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Editorial: Bye-bye bullying policies?

Original post made on Jan 9, 2014

After spending more than a year working with expensive attorneys and two government agencies to develop uniform bullying policies for the Palo Alto school district, Superintendent Kevin Skelly has now reversed his recommendation that all complaints of bullying be handled consistently through a district-level process.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 9, 2014, 10:34 PM

Comments (38)

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Posted by Andrea Wolf
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:18 pm

This is an EXCELLENT editorial. Our Superintendent and School Board have behaved negligently over the past year and the Weekly has done an admirable job of fully explaining their multiple failures. This editorial should not be ignored by a single person whose child has every been in a Palo Alto school or by anyone who plans on having their child attend a district school in the future.

The fact that Superintendent Skelly is now planning to indefinitely "postpone adoption of of any policy on non-discriminatory bullying complaints" is proof of his abject failure as the leader of this district. If the Board is neither capable of holding him responsible for developing and implementing a "uniform policy that defines bullying and the procedures that will be used to investigate complaints of bullying," nor willing to terminate him as superintendent, I believe they should be recalled.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:34 pm

This editorial is excellent and accurate.

Another point that parents of students should consider is that there currently is a policy in place, BP5131, which references an AR5145.7 that provides what should be a uniform site-level investigation policy, about which I learned from another poster on another thread.

After researching the matter, I have concluded that the district intends to take away protections that are currently enjoyed by students who are not members of a protected class.

Tomorrow at 9:00am at 25 Churchill Street, Dr. Skelly will recommend repealing AR5245.7. When he does, there will no longer be a procedure in place that is supposed to be followed in cases of ordinary bullying. The board and Dr. Skelly are about to diminish the legal protections available to students who experience cyberbullying, physical bullying and other forms of bullying.

District Lawyer Dora Dome said at the last BPRC meeting (reflected in that meeting's minutes) that ordinary students would "have due process" under Ed Code 48900. Dora Dome misspoke. That section of the Ed Code is a disciplinary section that addresses when and under what conditions a student who is ACCUSED of bullying may be suspended or expelled. It affords due process rights to accused students. It provides no rights and no procedural protections whatsoever to alleged victims of bullying.

I urge all parents to attend this meeting if possible and to contact board members to make it known that you want PAUSD to have a comprehensive district bullying policy and procedure.

Every board member is on record supporting having such a policy. Dr. Skelly has similarly lauded the forthcoming policy. Parents have served on task forces and climate committees to develop this policy. Even the two-tier policy for all its flaws would be better than what is going to happen under Dr. Skelly's recommendation.

Victims of bullying who are not bullied based on a protected class will have no procedural protections whatsoever in Palo Alto going forward. Bullying is related to serious student mental health issues.While many victims of bullying are members of protected groups, there are many children who are bullied for other reasons, or for no reason.

This is a bad proposal and should be rejected.


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Posted by Negligent board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 6:47 am

This editorial says what many have been saying for up to three years: Kevin Skelly needs to be put on administrative leave by the school board. Charles Young needs to be noticed by March 15 that he will not be back in 2014-15. These experiments need to come to an end. Sadly, you may have to throw Holly Wade in that mix, hasn't gone well for special ed since she arrived. Put the job notices out by February so the pool can attract sufficient applicants. What to do with the board? I think more voters are finally seeing the true level of their expertise and their effects on PAUSD and policy. Will Barb Mitchell do a Camille Townsend and run again to save the power structure and to save us with her sophisticated expertise? What about Dana Tom? Four more years? But four more years of what? Melissa Caswell? Let her latest work with Camille on the bullying policy represent her sophistication. I welcome the trite defenses of all these folks for these "thankless" jobs. Please do advocate for them.

But here's the bottom line: they are just not good at these positions.


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Posted by Popchyk
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2014 at 9:09 am

Will the BOE please, please, please fire Kevin Skelly? He is a liability that grows larger every time he speaks! The guy should have been dismissed long ago when he with-held information about the investigation that HE caused to happen! Keeping such an employee of PAUSD is simply wrong and inexcusable, to say nothing of what it does for the image of PAUSD.

Speaking of image, where is the PR lady in all of this? She has yet to earn a dime of her pay,


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Posted by lissy
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

Dr. Skelly has been a liability and an inadequate superintendent since he was hired. I really do not understand what keeps him in his position? What does it take to be fired? It seems gross incompetence is not enough.


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Posted by Lucy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I hope the district will listen to the voice of reason. It is absurd to assume that following the CASB recommendation to include bullying under the Uniform Complaint Procedure would result in parents flocking to use the UCP for minor incedents of bullying. Also, although the district is not required to add bullying to the UCP it is still required to provide a safe learning environment for all students. I wish the district would just implement the UCP and move on. Why go against the CSBA recommendation?


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Posted by doin' it right
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm

@Lucy, please read this thread: Web Link
Anyone can file a UCP. It's only mandatory for protected classes.
The current proposal is the best of both worlds. Yet again the district does the right thing.


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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm

The reason for this and many other PAUSD issues is a fundamental philosophy that maintains a continued insistence on site based management of every issue from curriculum to classes that are taught.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Doin it" is unfortunately incorrect. Under Dr. Skelly's new proposal which was evidently approved today by the BPRC there will be no complaint procedure for investigating complaints of bullying unless the target is a member of a protected group (race, sex, sexual orientation, etc.). In other cases there will be no procedure other than what each principal decides to do. There will be no district requirements that will be followed in all sites. There will be no reporting or record keeping requirements.

This is worse than the status quo. Currently there is a procedure on the books though staff need training to know how to follow it. Under the new rules there will be nothing. This is a fiasco. A year and more has been spent and it now appears that the net result is to leave district parents with less transparency and clear procedure than they had before .

The reason for this was given by board vice president Melissa Caswell who stated that she met with the president of the teachers union who was opposed and therefore she changed her mind about the need for a consistent district level policy . Dr. Skelly also said that teachers did not support having new requirements to follow.

The teachers union should not be the last word on what policies our schools put in place to protect district children.


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm

[Portion removed.] Fire him now and save the district legal fees. At least TWO federal agencies are investigating PAUSD for NOT only bullying but discrimination based on race and age. The PAUSD plantation needs a new "massa." Let my Skelly go before his poor leadership destroys what is left of PAUSD's tainted reputation. Maybe we can salvage some dignity and make the realtors happy by dumping Skelly. One might also want to look into the pitiful leadership situation at Gunn High.


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Posted by Teri in charge!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Why do we hire a superintendent if Teri Baldwin is able to block a basic bullying policy?


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Perhaps the Weekly can explain why it believes that:

"The idea that any school yard argument would need to be investigated by district staff is ludicrous"

Isn't that exactly what the Weekly is requesting - a uniform, bureaucratic, legalistic approach to all allegations of bullying?

It seems the policy arrived at is perfectly sensible - use the legalistic approach where mandated, use the insights by those closest to the situation when not.

The arguments about this or that process step are a red herring - and more often than not a selective and subjective reading of history.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2014 at 12:08 am

Paly parent,

"the insights by those closest to the situation when not."

This works 99.9999% of the time because most bullying incidents fizzle over.

A policy is likely not intended for handling all the stuff that never happens, it's for that 1 situation which becomes the mother of a situation, an incident resulting in suicide, serious physical harm. You plan for the worst, unfortunately, and that would be the responsible thing to do.


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Posted by Accountability
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:30 am

This is an appalling abdication of responsibility by Skelly, Townsend and Caswell - of course the teachers don't want more work. So what! We demand safe schools for our kids! Don't be afraid to tell them too bad - it's part of the job now.

We wouldn't be in this mess if the principals and staff did the responsible thing and protected our children In the first place. You see, the entire problem with site based decision making is the lack of oversight reporting and accountability. The principals wi protect our kids if they know their boss and the board are overseeing their actions.

So site-based without oversight has been demonstrated not to work.

Does anyone think the non protected class kids will be treated any differently than prevois bully victims? No, the are being subjected to the same principals, the same rules and same environment. It is insane to expect different outcomes.

Furthermore, without district reporting and oversight, teacher retaliation and principal retaliation will happen if a child comains, or escalates to the district. Far better to require higher level notification and reporting immediately, automatically and always, so that the victim is not required to escalate and fight the system. This also will change staff behavior if they know their behavior is monitored.

Remember, the OCR findings were against our staff behavior - that is what we need to change with this policy.


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Posted by Time to Speak Up
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2014 at 8:08 am

Love this editorial and want to thank the author for not being afraid to speak the truth. I agree Skelly and his bodies he is gang should turn in their resignation with dignity, before the rest of the parents wake up and smell the coffe. He is actually gone, but he is trying hang in there as much as he can without doing his work. So he can get more months of his luxurious salary for doing nothing. Sounds like PAUSD teachers are his bossess.


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Posted by Agree
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2014 at 10:09 am

Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for your editorial. Our family agrees completely.

By the way, what a cop out. Ya gotta give Skelly credit for being smart enough to take himself off the hook! A leader who doesn't want to be accountable. With no PAUSD policy in place Skelly can point to the Principals and teachers when something horrible happens and say "I left it up to them to decide". Our policy was no policy so I carry no culpability.


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Posted by Coffee Party
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:32 am

In his November newsletter that he was committed to policies that would"help protect all students from bullying or harassment in a clear, consistent manner across all schools" regardless of protected status, see: Web Link

He said at that time that the two-tier policy developed by Dora Dome would provide a legally required process for racial and other minorities while also providing a "clear, consistent" process for others across all schools.

Now he says he has decided to do the legal minimum, and Dora Dome says a bunch of incoherent stuff about discipline processes having procedures that you can't really see but they're there, just not laid out. What is a process that's just not "laid out" but has a "structure"? Who is this woman? Why is she here? Why is she being paid ten cents of taxpayer money? She makes no sense and thousands of dollars of taxpayer money just got flushed down the toilet apparently on a wild goose chase.

Since when is PAUSD the district of the "legal minimum"? Do I pay for extra bond money and PIE dollars for a "legal minimum" response? Do I pay some of the highest property taxes and highest teacher salaries in the state of California so that Dora Dome can play around with mad money and then at the end just say "JUST KIDDING" thanks for the money to remodel my bathroom though? What in the hell is going on? Who is minding this store?

Folks, you are being sold a bill of goods. Barbara Mitchell became board president and just a few short weeks later the kabosh was put on all these policies. Mitchell is the board member who accused OCR of having no authority over PAUSD. Mitchell is a well-known right-wing libertarian who believes in radical devolution of decision-making to the sites. She came into being board president, and told Dome and Skelly that we weren't going to do more than the legal minimum. It's her vision of radical site-based control that is being put into place.

The whole about-face certainly has the mark of Barbara Mitchell's radical anti-federal government views on it.

Either that or just all these people are incompetent idiots. One or the other.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 11:09 am

Coffee Party,

The newsletter you posted is probably what 99% of us expect the district to be held accountable for. Skelly wrote

"The District's goal is to investigate and resolve any allegations of discrimination, harassment, or bullying as quickly as possible. "and "We know bullying can be hurtful and distracting for students no matter who is involved."

Mitchell suggested in a board meeting that some things kids do and say could be considered "freedom of speech."

Thus,the district's way out is to avoid a definition of bullying (except the one they cannot weasel out of - which is the definition of bullying of protected classes).

PAUSD cannot say they know bullying hurts, and fail to define bullying. Purposely narrowing their definition of bullying, to define it for only protected classes is in fact a choice to make SOME bullying "freedom of speech." per Mrs. Mirchell's suggestion. A cyber attack on a young girl calling her ugly would be freedom of speech.

My guess is that this one needs to be defined by an election or a recall of the current board. It's an issue that will anyway not end with Skelly or Mitchell, or the personal inklings of a handful of individuals.

PAEA is the political force which is driving this recent decision, taxpayers should make the final decision to agree or disagree.


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Posted by Eileen1
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm

By doing some online research I discovered that the city of St. Helena, CA successfully targeted and recalled 4 of their 5 school board members in February of 2010. The following two articles describe how and why a group of St. Helena citizens mounted a recall campaign of the majority of their school board:

Web Link

Web Link

These are some of the reasons that the recall committee listed in their
"Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition"

"You failed to act with transparency and failed to provide the public with clear and accurate information, and you in some instances misled the public, with respect to financial, academic and administrative matters;
"You failed to work with the public as your board policies require and you completely disregarded all of the input that the public has provided to you;

"You failed to adequately and properly supervise administrative staff, including, but not limited to the Superintendent;"

I believe each of these statements could be made about the Palo Alto school board.

St. Helena citizens started the recall process in May 2009, and by February of 2010 they had succeeded in having a special election and placing 4 new members on their board.

If the recall process were started now, Palo Alto could have a vote for recall of the three board members who are not up for re-election, and a vote for an entirely new slate of school board members in the upcoming November 2014 election. We wouldn't even have to arrange a special election.


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Posted by Can this get worse?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Talk of a recall in 2012 was ludicrous, but it now would be the logical thing to do. This board stinks of failure and negligence. The board is responsible, even after Kevin Skelly and Charles Young make their escape later this year. I doubt there is one apologist left who can defend their performance.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Editor,

"Developing policies is not easy, but neither is it brain surgery. It requires competence, good intentions and clear, public communications. Skelly, his lieutenants and the board deserve a failing grade on all three. The district's blundering, confusion and astonishing lack of transparency is inflicting further harm on the very reputation it is so desperately trying to protect."

If Ken Dauber would put together a slate, himself included, a recall could probably work. It may even do the current board a favor since there always seem to be complaints about what a thankless job it is.

Then again, board members always seem to end up having to do what PAEA decides. Whys is that? What is the point of electing a new board if they get so scared in the pants about what PAEA will do if they don't do what they say.

Along with a board change, it would be good to have PAEA write their positions on paper and explain their reasons for swaying district policy one way or the other. A board member casually changing course after "hearing from teachers" is simplistic.

As much as we may need a new board, it would help if PAEA would be held more accountable for their opinions and power in PAUSD. If nothing else, there should be transparency about "teacher conversations" - exactly what was said about this policy that made Caswell change course, who said exactly what? Was it one teacher? 100? Something from these conversations in writing is in order.


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Posted by Spectator at Large
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Eileen 1:

Thank you so much for providing this information about St. Helena and how they successfully launched a recall and replaced their board.

It would seem as if our current board has successfully met all of the criteria necessary to move forward with this.

One of my major concerns is that I don't think many Palo Alto parents are even aware that anything is amiss in "Perfect Palo Alto". I have described this many times in my postings. So many parents are blissfully ignorant of all of the disgraceful behavior of not only the top administrators (with Skelly leading the pack in spades) but the current school board members who are giving proper direction and follow through to the Supe.

Time for a change. It would appear from your previous postings that you might be willing to be one of the folks involved in this. Perhaps we can get that parent group We Can Do Better Palo Alto to help us with this? I know that Ken Dauber has been advocating for so many of the things that are lacking on the board and in the district. I would definitely vote for Ken again but would it not be a good idea to come up with some names of potential replacement candidates for the current members? It's time to get serious about this! Our children can't wait!

Comments?


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm

With an election coming up this year, I don't think that a recall election would be the best use of political efforts by those who would like to see substantial change by the district. Focus on the election. The silent majority in the community may share your concerns about the failings of the current leadership, but they are probably not at the point where they would be comfortable with the radical disruption and uncertainty of a recall.
If two strong reform candidates were to prevail in November, the board and the administration would receive a strong sense of the will of the community. The new progressive board members would have a mandate to lead the district in new directions. Heidi and Melissa would likely move along with the reformers. Heidi has good values, she simply has no leadership or governing skills. Melissa seems to start with good perspectives on many issues and then gets either over ruled by Barb, Camille and Dana or she defers to Skelly who the board has allowed to be the un-elected de-facto policy maker on most issues. Recall that Barbara Klaussner helped provide a different tenor to the discussions. However, she was fairly alone and was not comfortable standing up to Skelly or Barb Mitchell. If she had had just one strong colleague aligned with her, it might have made a big difference.
In addition, if two reformers were elected, it's unlikely that Skelly would stay on. He may even announce his retirement this spring. Either way, a superintendent is not likely to stay on if his board is split in their support of him. I suspect that at least two of the board members are not pleased with his performance. Note his lack of a raise this year.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 5:26 pm

I would suggest to the posters on this thread that they read the latest OCR "Dear Colleague" letter, released last week, which is a joint press release with Attorney General Holder.

The essence of the finding is that there has been an excess of discipline and punishment due to "zero tolerance" policies. In short - fixed, inflexible rules which escalate everything are themselves likely to be a violation of civil rights.

The exact recommendation: Keep as many decisions on discipline at the local school level, rather than escalate or immediately lead to suspension, etc.

So, anyone that thinks its a right wing position to avoid an inflexible "one size fits all" bullying policy is in direct conflict with OCR and the U.S. Justice Department.

Food for thought.... this is not such an easy or clear policy choice. Think through the full ramifications of what you are asking for.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 5:36 pm

@Paly Parent Old PA

You are misunderstanding both the joint DOJ/OCR recommendation and the PAUSD plan to have no policy on bullying. Dora Dome's actual recommendation, which is being adopted by the school board is to handle ALL complaints of bullying that do not involve a protected class as disciplinary matters. The PAUSD plan is to have no process other than a disciplinary process for any bullying issue other than those that are required by state law to be handled under the UCP.

There is a fundamental problem with the path that the district is pursuing, at the urging of Oakland lawyer Dome that no one on the board seems to understand but which is crucial to understanding why Dome is wrong, and her recommendation is wrong for PAUSD.

Dome is recommending that PAUSD's process for filing bullying complaints where the bullying is not related to discrimination will be ONLY A SUSPENSION AND EXPULSION DISCIPLINARY HEARING PROCESS.

She repeatedly stated at the BPRC meeting on Friday that there was a "due process," and a "process" that was "not laid out" but was 'there" and it was to be found in BP and AR 5144.1, which explains the process for suspension and expulsion hearings. There was much conversation about how this process for suspension and expulsion hearings will now be PAUSD's process for addressing bullying.

Camille Townsend, who previously articulated her strong view that we should not increase disciplinary hearings, nonetheless endorsed this approach which leaves PAUSD with no bullying complaint procedure other than the process for filing disciplinary charges.

Parents should look for an increase in suspensions and expulsions as a result of bullying if the misguided Dome recommendation is adopted on January 28.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Re: Edmund

Pray tell, how am I misunderstanding the recent Dear Colleague letter? Or are you just being dismissive because it is inconvenient?


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:11 pm

@PP: You misunderstand the difference between a complaint process, which is not disciplinary and a discipline process which is. A complaint procedure at the district level is not an escalation to discipline. It is an investigation and documentation procedure. It is unrelated to discipline. Discipline is one possible response to bullying but there are many others that may result from a complaint including counseling, mediation, informal resolution, academic support, and more. There is no necessary connection between having a standardized investigation process and discipline.

OCR and DOJ are not urging schools to have no formal complaint process. They are urging schools not to refer an excessive number of cases to suspension and expulsion. These are not the same.

One reason for the confusion between discipline and complaint processes that is evident in both Paly Parent and the board is that Dora Dome is a lawyer with primary expertise in discipline. That is where her experience lies and it is doubtful she herself grasps the difference even though it is not actually hard to understand. At the BPRC meeting she was like a man with a hammer in her focus on discipline -- everything was a nail. Perhaps in Oakland there are many disciplinary hearings and that is who Eric Holder and Catherine Lhamon are talking to in his letter: districts like those that Dome works for which have far too many punitive hearings. That is her recommendation for PAUSD--to use our suspension and expulsion process as our sole process for addressing bullying.

Parents, if the board adopts Dome's recommendation you will likely see an increase in suspension and expulsion hearings -- hearings that will have to be reported on college applications. This will make the egg wars seem tame. Many posters have asked whether this fiasco can get any worse. The answer is yes.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Paly parent,

"Keep as many decisions on discipline at the local school level, rather than escalate or immediately lead to suspension, etc."

Isn't the issue of discipline of kids for bullying a different issue? A policy could leave disciplinary actions fairly flexible and it would be expected that they vary by grade level or developmental appropriateness. You could even write that in the policy.

Edmund Burke,

Aren't complaint procedures more about the discipline of administrators? So by having uniform complaint procedure, there is a step-up level of support for a victim? Or is the problem that the complaint procedures themselves require that every bullying complaint be considered resolved with a punishment.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Edmund Burke,

"A complaint procedure at the district level is not an escalation to discipline. It is an investigation and documentation procedure. It is unrelated to discipline."

Thank you, I just read your explanation which I agree is not that difficult to understand.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:19 pm

@expect you are right. I believe my comment to PP answers you but if not let me know. It's not even really about punishing admins. It's about having a trained, neutral fact finder determine what happened and what should be done to support both students. A complaint process is unrelated to discipline. District staff and the board are either being led astray by Dome or they have another reason not being publicly discussed that they want to increase the number of students who are formally disciplined. To say to the community as Dome did "don't worry your bullying complaint process is the hearings for suspension and expulsion" is just very hard to make sense of unless there is some unspoken agenda. Perhaps the rest of the story is heard in closed session.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Edmund Burke,

I meant to refer to discipline of admins in the context of finding a neutral fact finder, since even if an admin made a mistake, or oversight there is no punishment with union protections.

Your correct warning to parents that Dome's advice will result in "an increase in suspension and expulsion hearings -- hearings that will have to be reported on college applications." should WAKE a few people up.


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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 12, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Re: Edmund Burke

I think your distinction between a complaint system and a discipline system is extremely unrealistic in any fallible organization. One could even say it was academic.

Any process which leads to excessive complaints is inevitably going to lead to excessive discipline - if for no other reason than that it is administratively easier.

What the Atty General is complaining about are policies of zero tolerance - and excessive punishment - that results from "one size fits all" administrative systems.

Finally, your all too frequent tendency to disparage people's competence is unbecoming. And unearned.


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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 10:13 pm

The joint Dear Colleague Letter is about racial discrimination in the administration of school discipline. The letter is not about "policies of zero tolerance." Zero-tolerance policies are one type of facially neutral disciplinary policy that can have a disparate impact on racial minorities. In such a case, the school must articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the policy and show that the policy is tailored to achieve the educational end (that there are no other, comparably effective policies that would have less burden on the racial minority group in question). There is one discussion of a zero tolerance policy in the entire thirty page letter, in a brief example (see page 19). The letter is not in any way "about" such policies.

This letter is simply not relevant to the discussion of Palo Alto's bullying procedures and is a distraction. The only way in which it is of interest is that district counsel Dora Dome has made a recommendation that PAUSD have no complaint procedure for bullying complaints and that instead it should use AR 5144.1 (Suspension and Expulsion) to handle all complaints of bullying that are not related to a protected classification.

This is very likely to increase the number of suspension and expulsion hearings, and extremely ill-advised decision. The board does not appear to understand that by adopting Dome's recommendation it is headed in precisely the direction that members said that they did not want to go -- toward more disciplinary sanctions.

As to your statement that "Any process which leads to excessive complaints is inevitably going to lead to excessive discipline - if for no other reason than that it is administratively easier," I see no basis for your assertion that having a complaint procedure will lead to more discipline. There is no natural connection between having a procedure, having more complaints, and having more discipline. Indeed, the very Dear Colleague Letter you cite begins by stating that:

"Many schools have adopted comprehensive, appropriate, and effective programs demonstrated to: (1) reduce
disruption and misconduct; (2) support and reinforce positive behavior and character development; and (3) help students succeed. Successful programs may incorporate a wide range of strategies to reduce misbehavior and maintain a safe learning environment, including conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling, and structured systems of positive interventions. The Departments recognize that schools may use disciplinary measures as part of a program to promote safe and orderly educational environments."

The departments are here describing best practices in which complaints of misbehavior can be managed in many different ways (of which discipline is just one). Discipline is one possible outcome of a complaint process. If it is implemented in a racially discriminatory fashion, it may violate federal law.

Nowhere in this letter does it say that the method for reducing discipline is to abandon all complaint procedures.


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Posted by Expect the best, plan for the worst
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Paly Parent,

According to a related NY Times article, the recent Dear Colleague letter refers to issues of escalated punishment for minorities.

"African-American students represent only 15 percent of public school students, but they make of 35 percent of students suspended once, 44 percent of those suspended more than once and 36 percent of those expelled."

You seem to understand the board logic. Instead of mysterious hints, can you just clarify how this concern became the logic for not giving students who are not in a protected class a complaint procedure?

Big picture, your logic seems to add up to saying that bullying is only an issue when students who are not in a protected class are the bullies and if these same students are bullied, it is not an issue. Is that what the OCR is saying?


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Posted by Distasteful process
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

The bullies' take home message is that it's open season on students that are not in a protected class.


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Posted by Eric Blair
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Paly parent, you seem to have slipped away! But I was interested in what you were saying, because, to quote another poster, "You seem to understand the board logic."

In fact, reading your paeans to school control of discipline policy reminded me specifically of Barb Mitchell. Mitchell, along with, Dana Tom has spent much of the last year participating in secret meetings of the school board in order to ensure that the district isn't provoked by the OCR finding and investigations into developing a consistent district-wide process. (For those who have forgotten the details, here they are: Web Link). I detect Barb's hand in this latest development, pulling the district back from the brink of a coherent, legally compliant policy that will protect all students.

The strongest reminder, though, is your misreading of the OCR Dear Colleague letter on disparities in discipline for minority students. The letter actually insists on the importance of clear and consistent record keeping across sites, uniform training, and monitoring to make sure that school officials don't abuse their discretion. The idea that DOJ and OCR are advocating radical devolution of authority to school sites is completely unfounded -- as a moment's thought would reveal, as these are federal agencies ensuring that federal civil rights laws are respected in schools across the entire country.

Having mostly failed to resist OCR's authority in Palo Alto, the Barb/Dana strategy now seems to be to argue that OCR and DOJ are actually in favor of site-based control! Unfortunately, making that case successfully will require a good deal more facility with argumentation than is being revealed here, and than Barb demonstrated in her Constitutional theorizing back in the summer.


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Posted by Goerge Orwell
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2014 at 12:53 am

@Eric Blair - Thank you.


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Posted by concerned
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2014 at 2:56 pm

A process for reporting repeated incidents is much needed. We recently experienced the following situation this week, and todate no one has called us from the elementary school to report our child was in a fight and hurt. The yard duty knew, the office staff knew, my son's teacher knew. Why didn't anybody call us? We heard this from our child and another witnessing boy.

According to the witnessing boy, our child was playing football at recess with a bunch of kids and the other boy didn't agree with something about a play/call. The other boy argued with our child and then hit him (i think he missed twice and hit him once) and then pushed him down. Our child has a bruised shoulder (worst of all hurt feelings).

I heard our child went to the office crying because he was hurt. No one in the office bothered to call us. We are not sure why nothing was said to the other boy and why he didn't go to the office. From what we know, our child (and the witnessing boy) our child did nothing wrong and the other boy reacted too strongly. We are going to the principal with our concerns of this situation as it really is wrong the way the issue is being neglected. The other boy needs to have some consequences for his actions. We are not happy about the neglectful actions of the school, our child is a special needs kid (and a minority). Am so angry and sad at the same time to know that we don't have a process to follow if these situations were reoccurring (bullying). My hope this is one incident that we can work through, but my confidence in the fact that there is no acknowledgement at the school level is frustrating.


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