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District defends itself in student-DNA case

Original post made on Mar 10, 2016

The Palo Alto school district has fired back in response to an amicus brief the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice filed in support of a former Palo Alto Unified School District family who filed a lawsuit against the district after a teacher allegedly divulged that their son carries a genetic marker for cystic fibrosis.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 10, 2016, 2:24 PM

Comments (29)

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 10, 2016 at 4:25 pm

i think what this case is really about is district people wanting the unfettered ability to do whatever they want to families they don't like or respect, and to retain the ability to avoid any performance standards or laws/rules that would hold them accountable. They want the unfettered ability to justify any bad behavior in hindsight, no matter how bad the lie. I have seen them fish before for official excuses that didn't apply to the situation, in order to excuse bad behavior, not to protect students. Caring is not something I would attribute to that bunch except where it concerns their overly large salaries and their behinds.

Too bad the depositions in the earlier case didn't try to delve into the hypocrisy of how they handled other cases, or even that case. Weren't they fighting some family to avoid "improving indoor air quality" (search on past posts) for an asthma or allergies case, even though all kids would have been protected, including the kids with CF, and the district promised they would do that in the $378 million bond anyway? It's so ironic that they would send the kid to Terman, when there was a battle at JLS with district staunch about doing nothing - protecting the district's right for kids and teachers to catch as many colds flus and other respiratory conditions as possible - and the family was even at JLS because Terman was so bad?

Posted by Charles in Charge
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 10, 2016 at 8:42 pm

What this case is really about is that Charles Young and Brenda Carillo misread the letter from the doctor, couldn't be bothered or wasn't smart enough to differentiate between having a genetic marker or having the disease, and then screwed the pooch. Case closed.

The district court is wrong and will be reversed. Then PAUSD will settle.

Posted by Skung
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Kevin Skelly and Charles Young are the gift that keeps on giving. Thank goodness we passed that parcel tax to free up millions of dollars in the general fund to fight OCR, this legal mess, and all other anti-kid legal battles. [Post removed.]

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 10, 2016 at 10:26 pm

Sounds like a very weak appeal by the parents - their own doctor killed their chances when he "admitted that he was concerned enough about C.C.'s condition that he examined him 'on a regular basis to check that there is no sign of CF disease.'" If their own doctor is a little confused about the kid's condition what do you expect the District to do? Taking the word of the parents is not enough - school districts do not take the word of parents when they review vaccination records.

Posted by What Really Happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2016 at 10:46 pm

Um, the glaring flaw in that argument is that the family's doctor was extremely careful, was NOT confused, and judged the boy free of the disease. That doesn't speak to being confused, it speaks to caring more about facts than the district did. The boy's doctor was auite careful and quite sure the boy was free of disease. The district could have verified the boy's absence of illness by a simple phone call. District personnel can and do call children's doctors all the time. And if that is not enough, the law actually requires districts to do an appropriate medical eval themselves. District staff did not do either.

The district requires families to provide doctors validation all the time, why did they ignore the judgment of the doctor who knew the boy best and had carefully examined him for years? Who in the district has a medical degree except the nurse who got her clinical experience like 20 or 25 years ago and it was like 18 months or on that order?

Posted by Alp[honso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 11, 2016 at 7:07 am

What Really Happened - And the glaring flaw in your argument is that you seem to be complaining about a school district that took the route of being "extremely careful" - as you applaud the doctor for taking the same route. If it is true that the doctor eventually decided the child was "quite sure" free of the disease, how long did that take? Then tell us how long it took the school district to come to the same conclusion? Moving from school to school for a short period of time is really not a big deal - I went to five PA elementary schools when I was a child (due to space issues) and one was mid year.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2016 at 2:41 pm

No, there is no problem with what I have said, only with your twisting of it. The doctor being careful came in the course of the child's whole life and medical care, and the information did not take any longer than a phone call to obtain, something the district does all the time. If they were urgently worried, they also had the right - and responsibility - to get an independent medical review of the boy, which they NEVER did. They do seem to have discounted the boy's medical information - something they regularly do in 504 and IEP cases - and not gotten any competent review in its place, something they also do to 504 and IEP cases. They could have relied on the medical information of someone who actually examined the boy.

If they were worried about the gene, which is not so rare statistically that they could believe this boy was the only one, what effort did they then make to inform the public of the risks they claim they were suddenly aware of and believed resulted from the gene, and identify the other students who posed the same risk? (None.) They send letters to other parents about not bringing peanut products, but there are no rules not to bring nuts, and no one identifies children who eat nuts, even though exposure could cause hospitalization or death of some kids. Where was the effort to identify anyone else who posed the same risk, if they believed it to be true? They made none, because in fact this was all about intimidating the family to cover someone's unprofessional gossipping.

If this was such a concern, a competent medical staff would have put a plan in the 504s of the children with CF. Then the moment the boy with the gene registered or disclosed, there would have been a process in place for evaluation and safety, and it would have happened in the month and weeks before school started. If this was such a danger, why did it only become a problem, not after the family disclosed the information about it, but after the district employee violated the law and disclosed it?

Nothing about this indicates the staff cared about safety, the justifications fall apart if you look at the facts. No, everything screams cover up for unprofessional behavior.

I'm sure some people get over all kinds of mistreatment, mugging, rape, refugee displacement. Just because it didn't bother you says nothing of the seriousness or impact to most people and is irrelevant to this case. There is a host of research about how stressful moving is, how stressful being disconnected from the school is. The district has numerous policies that recognize the importance of children's relationships, stability, and connections. It's just more self-/serving cover up to try to minimize what a new middle school child went through to be shuttled around like that just after getting settled in a new school. They didn't say, oh, it will just be for x amout of time, they moved the boy permanently and dealt aggressively and dishonesly with the parents. The parents had to sue to get him moved back - no one know how long that takes, and it's costly. And this was in the context of a district in which numerous children with everything going for them were suffering severe depression or ending their lives. Do you have any idea of the stress of weeks of disruption on the education here?

Posted by Just Wondering
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2016 at 10:43 pm

I have never understood why the Chadams told the district that their son was a carrier of the cystic fibrosis gene. If your child carried the gene for hemophilia, but did not have the disease, would you disclose that to a school? Being a carrier of a gene is only significant if you have a child with someone else who is also a carrier - the danger being that you may pass on the genetic disease to your child. Why was this a relevant piece of information for the Chadams to give to their son's school?

The fact that they revealed this information to the school has always suggested to me that there is more to the story than has been explained so far. Similarly, the fact that the boy's Doctor admitted that he examined the boy on a regular basis to be sure that he exhibited no signs of CF, also suggests that something more than just being a carrier of the CF gene is going on with this boy.

Posted by more to the story
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 12, 2016 at 12:07 am

Apart from their doctor's and attorney's fees, what were the Chadam's damages during the 2 weeks this was sorting out before their son was allowed to return to Jordan with safety precautions in place?

The Weekly reports that the "ordeal caused the family embarrassment and humiliation." Couldn't that have been because, within days of their son's hiatus from Jordan, his parents allowed their son to be on local and national TV with this full story.

Web Link
Web Link

This isn't posted to take sides, it's just that those particular claims seem either disingenuous or the Chadams contributed to the embarrassment and humiliation that may have come from it. Putting your son's name and genetic condition out there for the world to see invites attention and scrutiny well beyond the walls of a Jordan classroom and 25 Churchill.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2016 at 12:29 am

@Just Wondering,
While I'm sure the Chaddams are wondering that themselves now, I really don't think anyone could have expected the district to do what they did - that's why people usually give TMI, they trust. So much of genetic testing is new, and people talk about things. (Oh, there's another boy with that gene... Blah blah blah.)

It's possible to make up all kinds of justifications, but the fact is, the district didn't seem too worried when the district employees (plural) were in possession of the knowledge, things only went south when they violated the boy's privacy and disclosed it. Once things blew up from there, they did what they always do figure they can cover their butts and lie/intimidate their way out of any wrong. If the employee had not gossipped, nothing would have come of it, despite the disclosure.

If having one gene is such a threat, this would not have been news to the other family living with cystic fibrosis, it would have been n the 504 plan but wasn't. At no point has anyone ever dealt with the fact that statistically, there were probably other carriers at the school already. If the other family or the district thought that was dangerous, why do nothing about anyone else, before and after the gossip incident? That's what always struck me as having more to the story, the chummy relationship with the one family they were willing to gossip with and bend over backwards for, while treating the Chaddams so badly. Unfortunately I've witnessed such favoratism all too often here.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2016 at 9:17 am

Violating the boy's privacy like that was an illegl act for a school district employee, that set the chain of harmful events in motion.
Going to the media is what happens when people feel helpless. They were facing an expensive court battle with a district to get the child moved back to his home school, against unreasonable people with unlimited legal resources. I see no inconsistency in putting violation of privacy in the complaint at all.

Our privacy was violated by district employees, too. Lots of gossip and backbiting behind the scenes ensued, that caused even longer-term harm. We chose not to sue, but really should have just to try to put a stop to what we know has happened to many children. We are with the Chaddams in spirit and hope they prevail. There quite literally is no other way to chastise the district people for what they are doing wrong (except go to OCR, and we know how badly that went in terms of the district office taking responsibility for themselves and first serving the interests of our kids.)

Didn't Chaddams also have another child in that school or in a nearby school? That is also a big problem in terms of putting another child in a school across the district. Why send him to Terman? It's all the way across town. The access and traffic at school time and rush hour are horrendous (Arastradero.) JLS is closer and a larger school. Having two kids so geographically distant is such a problem, our district has long had a policy of giving preference to siblings in most or all lottery-based choice programs, even young fives (which is supposed to address developmental needs). That's quite a bind to put a new family in, people who have only new connections in the community. Given traffic, getting the boy at Terman could be up to three hours total (45 minutes each one-way trip) every day, especially when it rains, and involves crossing through JLS traffic on the way. What happens with the other child, especially since our district has no school sponsored after school activities for elementary students and the family was new?

District employees are too used to harassing families with impunity. They probably expected the Chaddams to leave or go private as most people do after they realize the depths to which district employees will go. Families have almost no avenues to fix things.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2016 at 2:23 pm

I almost forgot. The boy's physician may also have had to observe the boy really closely because that year there was a lot of respiratory problems going around the district owing to the no-excuses-for bad air quality in the middle schools. So many kids seemed to be coughing all the time. About that time or not long after there were some kids whose science fair project at Terman about the bad air quality and how it was making them sick was in the news! A family at JLS was fighting the district about the bad air quality at the time, too, and the kid tried to do some kind of project like the one at Terman and the principal put a stop to it.

The district would have known about those things, but not the Chaddams, which would be really ironic given the fact that they claim they had to give out other information for everyone's protection. Those things have to do with lung health, why didn't the district give the information to the Chaddams or the other family? If they are always forced to err on the side of safety to give out information to protect health, why would they cover up, never investigate, and never tell the public that a family or two tried to give them research showing the bad air quality and indoor environmental problems could cause depression, before even the first suicide cluster and many times afterwards? From what I know, the district refused even to take expert help from the EPA to make that a non-issue. The district seems to be very selective about when they feel information must be disclosed for safety, only when someone wants to justify their unprofessional behavior or put pressure on some family they want to go away.

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 12, 2016 at 6:20 pm

If you are really interested in "what really happened" you might recall the family was from Singapore - arriving about a month before the child was asked to switch schools. The child was not exposed to "no-excuses-for bad air quality in the middle schools". Also, since the child had a history of being tested by his doctor before arriving here I assume the doctor was also located in Singapore. Obviously that doctor was not testing the child for anything in the Palo Alto air.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2016 at 11:59 pm

I really have no idea what you are talking about, I don't recall any of those details from the news stories - perhaps you will point it out. It doesn't matter where the Chaddams came from - even if you are right, I believe doctors in Singapore have telephones and FAXes, don't you?

You completely missed what I said, too. The child was exposed to bad air quality - the middle schools have bad air quality (if anything, it's better now than then because of new buildings). Regardless, there were complaints and the district had plenty of information they failed to follow up on, even complaints that the environmental problems might even cause depression, before the clusters. If they were bound to take things seriously for safety until they knew more, why the double standard?

That year kids were coughing up a storm - maybe that contributed to the bias against the Chaddam boy. Plus there were other complaints about it. If there were concerns about children with lung disease, and the district was so bound by caring as they claim that they had to release information for safety, why didn't they tell the Chaddams and the other family about the complaints about the school environment that could make kids much more susceptible to respiratory infections? Why didn't they tell the public about the information they were given about the air quality/environment and depression until they knew more? Why did the district turn away expert help from the EPA?

The district behavior was just indefensible and unconscionable. Which is why the Department of Justice and the Department of Education weighed in in favor of the Chaddams.

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 13, 2016 at 8:43 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2016 at 10:02 am

[Portion removed.]
The fact that the boy's physician may have followed him closely his entire life (which I don't recall reading myself, or that he was from Singapore, I am taking the posters at their word for it, and finding it odd that Alphonso will not provide a link to where it was written before) means only that the boy's doctor's medical judgment could be relied on that the boy absolutely did not have CF. Obviously, he would have been very sure the boy was free of disease. Now that Alphonso has pointed out that he came from Singapore, it makes clear another reason the boy's physician might have followed him closely - more respiratory illness in general in Asia. If someone is coughing a lot, just because everyone is for other reasons, it may spark a closer look, but the boy's physician said he never had CF.

To that point, regarding JUST THAT YEAR (to clarify) was that other people may have worried more because of how cough-y all the students were in general that year especially in middle school because of the bad air quality. If the district was duty bound to err on the side of disclosing for safety reasons, why didn't they tell the Chaddam boy, or the other family for that matter, about the complaints about air quality around the district? About complaints of things that cause increased susceptibility to respiratory infections? That would have been a major safety issue for them and other families. Why didn't they tell the families of depressed kids that families and even staff mambers had complained about air quality over the years, including sometime, research about depression and air quality before the suicide clusters? Why did the district reject free help from the EPA to fix those things? I am not 100% sure, but I'm pretty sure it was that year. Could it be that if the EPA came, it would have been public and they didn't want to disclose information when it didn't suit their purposes?

Given the timing of the violation of the Chaddam boy's privacy/gossipping about him to the other family, and the fact that the district was hiding and goes on hiding other safety information all the time, it's pretty clear what they did was gossip/CYA.

Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 13, 2016 at 11:36 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

FERPA laws require that school personnel do NOT share medical information without written consent from the parents (or student if over 18) unless there is a health emergency. This was not an emergency situation, it was gossip - possibly well intentioned, but illegal gossip. The school district is simply in the wrong, should admit it, and should put protections in place against future gossip.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2016 at 2:24 pm

@Be Positive,
Thank you for the clarity.

"Obviously that doctor was not testing the child for anything in the Palo Alto air."

I almost didn't see that. I am no expert, but when there is an air quality problem like in our middle schools, you don't figure it out by testing people from what I understand. I believe the district was repeatedly given information about how to track down problems and free offers of help from the EPA which they turned down - the same year, I think.

Some environmental conditions like we have in Palo Alto schools have rock solid research support that they increase the susceptibility of people in the buildings to getting more respiratory infections. There is some research showing they increase depression, which district people were made aware of. If district people were so concerned, why did they not share that information, it wouldn't even have violated anyone's privacy?

Posted by Thanks to Chadam Family
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2016 at 9:50 am

I am glad this family has the $ to bring the district to court. Too many things happened to students but there is no follow up because low income families cannot afford attorneys. Therefore PAUSD gets away with anything they do against our students and families. Hope PAUSD becomes responsible one of this times so they do not want our students'$ in paying the lawyers to defend themselves. Actually it seems like Young and Carrillo should be responsible for the bill, since it seems like they were the first ones who messed up. Yes there is a bad air quality in the whole PAUSD atmosphere, and people have actually complained about the some classrooms, but the district knows what to do right before they come and test the air quality and then back to the old business.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2016 at 11:34 am

@Thanks to the Chaddam Family,
Thank you for your post, I so agree.

You are right, they do manipulate conditions when they test. What I didn''t realize, and most people don't is that their testing at all and using the testing to avoid doing best practices or to ignore complaints was inherently dishonest. The California Department of Public Health and the EPA say testing like the district has done might be misleading or is unreliable. They go as far as telling schools not to test because of that, and use the money on prevention. (Although I also heard the diatrict tests have found some things, it is the diatrict interpretation and disclosure to the public hasn't been honest. They know all about limits of testing.)

All that affects rates of lung infection. Why weren't those complaints disclosed to those families? Why didn't the district do something when they got information that depression could be related? Wasn't that urgent? Kids actually died. There is no evidence anyone was ever harmed by carriers of CF which statistically there probably were some already at Jordan.

I agree with you, the Chaddams are heros. I think those same employees will sink McGee if he does not wake up. He could be really good for our district but he is letting himself get sucked into the coverups.

Posted by Jon Parsons
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm

The District was put in a terrible position. If it was not significant why tell the school? If it was important enough to tell the school, it was important enough for the school to do something. If, having been warned, the school did nothing, the school would be at fault for whatever happened. And if privacy was so important why did the family go so public? It is a litmus test whether you think the school personnel are good or bad, in which the crazy facts are secondary, almost unnecessary.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 12:28 am

The fact that someone puts something in a student's record, probably to answer questions asked, is not an indication of it being a danger to someone else. If it were, the district had the duty and responsibility to do something when the family registered, but they did not. The district got the information through normal registration process but did nothing. If it was so dangerous, why did they wait until an employee broke the law and gossipped about it to suddenly say they had to do something? And why didn't they do anything then to identify other carriers? Or to disclose information about other battles going on at the same time and even before that would have been a health risk to any of the kids with lung health problems or even depression?

I really do not understand why people keep blaming the Chaddams for going to the media. That sportscaster who was recently in court because someone illegally took nude video of her and put it online, would you say she had no right to take the perp to court and speak out about it publicly or face losing the right to claim the original violation of the law was a violation of privacy? Had the Chaddams stayed silent, they would have been susceptible to being bullied far worse. It took a lot of courage to stand up to the district.

The district wasn't supposed to disclose the information. It's illegal. They weren't supposed to disclose where the Chaddams lived or what grades the boy got. The student record is private. The disclosure of that information was illegal, and set in motion a series of harmful events. Again,we're talking about an illegal act, not about the maintenance of a secret. The district did what it did to try to justify a wrong and in so doing, hurt the child worse.

The complaint is in the damage caused by the original violation of the law by district employees, that set the damaging circumstances in motion, not about maintaining a secret, which is what you are framing it as. In trying to get help in the face of those circumstances, turning to the media is a reasonable choice. Privacy was important because there are laws governing privacy of student information, and families have to be able to trust that laws will be followed or other negative consequences follow, to everyone, if families stop disclosing out of fear the laws will not be followed. Again, turning to the media in that situation, to right an injustice that came about from a violation of that trust, is a perfectly appropriate thing to do. There are really no other avenues of recourse with district employees like these. (No way in a million years would I myself have thought people like this could remain employed around children.)

The district was in a pickle of its own making. Starting with having no mechanisms for firing employees with the ethical standards of dirt who are never held accountable no matter what they do. This whole mess was yet another expensive attempt to legitimize illegal/bad behavior. Sadly, employees have unlimited resources and families who are wronged have the short end of the stick.

Posted by What really happened
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2016 at 12:11 am

When is the appeal decision likely to happen?

Posted by Mister DeSpe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2016 at 9:20 am

The arguments at the Ninth Circuit took place last week. You can see the video here: Web Link

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2016 at 12:24 pm

I understood that the issue was a district employee shared confidential information from one kids file to a parent.

I would be so mad if a school secretary shared anything about my kids in a file or not with other parents. These files need to be secure and probably encrypted to ensure privacy rights of the kids and families. Hard copies laying around is just so old fashioned. More training for staff about privacy rights and a clear, concise list of rules that can be published for kids and parents to have regarding privacy rights in regard to these files would be great. Can any staff just grab these files? Is there a process where whoever looks at the file is recorded by time and date and reason for looking at the file. These files need to be digital or locked up and access to them needs to be monitored. I do think the person sharing the information actually had the best intentions for both parties and had no idea of the consequences .

Children's reputations and privacy are challenging these days

Posted by The issue
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2016 at 1:39 pm

The issue is a registered user.

While the Chadams should never have shared the information about their son's genetic marker, please remember that a genetic marker is not destiny in all, or even most cases.

The district personnel, however, violated the family's privacy disclosing this information publicly, AND treated the child terribly and recklessly. Has anyone considered the damage and distress the district caused the child?

The Chadams had every right to sue: a school district cannot be allowed to act so carelessly, so coldly, or so unprofessionally.

In all of the places we have lived, including overseas, NEVER have we seen cities and school districts so anti-child as Palo Alto and San Mateo!

Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Sue her, sue there, sue everywhere, is that the way to make things better? What do you want? That the district hired an army of lawyers and doctors for every decision? For which we will pay?

Posted by Mister DeSpe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2016 at 5:57 am

The Court decision has been released. You can see it here: Web Link

Posted by What Really Happened
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 17, 2016 at 10:47 am

From my perspective as a parent who speaks from experience, the district is the one who lawyers up all the time and unnecessarily legalizes everything, spends way too much on legal fees for the benefit of certain employees rather than the kids, even as they fail to follow a modicum of due process or ethical care for children. Quick, off the top of your head, how many more times has the district sued parents rather than the other way around? Did you know the state ed people told the districts to try to work with parents instead of being so aggressive and legalistic? The only reason they aren't sued more is because parents are giving and forgiving, and putting their kids first. Also because they can't afford lawyers and the district has an infinite capacity to waste money on unnecessary legal pursuits (like the OCR letter) rather than go the cheap and better route of apologizing and improving.

Lawsuits are inevitable when districts ignore the law and care more about covering up for certain poor performing employees than the kids' welfare. I don't even expect this suit to fix things, but at least it's a step. I hope the family prevails and the new board holds the employees involved accountable, and fixes broken process and priorities. I'm not holding my breath, though.

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