What is the difference between Palo Alto and Berkeley in terms of community culture that may have led to the very different conduct by our communities. The problems in the 2 schools are depressingly similar. Is it the history of activism in Berkeley versus Palo Alto? Is it the rise of new money here and the increasing social conservatism that comes in its train? The "defend the schools no matter what" mentality does not seem to be operating in Berkeley.
I have been shocked by the attacks on board member Ken Dauber that seem to be instigated in part by teachers at both Gunn and Paly. We all have heard the attacks for years on the character of those who have filed the OCR complaints as well. Here is Berkeley standing up for complying with the law, and here is Palo Alto attacking whistelblowers and families of disabled students and girls who have been stalked, beaten, bullied, and raped.
Here is an excerpt from the story:
Parent Heidi Goldstein, who supports the OCR complaint called for "action, leadership and accountability to substantially improve the culture in the Berkeley schools around sexual harassment,” and described the district’s actions to date as “a mix of tepid, ‘check the box’ compliance that has repeatedly overlooked the injustices visited on students who have been forced to endure a hostile learning environment that violates both their civil rights and entitlement to participate in an educational setting free of fear and intimidation.”
Goldstein said the district has not been aggressive enough in hiring a Title IX compliance officer — currently vacant — to make sure the district is following federal laws related to gender discrimination, and said the district should not wait for feedback related to the federal complaint before “taking more definitive steps.”
Another Berkeley High parent and advisor to BHS Stop Harassing, Rebecca Levenson, told council about some of the experiences she has had in the past year.
"Students told me about being called a slut, a whore, seeing pictures of their friends and themselves on social media —with horrible captions, sometimes clothed, sometimes nude, sometimes passed out,” she said. “They told me stories of helping a friend after she was thrown down a flight of stairs by her boyfriend at a party. They told me about having sex they didn’t want to have because they were afraid to say no. They told me everything you never want to hear a kid say.”
Levenson, too, said the school district has not taken strong enough steps forward.
“As someone who has worked in this field for 25 years, they haven’t done anything more than check boxes,” she told council. “We need evidenced based programming, we need to do real primary prevention education specific to sexual harassment and violence and we need to teach students and staff how to intervene when they see it.”
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This seems like the appropriate response by parents and community members to student civil rights. Yet here in Palo Alto we have experienced, sadly, such a different community response. Why is Palo Alto so much less supportive of those who have had issues? Why is Ken Dauber the only board member to publicly support the right of the public to file complaints, or to welcome the technical assistance that OCR can provide to ensure the safety of all our students?
Educator sexual harassment of students is a very serious issue and one that has occurred in Palo Alto (think of the coaches who have had publicized sexual abuse of students in recent years). Then there was Phil Winston and the out of control situation of students exposing themselves at Paly -- as many as 100 students per month. There was Gossip Girl, in which terrible slut-shaming and rape-shaming occurred online, also at Paly. There was the highly publicized situation of some untold number of girls being raped by classmates and then slut-shamed at school when they reported.
At Berkeley, these events provoked parents to organize to protect their daughters from abuse.
In Palo Alto, male students with the encouragement of teachers have said that such matters should be handled "in the family" a horrible, chilling, and frightening argument that should prompt Kim Diorio to institute serious training immediately because what she is currently doing is self-evidently not working.
I have really been rocked by that "keep quiet and don't tell the authorities" message -- that is how rape and domestic violence happen. It is the precise opposite of what our sons should be saying. It is wrong.
No one seems to want to hold board members accountable for years of hiding their communications with OCR and with each other in their official capacity as these matters have dragged on, yet there is an active campaign, led in part by school district employees, to attack a board member who asked for advice and help when he was not even a board member in his capacity as a private citizen.
The secrecy of district officials, and the attacks on Dauber and the complainants, together with the scary "keep it in the family" message should all give Palo Alto pause. What kind of community is this? What do we value? Do we value protecting our students or protecting our reputation?