posted by Facts and figures
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 17, 2018 at 12:16 pm

I cannot believe no one is concerned that the legal fee info and PRAs were released after the election. Maybe Dauber and Shounak would not have won. Feels like Dauber should be recalled and frankly Todd Collins should go with him for interfering in an election. He used his board member status to articulate a non Board position the week of the election.

A fish stinks from its head.


10 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Alum is a registered user.

@Paly Parent—Kathy Jordan's extensive requests can slow processing down, but they can't make the district any more or less cooperative and compliant with PRA regulations. That's the problem, as illustrated by the Cozen report redactions and communications with the weekly.

Additionally, simple requests that result in a single page of data are taking extraordinarily long to fulfill, and only after threat of litigation several packets of monthly correspondence were magically released in a very short period of time.

All of this suggests something fishy is going on. The conclusion being drawn is that the burden created by Jordan's extensive requests is being used as an excuse to continue being uncooperative.


23 people like this
Posted by Student Records, too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2018 at 2:15 pm

"Probably because they all felt that spending money on other things better served their, students' and the public's interest"

I doubt it. I am jealous that the Weekly could afford a lawyer and has a platform to shame the district. We had trouble getting the district just to provide ordinary student records, which they are not only required by law to provide within a specified period of time, they are required to have processes in place to do so and not to complain it's too hard. This is legally part of their jobs as schools.

We not only found it impossible to get student records under the law through ordinary request (over a period of two years, they didn't fill one, and in the years prior to that they filled almost none), the district people who were motivated by CYA would create a false record that they had completed the request. Or they would ask us to narrow a perfectly ordinary normal request for records when they knew very well they were trying to find a way to legally avoid providing any records they didn't want to provide.

This is illegal behavior, and they were allowed to engage in it to the detriment and overt harm of students and their families. (Forget making other records requests; heck, if Kathy Jordan had been willing to make one for us, I would have reached out to her. I do not appreciate seeing someone who was willing to be a lightning rod in the face of such illegal and detrimental behavior shamed.). I’m sorry to say, board members knew about this but have done nothing to rectify it. I heard a credible charge from another family that they had evidence certain employees were keeping records of special needs cases at their homes in order to avoid someone accidentally producing them from a request. I believe it, based on what I witnessed. The board is not willing to investigate such things, and staff turnover the past never fixed the behavior. I do not see any evidence, especially not in light of this story, that things have changed. Just a lot of behavior that increases liability in the name of supposedly decreasing it (at the behest of the lawyers making tons of money). No one seems interested in prioritizing their public service to families and students.

There actually is a local governmental agency that the Department of Education says is legally charged with making districts comply with these legal educational record requests (like the DA?) but despite the DOE being very certain they are, the entity had no knowledge of their responsibility, because it’s just that unheard of for districts to behave the way ours is.

Thank you for this story, Weekly, but I read it and feel envious, knowing we could never take this route. Please do a story on their overtly avoiding the filling of student records requests, violating FERPA, and the consequences that has had. Most of the people who really know get drummed out of the district. No wonder there is an achievement gap. They’ll never fix it unless they fix the culture, which will require some honest truth and reconciliation.


13 people like this
Posted by Get Your Facts Straight
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2018 at 7:40 am

Get Your Facts Straight is a registered user.

Fascinating how the Palo Alto Weekly waits until after the election to publish a slew of stories damaging to the board: from the legal bills, to long pending PRAs, to the elimination of the equity coordinator position.
Also fascinating how it is so convenient for everybody involved to put all the district's troubles on Kathy Jordan, who just got involved a year and a half ago. I guess she is responsible for part of the district's troubles -- without her they would have yet again done nothing but published niceties about title IX training, trust around instructional minutes (that we have been deficient in for years -- ask Denise Hermann), etc. etc.


8 people like this
Posted by Truthiness
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2018 at 9:01 am

[Portion removed.] The non-compliance was a key issue in the board campaign 4 years ago, two and a half years before Jordan noticed. The board reached an agreement with OCR to address all outstanding issues, months before Jordan showed up. The board commissioned a report on the Paly case when the facts emerged about it. Jordan lost the election because voters understood that her criticisms were misplaced [portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by room for improvement
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2018 at 11:11 am

Truthiness,

You say that "non-compliance was a key issue in the board campaign 4 years ago."

Yes

AND

other non-compliance issues were key issues in the board campaign this year like chronic, large instructional minute deficiencies at Paly.


The narrative that all is now well in PAUSD-land is fiction as this article shows.

Hopefully the Weekly will report what it uncovers in the scores of pages PAUSD dropped in its lap this month.

[Portion removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by Actual Truth
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 18, 2018 at 11:51 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


13 people like this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2018 at 11:57 pm

Didn't Dauber campaign on transparency? He was part of the board that received information months before it went to the OCR. Surely by now they are aware that the administration does not have good judgment and you can't count on them to do the right thing...you would think they would follow-up before the * hits the fan again.

Select Disability then Academic adjustments...

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Silencing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 21, 2018 at 8:15 am

[Portion removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Downtown North

on Nov 26, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


1 person likes this
Posted by Transparency?
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2018 at 8:28 pm

‘Weekly are you going to post the docs you received, like you did last time? It would save the rest of us from having to file for the sections we need. Then the school would be out of excuses as some requests would go away ;-)


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

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