Draft policies for handling bullying complaints, in development for almost a year following a federal investigation, will be discussed for the first time in public today (Dec. 3) by a committee of the Palo Alto school board.
The policies create clearer and stronger procedures for handling discriminatory bullying and sexual harassment and would bring the district in compliance with federal and state law, which requires that such cases be handled at the district level, not at individual school sites.
However, complaints of bullying that do not involve discrimination (based on a student's race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, etc.) would be handled by individual school principals under a different procedure.
While permitted under the law, this "bifurcated" approach is contrary to the recommendations of the California School Boards Association, which believes the process is difficult to explain to parents and school staff and could lead to inconsistent implementation. District consultant Dora Dome has urged the two-tiered system in order to prevent the district office being overwhelmed with complaints. (See previous Palo Alto Weekly story and editorial.)
Superintendent Kevin Skelly is recommending adoption of the new policies to the Board Policy and Review Committee (BPRC), which consists of board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Camille Townsend. The meeting is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.
The district received approval of its proposed policies from the federal Office for Civil Rights in August but delayed taking action while it sought an endorsement of them by the state Department of Education and the California School Board Association, a trade association that develops policy templates for member districts. On November 25, the district received a joint letter from both entities indicating neither had any problem with the policies.
The school board's policy committee, a permanent standing committee, has held many meetings over the last few years to review and develop district policies, including bullying, but they were not properly noticed or open to the public as required by the Brown Act, California's open meeting law. No minutes were kept either.
When the Weekly raised the issue two weeks ago, school board president Dana Tom said the lack of notice was an oversight and that from now on meetings would be announced, agendas posted and the public welcome to attend and speak.