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Palo Alto Unified under investigation by federal civil rights office

Original post made on May 30, 2023

Palo Alto Unified's decision to move two classrooms of students with moderate-to-severe disabilities to other school campuses has triggered an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 30, 2023, 9:52 AM

Comments (12)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2023 at 10:39 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I can't comment on how discriminatory this is for special needs students, but it is a lottery based selection for the immersion programs and also for regular Ohlone.

When Mandarin Immersion was instituted many years ago, we were promised that there would be an effort to introduce FLES (foreign languages in elementary schools) for all students not just for the lucky few lottery winners. That never happened. It is disgraceful that there is no foreign languages taught to all at the age level where most success in a target language with things like accent and grammar can become fluent.

Foreign language is not only useful for the target language, but is actually very instrumental in improving English language skills even for native speakers. As anyone who can attest to learning a foreign language (even english if it is a second language) it is much easier to do as early as possible.

Many parents are now paying for after school language instruction in a private setting. French is not as popular as it once was, but then Russian was also popular at one time. However, even having basic Spanish which would definitely be useful to most Californian students, would be better than having absolutely no language taught in the majority of our elementary classrooms.

Hopefully, this will be something that comes from this investigation.

Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2023 at 11:13 am

Palo Alto Mom is a registered user.

I’m not sure this article makes the context clear enough and I’m concerned that it will give some the wrong impression. While certainly there are situations when OCR independently opens investigations, that is not what happened in this case. An Ohlone parent initiated proceedings with OCR. My understanding is that these investigations take at least 180 days and when the findings are complete, the district will share what they are able to publicly.

Posted by Maria
a resident of Community Center
on May 30, 2023 at 2:50 pm

Maria is a registered user.

Having Room 19 at Ohlone allows those students with disabilities to have an opportunity to participate in a community with a specific focus. The philosophy at Ohlone of project based learning is actually a perfect fit for these students. There is an environment of cooperation and community building among the classrooms that benefits the Moderate to Severely disabled students and they have a right to that opportunity. Of course, it also benefits the mainstream classrooms to have the opportunity to build relationships with the students in Room 19.

It is frustrating and sad that once again this Superintendent makes decisions that affect the welfare of many students and families without considering the consequences on the children and families involved. We can only hope that this decision will be reversed before the children have to suffer through losing their teacher and school.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2023 at 3:39 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

OCR is historically and pathetically slow to investigate or instigate change. That's the same agency that ordered PAUSD to implement a system to confidentially complain about harassment. I asked questioned OCR's effectiveness during that dustup about a certain teacher, and no one volunteered any information that they knew of the orders by OCR, or had any proof OCR was enforcing anything, or that OCR had even been notified that PAUSD is not incompliance with the orders they wrote in 2017. That said, what other solutions are there? File a lawsuit. Even if OCR does investigate, it will be years before a decision will be made. A lawsuit is the quickest route to justice. The statute of limitations for a lawsuit will run out before OCR decides anything.

Posted by InclusionIsEverything
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2023 at 5:11 pm

InclusionIsEverything is a registered user.

The children with disabilities are treated like pawns in the school district. They move them to schools with low enrollment or decide their future in other ways - like limiting access to programs like young fives or choice schools. PA USD doesn’t care about the mental health of special needs families. They don’t want to give these children a fair opportunity to be in a school with their neurotypical peers and siblings. They even changed the young fives program to reject kids with IEPs right at the beginning starting this year. Parents tried to appeal but they were rejected with unsatisfactory reasons.

It’s almost as if PA USD hates disabled children and their families. They don’t want disabled children with the rest of the population - as if their sole existence brings down the ratings. They should investigate the school district thoroughly.

Ohlone is great for neurodiverse children. Their philosophy, the farm and the inclusion model etc., would transform the lives of the children. Ohlone was known for the best mod/severe program in the district. Instead of upgrading the rest of the schools, expanding mandarin immersion or training more mod/severe staff members, Don Austin and some board members decided to tear down the room 19 altogether. The neurotypical siblings of mod/severe kids have to make a sacrifice to stay with their friends or move with their siblings.

The school district’s next move is to remove the word “choice” from the choice school to circumvent the system. Truly shameful. History will show this appalling behavior by the board members. They’re harming the psychological safety of the families and the students. Being born disabled is not sin. We deserve equal opportunities too. We deserve inclusion and respect. The children deserve better.

Posted by Starry Night
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2023 at 10:00 pm

Starry Night is a registered user.

How incredibly sad for these children. These are some of our most vulnerable children -- we need to put their needs first. *Maybe* the right thing to do is to consolidate the special ed families. But did no one at the district think about the fact that OHLONE -- an amazing, wonderful place for many kids (and especially those with special needs) -- would be taken away from them? If you're going to consolidate the special ed rooms, then consolidate them and keep ohlone's as-is. Good for these families for reporting this violation, and good for the government for pursuing a formal investigation. There's a real problem in the district.

Posted by Rajiv Bhateja
a resident of Southgate
on May 31, 2023 at 12:03 am

Rajiv Bhateja is a registered user.

All I want for Christmas is one bleeping decent school superintendent.

Posted by Starry Night
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2023 at 6:58 am

Starry Night is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] People may like or dislike the superintendent, depending on the direction (although that's really the board, not the superintendent), but they shouldn't FEAR him. They should also be able to trust that he's being honest about reasons, data, etc.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2023 at 7:01 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

My daughter who had language delay and mild autism thrived at Ohlone under the care of a dedicated staff and administration. Though middle and high school were a challenge, she graduated with honors and is set to graduate college next spring.

Her time at Ohlone pre-dates Mr. Austin and his #1 Niche regime. It's sad to see him gutting so many things that made PAUSD great in the name of "equity" and the pursuit of superficial rankings and bond ratings. The district has taken a pronounced downturn under his tenure. It is time for change.

Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2023 at 10:46 am

Midtown Resident is a registered user.

This is directed to the comment by Palo Alto Mom in Crescent Park. Your words could be misconstrued to mean that OCR investigates every single complaint that is made by a family, which is not the case obviously. Like other government agencies, they make a determination whether to open an investigation. How they framed the issues in this specific investigation is interesting - community members should be watching closely.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2023 at 5:34 am

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Shame on our Board of Education. They hired our current Superintendent without conducting reasonable due diligence, bringing a problematic Superintendent from SoCal to our (formerly) exceptional School District.

Over the years that Austin has served as the top brass at PAUSD, he chose to "cut costs" by: (1) firing the teachers with the most experience (who therefore were the most expensive) by strong-arming early retirement packages; (2) closing our public schools the earliest day he could for covid and opening them the latest day, despite universal studies showing that campus closings were harmful for children; (3) defunding virtually every sport other than football, while also taking punitive measures against school spirit; (4) demonstrating [portion removed] indifference to the continuing problem of both sexual and racial harassment and violence at our middle and high schools; (5) modifying the high school bell schedule so school ends at 4.30 PM 3 days a week, making it impossible for students who need to care for younger siblings or work after school to provide essential help; (6) making summer break shorter, instead increasing random 3-day weekends. [Portion removed.]

After Austin's predecessor left in part due to the pandemic of sexual harassment and violence at the high schools, as well as his record of harmful indifference to kids with learning differences, one would think that the School Board would have taken reasonable steps to find a replacement with proven skills of relationship building, and a record of inclusive culture creation. Instead they hired a former football coach [portion removed.] It was a bad hire, done without community input, and instead of cutting their losses, our elected leaders deny & defend.

Meanwhile, students--especially minority students, girls, & students with learning differences--suffer. Enough already. The Board must replace him or be recalled.

Posted by Little Notice
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 18, 2023 at 12:12 pm

Little Notice is a registered user.

Is there a copy of the OCR complaint?

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