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PAUSD blacked out original of Barb Mitchell 'strong-arming' memo

Original post made by Curious, Fairmeadow, on Jul 13, 2013

The discovery of a fully redacted version of school board trustee Barb Mitchell's memo questioning federal civil rights authority in Palo Alto supports Mitchell's contention that she intended her memo to be secret from the public. A comparison of the blacked-out document on the PAUSD web site, which is the original version sent by Mitchell, to the inadvertently released version obtained by the Weekly shows a line-by-line match. When Mitchell was contacted by the Weekly to explain her view that the U.S. Department of Education was overreaching its authority in reaching a resolution agreement with PAUSD, she responded with no comment except to demand that the Weekly not publish or write about the memo (see Web Link

The original version retains only the sender, the recipients (board president Dana Tom, Supt. Kevin Skelly, Assoc. Supt. Charles Young, and attorneys Chad Graff and Lenore Silverman), the date, and the subject line "Privileged and Confidential Attorney Client Correspondence".

See Web Link for a comparison of the redacted and unredacted versions. The redacted version is still available in a Dropbox account set up by the district for public records act requests (see Web Link at page 84).

The blacked-out document is one of dozens of documents involving attorneys Chad Graff and Lenore Silverman that have been fully redacted by the school district prior to being produced in response to public records requests. Many of those documents were sent or received by Dana Tom, Barb Mitchell, and trustee Camille Townsend.

Graff and Silverman are lawyers from the law firm of Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost. Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost is also the law firm of Laurie Reynolds. Reynolds' presentation on the OCR matter in February was described by the Weekly at that time as "incorrect, misled the board and the public and engaged in pure obfuscation" (see Web Link Reynolds does not appear in any of the recent correspondence released by the district.

The school board recently approved a $140,000 extension of PAUSD's contract for legal services with Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost. During the board's discussion, trustee Melissa Caswell asked why Mr. Graff was now working on the district's matters and Ms. Reynolds was no longer in evidence. Camille Townsend assured her that the switch was routine.

Comments (9)

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm

@Curious - Wishing us all a future of best practices. A future where your voice, input and research will not be called for. Meanwhile - Thank you.

Posted by Saul C
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm

That is really really interesting. Who does the redacting? Why would the school district think Barb Mitchell's ideas about the politics of OCR and the Senate and federal authority can be hidden from the public? Obviously Barb Mitchell thought it had been hidden away. Is it because she included some lawyers in the email? Does just copying a lawyer make it secret?
Wow, that is some really fishy stuff.

Posted by Dishonest PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Everyday and every revelation makes the board, Skelly, Young, and the rest of the regime look worse and worse. Time for the blind-faith supporters to attack Curious, WCDBPA, the Daubers, the Weekly, and anything and anyone else to present the truth. You folks at 25 Churchill need to resign and demonstrate honor. You were publicly elected or publicly paid to serve the public in an open, transparent, and honest way.

Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2013 at 9:30 pm

If this is true, does it raise any question or doubt about past documents which were provided as a response to Public documents requests? Any question or doubt about the considerations that had the documents blacked or even, maybe, presented/omitted?

Posted by three times is enemy action
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Omg no! Client attorney privilege meant o remain confidential. How cn this be?

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 3:39 am

@Dishonest PAUSD: [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

"You were publicly elected or publicly paid to serve the public in an open, transparent, and honest way."

Nothing could be further from the truth. The only person that I can think of that has been advocating for serving the public in an "open, transparent, and honest way" is Ken Dauber and the voters of Palo Alto chose to go with Camille and Heidi who don't appear to be the least bit bothered by Skelly's lies.

Skelly should have been fired immediately when the revelations came out about his concealment of the fact that the OCR had been called to review the case of the young girl at Terman who was bullied to the point of being punched in the face with seemingly no action from Skelly or anyone else to take care of her.

We really need to have a whole regime change as the current Board seems to have no ability to do what needs to be done....namely replace the administrators who are hurting our children. Don't the top administrators agree that one of their jobs is to make sure that all of our children get their best chance to have a successful outcome in our district? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by If it feels wrong, it is wrong
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 14, 2013 at 8:01 am

@Enemy action,
There is nothing in Barb Mitchell's email that justifies attorney client privilege. Let's see:
- Details of pending litigation? No, only if you count plotting to violate US law and potentially getting the district sued by the Justice Department as a result.
- Student confidentiality? No, no students are mentioned.
- Personnel matter? No, no staff members are mentioned.
So why is it "privileged"? Open up the image in Curious' story and take a look. It's so it can be redacted. Why would Mitchell want this memo redacted? Because she is talking about:
- Abrogating the district's existing agreement with OCR
- Challenging OCR authority based on a truly wacky, Tea Party-inspired understanding of our system of laws
- Preventing the federal government from addressing violations of the law in Palo Alto that it sees in the course of it's work (she wants to know if PAUSD has some kind of right to keep violating the law!!).
I wouldn't want my constituents to know that I was doing that, either. As a post on another thread noted, Mitchell has been careful not to say this stuff in public. She knows that her views are way to the right of opinion in Palo Alto. That's why she demanded that the Weekly give this back, and why she's not talking now.
The public has a right to know what its public officials are doing, and what policies they are pushing. Barb Mitchell obviously disagrees. The really interesting question is, what's in all those other redacted documents?

Posted by strategies that backfire
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 8:14 am

[Portion removed due to removal of referenced previous comment.]

Since people keep pushing back with sound and substantive arguments to these posts, the thought process must be that marring reputations is the only tool left to fill all of the board seats that will be “emptied” because of the doubt cast by these relentless attacks. When that happens, the hope is that those who cast the stones will finally be able to step in and run the district in their image, without any of those pesky people who have different points of view to contend with.

Two problems with this approach.

One, it's been tried and hasn’t worked. If anything, the people who have been bullied are standing taller, holding firm, and gaining more respect for the work that they do as a result. This response is just human nature for both victims and by-standers when there is an attack. So while a gentler conciliatory approach might have made room for some collaboration, a take no prisoners approach has precluded that and marginalized those who cast the stones and their followers.

Two, posts like these are illegal. They defame by promulgating known falsehoods and they hurt peoples’ job prospects. No matter, some may think, because they are anonymous. A lawyer will advise that when a law has been broken get a court order to obtain information that will reveal an “anonymous” poster’s identity. Google it and you will also learn that if that person is taken to court, the poster will typically have to pay the accused economic losses that resulted from the ruined reputation (think of it as the poster paying Dr. Skelly and the others private unemployment benefits for life) as well as punitive damages and compensation for mental distress. It has been the extreme patience and good nature of Dr. Skelly, his hires, and each school board member that has allowed these posts to continue without legal challenge. That patience could end in an instant.

Posted by If it feels wrong, it is wrong
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 14, 2013 at 9:40 am

Nothing in that post is defamatory. Truth is a complete defense to defamation. Further, Dr. Skelly and the board members are public figures, which means that a broad range of harsh critique is permitted. Finally, most of what is contained in the above post is opinion.

Stop trying to intimidate people from using their First Amendment right to seek redress from the government.

Finally, all your stuff about "walking tall" or whatever is just blowing smoke. They aren't standing tall, they are hunkered down in the dark hiding out and doing the public's business in secret.

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