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Protest leads to email from superintendent

Original post made on Aug 21, 2013

Students and parents exiting Gunn High School Wednesday were met with five placard-holding protesters who are supporting the family of a special education student currently in a dispute with the school district about the student's school placement.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 21, 2013, 9:58 AM

Comments (69)

Posted by hmmmm
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:49 am

Is this the same family the Weekly reported about in June? Web Link ("Family files claim against school district")

That Weekly story was about "the family of a Palo Alto special education student who was previously the focus of an Office for Civil Rights investigation" who filed a claim for damages against the district on June 21. Its complaints: bullying and needing appropriate services.

The Weekly reported that the district had until August 5 to settle or deny the family's claim and that the family was represented by an attorney from King & Spalding.

If this is the same family, it sounds like the district didn't settle and the attorney they were working with no longer represents them.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm

My family had to spend $6,000 on special ed lawyers last year and who knows how much the district did. I would have rather just spent the money on the schools. Or my family, it's been very stressful, and we've had to sacrifice a lot.

In spite of an unhappy experience, and while it remains to be seen, I really do think Kevin Skelly is sincere about change. I think the district would really, really benefit from legal with a different approach, though, and the directions that would take us would probably reflect better on Mr. Skelly. Like the difference between medical malpractice lawyers who end up causing huge cases by being adversarial, where taking responsibility for a mistake and working with people when something goes wrong turns out to be cheaper and better for everyone. Our legal advisors seem to be squarely in the former camp in their approach, and lo and behold, we've had much higher legal expenditure, unhappy parents, and lawsuits.

Posted by pa parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by JA3
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Eileen 1
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 1:59 pm

@ pa parent: Your link to the Mercury references an article printed in February 2013. Yes, it appears that Ms. Gaona-Mendoza is the aunt of the child in THAT case.

However, there is nothing in today's article in the Weekly that confirms that this is the same child/same case. My understanding from previous articles is that the family in the original civil rights case is being represented by counsel. Just because Ms. Gaona-Medoza is involved in this protest does not imply or confirm that the family she is supporting now is her niece's family. As close readers of the Weekly will know, Ms. Gaona-Mendoza is active in supporting families in this district who are struggling to get appropriate services for their children.

Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Aug 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

The case referenced in this story and about which Superintendent Skelly sent his email is a different case and a different family from any previous cases reported on by the Weekly. This is a new case.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:23 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Less for Lawyers and PR and more for our kids
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:40 pm

@ Eileen 1: Thanks for recognizing that there are tireless individuals out there that need to speak the truth and aren't afraid to advocate for our students.

Your statement, "As close readers of the Weekly will know, Ms. Gaona-Mendoza is active in supporting families in this district who are struggling to get appropriate services for their children." is so true. I wish that more people were willing to get out there and advocate for truth and justice. Any child that is hurting as a result of inappropriate services from the district or, worse yet, no services has my admiration.

I have been watching Ms. Marielena Gaona Mendoza stand up at school board meetings and speak the truth to unhearing ears. Time has come that everyone in this district knows what the School Board and upper administrators have been doing to deny services to our kids. And, yes, we should absolutely be spending the money that the district is having to spend on lawyers and PR specialists to cover for Skelly's
missteps on our students and staff. It's time.

Speak out like Marielena......don't just whisper in the supermarket aisles about how unhappy this makes us all. Our kids need us to speak out for them. Don't be afraid parents!! All is not well in Perfect Palo Alto and anyone who thinks that is so is a dreamer.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Why was my post removed? I did not post anything insulting or that can't be easily found by anyone searching online.

Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Aug 21, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.


You are obviously free to do whatever web research you wish, but given the delicate issues of these cases and the fact they involve children enrolled in the school district, we will remove comments that we think could make the children or their parents the focus of discussion rather than the broader policy issues.

Posted by Destroyer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm

"...or that can't be easily found by anyone searching online."
You're writing your own terms of use?
Porn can be easily found online. Great argument.

Posted by TroubledSchools
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 21, 2013 at 4:34 pm

It is disturbing to say the least. Dr Skelly is using legal means to compel a student into a special Ed placement. This is the same type of placement which has generated bullying; which the district does nothing about.

It doesn't help that our district lost it's ranking because of the poor treatment of students at the bottom.

It is quite likely that the parents know full well that this placement may not be in their Childs best interest.

Perhaps Skelly should work to build a world class school for ALL students, rather than spending lawyer $ on compelling disadvantaged students into the ghetto-within-the-school.

If the placement were into an effective program, free of bullying I am sure parents would sign up.

Compelling a student into the situation the district has created is immoral. Dr Skelly claiming that his approach is based upon a moral mandate is arrogant and alarming.

Posted by deep breath
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 21, 2013 at 5:01 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Overnight Protest-come join
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 21, 2013 at 5:44 pm

To all supporters please join us for an overnight protest outside Gunn High School. We will be here till tomorrow when it is time for mediation. We will stop protesting tomorrow at 9:00am, if we are not offered an appropriate placing at mediation we will come back to protest. We will be fasting till the student has an appropriate placement

Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Dr. Skelly's email reveals potentially individually identifying information about the student when it discloses that the student is in special education but is not in school currently ("It is our goal to see this child return to school."). That narrows down the identity of the student sufficiently that is likely that at least some people were able to identify the student. This may violate FERPA. So there's another Laurie Robinson fail and a fail for the new PR lady as well. Up to that point, it seemed fine, however. Better luck next time. But why did he need to send this email at all? And why on God's green earth would Katya send it to every parent at Gunn, which is half of everyone in PAUSD?

This is very similar to the email blunder made by Chris Grierson regarding the OCR complaint filed in that case. Incidentally it would be shocking to me if the family in this case has not also filed an ORC complaint, so look for that story in the Weekly soon.

It's back to school time in PA so that means lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. This district is totally dysfunctional.

Posted by No Skelly 4PA
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Kevin Skelly really deserves to lose his job over this latest gaff. He is not at all decent at the job he is so highly paid to perform.

having met him in person, three times now, I find he is a little "off" and " out of it".... Did not the school board notice this when interviewing him?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Why protest at Gunn? Skelly doesn't work there and will not see it. If anything, you're going disrupt the students at Gunn and not make a dent on Skelly's day.

Go to PAUSD HQ instead. Plus you can gain exposure on El Camino Real while you're at it.

Let's allow the students to have a normal day at school please.

Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 21, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Without knowing the details - is it possible that the District is actually correct about the placement of the student and the parents refuse to accept it? My daughter has a classmate - now in high school - whose parents refused to admit that he was autistic until he was 8 or 9, even when it was obvious even to the rest of the parents.

Sometimes it is hard to admit that our child needs help, especially in the very competitive PAUSD where "B" students are called slackers.

Posted by Justice is coming
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Look at the photo. Was there four people? And this is why Kevin Skelly, Charles Young, and Holly Wade need to spend half a million dollars over the next three years on a publicist who is writing most of the drivel coming out of 25 Churchill? Skelly, Wade, and Young could have simply worked with this family as partners instead of adversaries, and could have saved me so much money. PAUSD does not need another bond or parcel tax in the future, that's for sure.

Protest at Gunn. El Camino Real will get you nothing and protesting at 25 Churchill won't affect an arrogant administration. I predict we'll have announcement of a resignation by February by Skelly. It's been an injustice that he was kept on in 2013, and now 2014. Do the right thing, board, pay him the 18 months of pay and advertise for a new superintendent. And use a new search firm. The one you're using is a bit to cozy with the applicants.

Posted by big al
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm

well said, good to hear that justice is coming.

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm

@palo alto parent,
I read the OCR report when it was published online, and I don't think the scenario you bring up applies.

Posted by Info Missing
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:44 pm

We don't know what the details are?
It could be the PAUSD wants the child in question to go to a all day special ed class or school and the parents feel differently.
Or It could be the PAUSD believes the child would do fine in a mainstream class. With some in class support and maybe some pull out for just part of the day. Maybe the parent want their child to go to one of the special all day schools?

As far as skelly sending out that email to all gunn parents. Did PAUSD not send out a memo telling staff to keep their lips sealed about such matters. Did this not just happen with a principle in another case. Now PAUSD will have to hire a lawyer and PR team to monitor all out going emails. ''Loose lips sinks ships''
It's almost as if the email was somehow meant to be a scare tactic.
I highly doubt 3 women outside gunn disturbed busy parents and teenagers enough that skelly needed to decide to become PAUSD's PR team.....

Posted by Info Missing
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm

As far as my comment about skellys email being a scare tactic. I mean more of a harassment tactic. I'm sure that email contained enough info that anyone tied to that kids school will be able to figure it out. All it takes is one or two parents to get talking and before you know it. it's the hot topic around the school. Now the parents and child are exposed as trouble makers.

Posted by fed up and unsympathetic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Family of Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Thanks to you advice, we will be moving to the PAUSD headquarters, feel free to join us. We were here because the child was assigned to gunn...

Posted by Gunn Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm

My son (a Gunn sophomore) and I just walked over and had a long chat with the protesters outside of Gunn. I recommend that anyone who is curious to hear first hand from the family do the same. I'm not a lawyer, but the family's treatment at the hands of PAUSD has been disgraceful, and quite probably illegal. The family is Spanish-speaking, low-income, with a sensitive, musically-gifted special needs student. Not the type of family or student PAUSD excels in teaching. What they need, and what the district fears they will get, is a top notch bi-lingual civil rights attorney.

Posted by Anonymous Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Here are comments previously posted on Town Square that may be of interest again now:

Although PAUSD has never treated disabled students as full members of the community, it has become much worse since the departure of Carol Zepecki. Under Carol's leadership the district tended to offer to students and families what was desired or needed to meet each student's needs or to reassure the family. Since the arrival of Holly Wade, the district has adopted what might be referred to as the "Poway Doctrine" which is to save money whenever and wherever possible by gutting special education services and by forcing parents to accept whatever the district is offering rather than by trying to work things through with parents to their satisfaction.

Many parents since the arrival of Kevin Skelly have been told to like it or lump it. The district has not hesitated under the Poway Doctrine to tell parents to sue them or go to due process. Parents are told, "this is what you can have and if you don't like it go to due process." Due process hearings are hard to win, and the district brings in outside counsel from Laurie Reynolds' office and fights the family tooth and nail. This, not grabby families or "nightmare parents" is the genesis of the OCR complaint situation. When parents feel backed against the wall and that their child is suffering and not getting the education that they need to live a healthy, productive life to the fullest of their potential they will eventually, despite all the social and peer pressure to just go-along-get-along -- they will fight.

Students that were previously sent to special day at CHC are now kept in new, pilot, on-site special day programs. These programs are new, they are cross-categorical, and they are not as good as those that have been run for many years with expertise by CHC. "Cross-categorical" means that children with different diagnoses are grouped together, and often this means that the child with anger management or ADHD/impulse control is in the same room with the child who is targeted and has ED issues. The quality of these new experimental pilot special day programs varies wildly by location and by teacher. Some are better than others. Some are Lord of the Flies.

These programs were put together very quickly when the funding formula for special education changed and instead of going to the county the money came directly from the state to the district. Previously it cost the district little to send a child out to a special day class that received county funding. Now the district has dollar signs in its eyes as it can keep those dollars that it does not spend on special day placement and reallocate them elsewhere in the special ed program or even for other Title I needs.

Aha, said Kevin Skelly -- we can force people to accept whatever we are offering and save money. Let's do what we did in Poway where we were sued by 25 families who did not want to accept the Skelly Special Day program.

Students who are very bright but suffer from anxiety or depression are not able to receive the same quality of education in some of these new, quickly hacked together pilot programs that were created to save money for the district. Students who are vulnerable and shy may share a desk with those with conduct disorders -- a near perfect storm for bullying. Students with special needs are now spending gym and recess with regular ed students who have the opportunity to bully them, whereas before they might have been at Esther Clark in a protected environment with other special ed students.

There is no perfect solution for special education students. But there are better and worse situations. The arrival of Kevin Skelly and the departure of Carol Zepecki signaled a move to the worse end of that spectrum in Palo Alto and triggered the current wave of OCR complaints.

It should not take a change in leadership to effect a change of tone toward parents of disabled students. Dr. Skelly should be able to figure out how he has mismanaged the situation and fix it. Unfortunately he is probably not emotionally mature enough to do that and has climbed into the bunker. The board appears to have joined him there and at this point, it is likely that only litigation and more journalistic expose will fix a very broken system.

Before you all start posting about how our high test scores prove that the district management is not severely troubled, please note that I am writing about disabled students and their program cannot be judged by the same criteria as that of the regular education students. This group of students must be judged by other factors -- are they thriving by whatever individual criteria are set for that child's success? By any measure PAUSD's stance toward those with disabilities is a failure. It requires major retooling.

That, Dr. Skelly is why you are facing all these OCR complaints. Not because of "nightmare parents" or overreaching feds or confusing laws or the bogeyman of Ken Dauber or Bill Johnson or whatever theories you may have. It is because you have terribly, horribly, badly mishandled special education and parents will fight to the death for their children.

Now you know....

Below is the link and article about Dr. Skelly's Poway Doctrine. In Poway they actually sued the parents to force them to accept IEPs that they didn't agree with, and forced parents to sue the district to dispute district assessments and placements. Please note two important things about the story. First, Kevin Skelly's quote will be chillingly familiar to PAUSD parents -- "we have high test scores, great teachers, and there is no problem! All is well." The other is that parents of special ed students started resorting to lawsuits and complaints to OCR during Kevin Skelly's tenure as the assistant superintendent in charge of special education.

Special education is not an area Kevin Skelly understands or cares about. To him, what matters is high test scores, elite college admissions, and whoop-de-do about how great it is. He is particularly bad at this and ended up being despised by Poway's special education parents. Now PAUSD is having very similar problems. We have also had a terrible time convincing him that Gunn needed to change to be more supportive and offer more social-emotional services. This is part of the man's makeup, his own psychology, it is a very deep belief system. He has made absolute hash of special ed in two different places. He probably cannot change this. A competent board that was not busy batting its eyelashes at him and dropping their hankies for him to pick up would fire him next week.

Web Link

[Portion removed due to possible copyright infringement.]

Posted by anonymous parent and lawyer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 15, 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Don't take Crescent Park Dad's advice. [Portion removed.] If you want to be at Gunn, then be at Gunn. He supports the district not you. If you want to protest where Skelly and the "cabinet" will see you, protest outside Antonio's Nut House on Cal Ave. The PRA disclosures were full of emails from Skelly to his cabinet inviting them for drinks at the Nut House with him after work.

People seem to be unaware that using litigation to force families into particular special ed programming is part of the Poway Doctrine, something Skelly developed while he was the associate superintendent at Poway Unified (which also had legendary anti-gay bullying during his tenure -- so much so that it resulted in a Ninth Circuit opinion cited in another thread, very informative, and in a California Court of Appeals decision in favor of a gay student who sued the district for violating his state civil rights by not intervening to stop the anti-gay bullying.

When Skelly came to Poway, he announced that he was launching a "bold new initiative" on special education. Web Link

Regrettably that "bold" initiative was to force families to accept programs for their students that they did not want and to sue them when they objected. Parents felt that Skelly had created a "dumping ground" for special education students and resisted the placements Skelly insisted on.

While at Poway, Skelly sued many families to force them into IEPs that they did not agree with. When asked about the record numbers of lawsuits with families over special education, Skelly told the press that ""To have 25 unhappy parents out of 3,000 -- that we have not been able to resolve with -- I think is very good," Skelly said."

So now we are well on the way to having an equally "very good" number of ongoing lawsuits with parents over special education. While the board slumbers on, trudging from closed session to closed session, saying nothing to the public, claiming to "care" about students.

PAUSD has a real problem with special education and it seems to be the same problem Poway had: Kevin Skelly. Unfortunately Skelly just received a satisfactory performance review from Dana Tom the school board president.

The right place to protest is outside the home of Dana Tom the school board president [portion removed.]

Only the school board can fix the broken relationships between the special education families in this district and the schools. It is the board's responsibility to ensure that there are good relations and that every child is given an appropriate education regardless of disability and it is the board's responsibility to hire and fire the superintendent. When the superintendent has allowed matters to fester in this area such that we have now earned 5 OCR complaints, one letter of finding, at least one lawsuit, and now have a hunger strike and overnight vigil on this subject, it is time to pull the plug. Turning up the heat on Dana Tom is how to send the message. Head to Crescent Park and hold your vigil on his front sidewalk. It's a public street, and it's perfectly legal. You are petitioning your government for a redress of grievances. Kevin Skelly is not your elected public official. Dana Tom is.

Turn up the heat, but turn it up in the right place.

Posted by TroubledSchools
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm

The problem is an individual issue.

However the email is a warning to the community: my way or the highway. We will sue you into oblivion if you disagree. He did it in Poway, and will do it here.

Principals try to intimidate special needs parents - I have experienced this.

This letter is meant to intimidate and send a message to others. It is a convenient way to cut his costs and pressure all the parents before they even consider requesting special needs help.

Nice piece of work.

Posted by my $0.02
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2013 at 10:51 pm

CHC's programs are wonderful but incredibly expensive. They are also isolating for SpEd students. Wouldn't it make more sense to have appropriate SpEd programs in our excellent PAUSD schools and use this as an opportunity to teach all RegEd students about acceptance of and kindness towards all students?

Posted by Fran
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Not if your child needs a better and more established program. Lets not experiment with cost cutting measures on sick children or force children into new untested programs. It would be cheaper to treat cancer with prayer but that doesn't mean we should force poor people to accept that form of treatment.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Special Ed student parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 21, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Keep up the protest and do what is best for the student. Unless you are the parent or family member of a special needs child, you will NEVER know or understand fully why this parent is protesting. No teacher or administrator knows more than the parent what is right for the student.

Posted by close bv already
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 1:45 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Ariane
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2013 at 2:37 am

I'm glad this has open doors for future discussion.

Posted by Justice is coming
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 6:41 am

I agree that the school board is now responsible, actually at fault, for how bad this has become. Heidi Emberling has been awful, even though she has done nothing, but that's just it, she has done nothing, and don't look for that to improve. How could it? I like the idea of protesting outside the school board's homes. High test scores on the STAR tests do not indicate excellent schools, but they do correlate with parents who also had high test scores and now make a bunch of money. I know of the protesters, I've met them and I've seen them at the board meetings. I also know Kevin Skelly and Holly Wade demonstrated disdain towards them and grossly underestimated them. I also noticed the sign in the Weekly's photo criticizing teachers for bullying their child. PAUSD actually has a few teachers who are subpar, just as any group would have, but teachers have protection from the powerful PAEA. Perhaps they could use their power to solve this issue, but they do not want to lose their ally in Skelly and they actually don't advocate for students, only PAEA members.

These are not the signs of a district of excellence, these are not the signs of a district in decline, these are the signs of a district that had some serious, sick issues. Even the Weekly has tried to stay positive through the Skelly reign with fluff pieces like the series of spotlights on various principals one year ago and the recent coverage of the brand new Gunn gym, so don't blame them, but the things you have read in the last year and a half only scratch the surface. Can things get worse? You can answer that.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 7:51 am

> High test scores on the STAR tests do not indicate excellent schools

What deluded poppycock!

Posted by ToxicEnvironment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:22 am

Announcing the lawsuits against these families is really a problem. It sends the message to many other families: if you cross us, there will be retaliation.

Retaliation is happening locally within sites: teachers do it, principals do it, and the district uses it to bully students and families.

If Skelly ever wonders why there is a growing criticism, and growing toxic environment between the school and the community, he need only look in the mirror. In this case he is directly threatening retaliation to the entire community - it will not improve his standing.

The board needs to stop this. Suing voters cannot be good for re-election. At least for the sake of community relations the board should end this lawsuit and work toward mediation. Further emails from Skelly need to be viewed as the threats they are.

It will destroy this community.

Posted by Another Joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:23 am

It's actually true, Joe. Star test scores are mostly predicted by parents' education and wealth. Because with overall high levels of education and wealth, most kids make it easy for teachers and would do well whether teaching is excellent or not. It means the excellence of a school can't be shown by that measure. Considering the wealth and education of our parents, it's hard to tell how well our schools actually do.

Posted by Elen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:39 am

Why is everyone always hyper concerned about their rights! This city is becoming protest and sue happy beyond belief. Nobody seems to take the time to consider what they do have, which is a lot here in Palo Alto, but always focused on what they are not getting and think they deserve. Why is it always someone else's fault?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

When the protest from families outside a school is done in full public view, doesn't the privacy issue become moot?

If a family decides to become visible then they can be identified by those that know them - no research needs to be done, and it will soon spread and become public knowledge.

This family must have weighed the pros and cons of a public protest, but they have now lost their anonymity.

One of the reasons why many people on Town Square choose to remain anonymous is to protect the identity, not of themselves, but of their children.

I find it hard to respect a family that has taken the decision to make this a public protest unless I think that they have done this as a last resort. I have no idea about the pros and cons of this situation, but in a situation like this they have now either lost credibility or not taken into account the full consequences of becoming public. It is that aspect that is now making me take more note and I don't think it is a good thing for the family - although I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Posted by ToxicEnvironment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 9:11 am

Where are the libertarians now?

"District staff believe that the child involved deserves support, and we want to ensure that we provide the services that education professionals deem most appropriate for the student. Without compromising confidentiality, in special education cases when parents do not agree with the services and placement, we have both a legal and moral obligation to ensure that the students receive access to a public education."

The government body now thinks it is knows what is best, and is imposing it's will on individuals.

Finally, something our local Libertarian Barb Mitchell can identify with!!

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 9:23 am

> Star test scores are mostly predicted by
> parents' education and wealth.

While this part is true, it was the following part that "high test scores are indicative of a school district in decline" that really was the bit that sparked a comment.

However, if your logic follows--schools can never achieve high test scores without parents committed to high test scores. Leaving us with the question--so, what's the point of putting the children of low-achieving parents into a public education regimen, anyway?

Suggesting that low standardized test scores are better indicators of excellent schools--is really beyond silly!

Posted by Another Joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2013 at 9:45 am

"high test scores are indicative of a school district in decline"

this I don't agree with. Sure, "poppycock" is a fair characterization.

I also think that a lot of the information around the whole topic of demographics, teaching, school environment, and test results is murky. In part because so many studies seems to be done by someone with an axe to grind.

Although parent demographic data all but predict standardized test results in the large (that's one thing that is fairly well established), there must be an impact of good teaching on the margin and it sure does matter for individual students. (In competitive markets, the impact on the margin is sometimes enough to change a whole market.)

Given that Palo Alto has demographics just about as good as they get for predicting high test scores, how can we know how well our schools are doing in the large? It's hard.

It's natural in this context that attention would be drawn to an area where the school is demonstrably weak and try to do something about that.

PAUSD at one point had a great reputation for special-needs students and sometimes a pretty good one for "at-risk demographic" families.

Now, it doesn't, and this kind of change is good at grabbing attention.

Posted by J. Hancock
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

@Elen, I hate that "rights" drivel as much as you do. It's positively un-American. Check out this bit of special pleading that I found in a hyper-liberal document the other day:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Can you believe the hubris?
@Joe, Thank you for pointing out that the earlier poster said that "high test scores are indicative of a school district in decline"! Imagine my disappointment when I looked back and saw that she never said that! How can I trust people on Palo Alto Online when stuff like that happens?

Posted by Joe the Plumber
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 22, 2013 at 9:50 am

I think joe1 is misreading the post. It's not the test scores he says are a sign of decline it's the protests, investigations, complaints, bullying, suicides, incompetent leadership, PR officer fiasco, spiraling legal fees and increasingly useless board. It's the fact the the district now has a policy of suing special ed families. Those are the signs of decline.

Posted by Jose
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

Yes, Joe and poppycock are misreading the post about test scores, but it could have been written with more clarity. It appears that the poster means all the issues are signs of our sick district. Joe the Plumber has summed it well.

Posted by another approach
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2013 at 11:58 am

It is probably true that students who are different in some way (unable to read social cues, painfully shy, have obvious physical differences, dress or behave in ways more typical of the opposite gender etc) are more likely to be bullied. However, IMO the solution is not to segregate such students in sheltered non-public schools to protect them from bullying but, rather, to work with all students to tolerate differences and show kindness to their fellow students. This would need to be coupled with a no-tolerance approach to bullying from teachers and administrators. Ultimately, such an approach would be more valuable to all students.

Posted by InfoMissing
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Would be nice for one of the folks to kinda of fill us all in. With what the discrepancy is between the parents involved and the PAUSD.
Skelly stated in his exposing email. That PAUSD feels that the student does require some special ed?
Is the issue that the parents feel that what is offered is not enough, and want their child to receive more. Like being placed in a all day special ed class? Example would be the child is in normal clases but gets pulled out once or twice a day for special ed?
Is it a issue where the PAUSD feels that maybe the child should be placed in a all day special ed class, with the parent not wanting that. Instead wanting their child to remain in mainstream classes with special ed support.

Also if the parents are not sending their child to school in protest. Then yes PAUSD has a legal obligation to see that the child is in school, or is being home schooled. This is where the legal action comes to play. Either that or they could press charges for child neglect.

I'm a parent of a special ed student and, I do remember Tammy zigler, been doing IEPS for 6 years now. I know how tuff they can be with you never leaving %100 satisfied with what is being done for your child. You have to ask for outlandish amounts of help for your child in hopes of getting a small percentage of what you feel your child needs to excel.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I would just like to gently point out that the other 24 students in a class should have rights as well.
In some cases (I am not saying specifically this case, I don't know), special needs students are very disruptive to the class as a whole. But no one is allowed to defend the rights of the rest of the students because they are not "special". Many more resources are put into providing custom education for special needs student than "regular" students, who I'm sure would also benefit from a customized education. But as a society we really can't afford to provide a custom education for each individual.
So in a case where a student's needs cannot be met in a regular classroom or when that student's presence detracts from the education of the rest of the student, I do want the school district to have the ability to say 'no' to some parents.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

@ CPM: you have no idea as to how I feel about this issue.

My input was honest recommendation. You can protest at Gunn all you want - but the only the Gunn parents/kids/staff will see it. Skelly, Tom and the rest will certainly hear about it - but they won't see it and will no impact on their day. They won't have to face the concerned families and their supporters....instead they'll just go to work and do their usual routine and may not even give the Gunn protest a second thought.

And BTW, if I'm such a district guy as you claim, then you aren't paying attention. For example, I was and still am opposed to the district's decision to start school in mid-August.

Maybe you don't like any of my opinions - fine. But don't go around assuming you where I stand or who I back. As the saying goes, when you assume....

Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I agree with Resident. All of the kids in the class have rights, some kids need more attention
than a teacher in a mainstream class can provide, and everyone else in the class suffers.
Also, why would the District, a group of professional educators not have the best interest
of the student in mind? What does the district "get" out of a misplaced child?

What would the district's motive be other than to be fair to all the kids in the class, not
just the ones that need extra attention.

Posted by I have been there
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Wow! I can't believe some conversations that we are having in this forum. All I can say if you do not have a child with special needs, you do not know what is going on behind doors at the IEP's. You might be a teacher, a lawyer, but you have no idea what you are talking about. However, thanks for having this conversation. You do not know how exhausting it is to get a little services for you child, especially if the family is low income. Am telling you it is better to be blind about the parents rights that a child of special education has, then to be aware and use those rights to help your child get an appropriate placement. There are so many tricks, lies, bad looks, sarcatism use against parents, put downs of special ed. students. Very ugly. I know it because I have three kids with special needs.

Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm

I am missing something --

Kevin Skelly is planning on suing parents? Or is that the history from Poway? Please explain!

Posted by J. Hancock
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

@Resident's post is a great example of why we need legally protected rights. Many members of the majority are perfectly happy to throw minorities overboard if accommodating them costs them anything, including their own privilege.

Posted by Speak Up in the name of your child
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Kevin is suing parents because they have the $ to do it. This is not just an isolated event. There are about 10 other special education parents who are in the middle of the due process, but obviously they do not want to make it public to protect the identity of the students. These parents had tried everything and had no other choice,but to protest. They really wished they did not have to, but if they do not make it public, they will not get an APPROPRIATE place for the child. Parents do not be afraid to speak up in this forum. Just tried to not give too much info about the case. I know, just like this family you are afraid of retaliation against you and your child, but keeping it quiet it is not going to make things any better. Yes Skelly did in in his former district. It was a tactic that worked for a while in Pow Way. Our children who are put in the middle need our support and it is time to stop this absurd tactics. This is a way to intimidate parents, so they do not question, refuse or reject what they offer.Our children are in jeopardy, and they need us to be their voice.

Posted by pa_parent2
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:11 pm

This is all very different from my experience with SpEd in PAUSD. I was very happy with how staff members seemed to bend over backwards to provide our son (who has severe ADHHD) with the services and accommodation he needed. We felt the whole IEP process was collaborative, rather than confrontational. FYI, we are not affluent and did not threaten legal action. Could this be a school-based difference?

Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 22, 2013 at 8:27 pm

We felt the school staff were great, mostly, it was more dealing with the district that was hard. That's changing, though.

I'm still missing something -- is there a suit by PAUSD against parents?

Posted by Chris Kenrick Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2013 at 11:10 pm


A family may decline a school district's placement of a special education student and seek an alternative arrangement, including having the district pay for a private placement. A school district may then seek adjudication or mediation through the state Office of Administrative Hearing. Here's more information about that process: Web Link

Though we don't know all of the particulars of the school district's proposal or the family's wishes, that's apparently the process being used in this case.

Posted by no wonder
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2013 at 7:57 am

From Chris Kenrick's post it sounds like parents could demand that taxpayers foot the bill for full-time residential care (boarding school), which a friend of mine with a special needs child tells me can cost more than $100k a year.

If the district were to pay for 10 kids' boarding schools at $100k each child, each year, that would cost $1 million or more a year.

1.000% of the district's budget spent on 0.001% of its students.

It's no wonder that districts, whose business is to teach a few hours a day between August/September and May/June, push back on demands that it foot the bill for 24/7 care 365 days a year.

Parents, success for your child happens when you team up with the schools - volunteer if you can, supplement at home, confer instead of demand. Nothing puts up walls and closes communication quicker than entering a room with threats and demands.

Posted by PAcitizens
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 23, 2013 at 8:45 am

PAcitizens is a registered user.

@no wonder,

Please provide evidence that PAUSD is paying for 10 kids' boarding schools or even close to that, or that 10 parents are trying to get that for their kids.

In the case of the bullied disabled student, the mitigating circumstances are that the district violated the child's civil rights repeatedly over a long period of time and things like emotional trauma were involved.

Posted by ToxicSchools
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2013 at 9:13 am

So...Skelly is not suing the family for the moral right to teach the student, but rather for the power to do this cheaply, and possibly in a way that may violate their civil rights.

Posted by Speak Up
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2013 at 10:12 am

Toxic Schools,

Yes, he is doing it to show the power and to teach a lesson to other parents who might question the placement or services. Due Process is not an easy think to go through, especially when you cannot afford an attorney. Even if people has the $, it is still very exhausting, stressful, and waste of time. What worry me the most are those parents who know their parent needs are not met through the IEP, but they have to accept it because they can't afford a lawyer, or are afraid of the process. Some of them might even be undocumented (the school is already picking on that), and of course they would agree to the district offer even if that offer sets their child to academic and emotional health failure. Good for the ones who have the means to fight them back.

Posted by money changes everything
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2013 at 11:15 am

@Speak Up,
No, the district is following due process as outlined by law. The issue is that the parents don't like what is being offered and want something else and they, obviously, feel aggrieved. In the end, it's the law that wins (or attorneys).

Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2013 at 12:19 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

The family involved should have been informed of the COUNTY COUNSEL that handles many Special Ed cases. Why didn't the ADMINISTRATOR INFORM THEM OF THE RIGHTS THEY HAVE IN A DISPUTE LIKE THIS???

Or is there another underlying ( pun INTENDED ) issue of incompetency involved by Special Education staff advising Skelly?

P.A. on-line knows why I can ask this question and the public needs to be informed on the answer.

I still recommend firing Special Education staff and Skelly.

Claiming secrecy on public treatment issues is one of the things the OCR is compelled to investigate.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 24, 2013 at 11:18 am


Your post assumes an underlying good faith in negotiation that in my experience is lacking from the district with special ed families, and especially from district legal. Bad faith would be giving the appearance of due process while using the process to actually thwart the intent of the rules. Unfortunately, that does seem to happen in our district, which is why I think we need a different legal team with a different ethos. It will ultimately be healthier and cheaper for our families.

Posted by money changes everything
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm


Your post assumes there due process isn't being executed in good faith. The "losing" party always claims the other acted in "bad faith". It's hardly a definitive analysis of the current situation. The law is the law.

Posted by Change overdue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm

The good faith is lacking in partnering with various special education families. Kevin Skelly, Charles Young, and Holly Wade have tried to save money by reducing aides and reducing placements. That is good for the overall budget. However, they have backtracked and reversed their course when the lawyers are called in, knowing that the less-powerful families in Palo Alto cannot easily go that path. Many times, you are treated according to the level of your wealth or power. Kevin Skelly was emboldened by a leaderless, incompetent board (we don't have board members who know how to run a district, let alone a board meeting) and an election in which critical information was not made available to the voters. He has not demonstrated as much hubris in the last six months, but he and the board are attempting to wait this out. I'm amazed that they were not able to end the downward spiral that their careers are on and that they cannot marginalize three or four protestors or a lukewarm critique by Ken Dauber in the latest Weekly. Normally, we've seen the critics of the critics troll and mock in an attempt to end the steadily growing discontent among parents who have lost trust in an inept board, superintendent, and cabinet who relish multimillion dollar gyms and test scores, but not so much the challenging student populations of special education and demographic groups who are not achieving academic success.

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