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School district leadership fires back at feds

Original post made on May 31, 2014

The leadership of the Palo Alto Unified School District is swinging back at a federal agency, alleging that factual errors and faulty investigation practices by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) have "caused significant damage to the district and our dedicated educators."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, May 31, 2014, 1:02 PM

Comments (121)

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Let me get this straight. Skelly conceals a finding that the district violated civil rights law. The board's lawyer makes multiple misleading statements to the public after that fact leaked out. The board goes underground in secret meetings that probably violate the Brown Act, except for more leaks including a memo from Barb Mitchell advocating resistance to federal civil rights law in Palo Alto. The Paly paper publishes a story about "rape culture" and at the same time it turns out that the Paly principal is himself committing sexual harassment and has to be removed, again secretly, to a special ed classroom. And now the board wants to blame the federal civil rights agency for noticing this?
The gang that couldn't shoot straight takes aim again.


Posted by pathetic, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 31, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Now we know that the district leadership and this school board have spent the last 2 years wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent on our kids launching pointless fights with the feds over nothing.

Particularly sad part of this debacle is the fact that they are using Tufts as a model for their course of massive resistance of federal authority when Tufts reversed course (see: Web Link) and cooperated with OCR almost immediately due to the public shame and drubbing they took for trying to oppose it. The district does not seem to even know this. How pitiful.

The real villain in this seems to be FFF which is treating the district as if it is an ATM. And our dumb board is willingly paying up. Next year, FFF will get an astounding $250k of our money -- money that could have been spent in the classroom.

PAUSD appears to be seeking federal funding for the schools without federal accountability for how that money is spent. PAUSD: give back the federal funding the district receives. Then you don't have to listen to OCR. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

I call this packet the "don't they know who we are" defense. We're Palo Alto -- we shouldn't have to be investigated like some regular citizen! You're going to need more than a congressional mandate and a complaint to investigate us!

Particularly rich is the last document which says that OCR cannot interview our high school students about sexual harassment unless a district employee can be there to protect the students. I nominate Phil Winston to be that district employee. You cannot make this stuff up.

No sane person would ever want to be on this school board.


Posted by Huh?, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I just followed the link in the story to Tuesday's "memo" to the board. It's a lot more than a memo. There's a large packet attached, including quite a bit of new legal work that was clearly generated for this resolution.
My question is what process was used by Mitchell and Caswell to have expended the staff time and outside legal counsel funding needed to bring all of these materials to the board? Under board policies, do they have the authority to direct Skelly and the attorneys to do this work without direction through a formal board action?
To my understanding, the board hasn't taken this action in public. If they took the action in one of their closed sessions on this issue, don't they have to report publicly any actions that the board took? I understand that their closed session discussions can be kept confidential, but I thought their "actions" needed to be made public at the conclusion of the session.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Tufts reversed course (see: Web Link) and cooperated with OCR almost immediately due to the public shame and drubbing they took for trying to oppose it. "

Won't happen here because the citizens of the district have no interest in trying to hold the board accountable.

"To my understanding, the board hasn't taken this action in public. If they took the action in one of their closed sessions on this issue, don't they have to report publicly any actions that the board took?"

Simply because the citizens of the district tolerate this behavior by the board so the board just does what it wants.


Posted by PAUSD Parent, a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2014 at 2:51 pm

The whole agenda and packet (300-plus pages) for next Tuesday's board meeting can be found on the PAUSD website at: Web Link

The board memo, proposed resolution and letters to OCR (referenced in this story) can be found on pp. 103-57 of the board packet, if anyone wants to see the complete package of materials.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 31, 2014 at 3:10 pm

The OCR stories I have read in this "paper" remind me of the Issa investigation of the Benghazi attack. Some people will say the Benghazi and the OCR investigations are fair and balanced, but they are not. I would like the truth rather than stories based on some self serving agenda.


Posted by Knock me over with a feather, a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2014 at 3:44 pm

The local school board has discovered that one-size-fits-all federal mandates and overly-broad "civil rights" laws don't work, and in fact just lead to endless lawsuits. And that federal intrusiveness often comes at the behest of bureaucrats with their own agenda. And that really, our completely incompetent federal government has no business telling the extraordinarily effective (whatever its problems) Palo Alto school. district.

I'm not saying mistakes weren't made here. I am just trusting Palo Alto is far better equipped than D.C. in terms of how to handle problems in its own community. Maybe some of our residents could extend that bit of wisdom when they go to the ballot box


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I am just trusting Palo Alto is far better equipped than D.C. in terms of how to handle problems in its own community."

Of course Federal and State laws and regulations simply do not apply within the Republic of Palo Alto.


Posted by Huh?, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 31, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Alphonso,
Well, I also see similarities to Darrel Issa, but my parallels are pretty different from yours. "Knock me over" captures the sentiment that has taken over our board and district in recent years under the strong libertarian leadership of Barb Mitchell. Whether it be state or federal regulations designed to protect the rights of students, PAUSD has taken a position that we are largely exempt from many regulations that apply to all other school districts.
This is not the approach that PAUSD took over the decades that we developed our reputation as a top district. I really fear that we are witnessing the unwinding of a valued legacy. Legitimate pride in our education system has morphed into hubris over top test scores. We now appear to be heading down a tragic path of destroying our reputation. Rather than reflecting on where we need improvement, the focus has shifted to defending any shortcomings while claiming that we're victims of a witch hunt.
I don't think that we have more bullying or discrimination problems than other districts and the OCR doesn't have these kinds of problems with most districts. We just seem to have a board and administration that's more obstinate and confrontational than other districts.


Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I'm really glad to see the District finally standing up to this out-of-control agency and the people in this community using it for their own ends. I've read many posts that assume that if the Office of Civil Rights--so-called--says something, it's the law. Well, their actions are subject to judicial review, and we'll see how many of their actions are upheld once a fair and balanced process of review is instituted, in the courts if necessary.

This is a good district, with a fine administration and board. It deserves better than the constant attacks on it by various people, some with no children actually attending public schools, and the Weekly, with its biased and one-sided reporting.

I wish Dr. Skelly the best of luck as he exits this community and its disappointing and vicious partisanship. I hope the new superintendent will not be attacked with such nastiness and unfairness.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is an excerpt from the proposed resolution:

"WHEREAS, the District community has a distinguished record of exceptional outcomes corresponding to student safety, student learning, student conduct, inclusion, civil rights, and nondiscrimination; "

So the PAUSD will, by its own resolution, simply declare that it is doing all the right things.

Case closed.

An interesting way to define the truth.

************************************

And in this 335 page packet there is not a single set of minutes for any of the board's recent meetings so there is no way of knowing what transpired in those meetings.

An interesting way to hide the truth.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2014 at 5:30 pm

What the board is doing reminds one of cops closing rank to protect bad cops in their midst. It's understandable that a board which let Skelly get away with so much incompetence, dishonesty and hubris, would close ranks and accuse the messanger. If the citizens of Palo Alto weren't so busy chasing the nest million dollars they would have actually paid attention and voted out this entire awful board.


Posted by Roger, a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 31, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Here is the scoop so far.
Everything the papers say is fact.
Everything OCR says is Fact.
Everything PAUSD says is a bunch of lies.
People get real, this is a great, well run, school district and we should be proud of what it accomplishes, especially right now with so many new graduates.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 31, 2014 at 5:47 pm


PC
"So the PAUSD will, by its own resolution, simply declare that it is doing all the right things."

That is your interpretation of what they said - and not what was said in the resolution. So in this particular case your "truth" does not meet the quality of truth I am looking for.


Posted by Board member, a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I serve on a commission that has Brown Act responsibilities. I agree with Huh, except that I don't even see how the board could be having these discussions in closed session. There is no Brown Act exception for deciding how to deal with a regulatory agency.
As for substance, you can see that behind this is a Republican hostility to government from these board members.


Posted by Josef Stalin, a resident of another community
on May 31, 2014 at 5:49 pm

The Board held a Closed Session on May 22 for the appointment of the Superintendent who starts work on August 1. Then on May 27 the Board held a closed session for labor negotiations about its future employee for Superintendent with its negotiator Barb Mitchell that was mischaracterized as a Closed Session for employment.

On neither of the above dates did the Board have a Closed Session with Legal Counsel about the Office of Civil Rights investigations, and they could not have discussed that topic in the Closed Sessions they did hold.

Then on May 29 McGee accepted the Board's employment offer with a statement that said, "I agree that false, incomplete or misleading statements or omission made during the job application process constitutes dishonesty and breach of this Agreement and are grounds for termination of the Agreement for cause."

Now that the Board has gotten McGee's acceptance of their offer, they are preparing to adopt an action regarding the Office Civil Rights that they could not have legally discussed with him or among themselves at their prior Closed sessions.

I believe McGee has been misled by the Board. They don't have to adopt the proposed action before McGee becomes Superintendent. They can wait until after August 1 to get McGee's advice instead of the advice and recommendation of the lame duck Skelly.

The Board's negotiator Mitchell did not have to sign a statement similar to McGee's signed statement attesting to whether Mitchell made incomplete or misleading statements or omissions during the application process that constituted dishonesty and breach of the employment agreement offer.

If you were McGee, wouldn't you want to know before accepting the Board's employment offer that your predecessor Skelly and your negotiating counterpart Mitchell were going to offer a resolution about the Office of Civil Rights investigation immediately after the Board acts on your employment agreement?

Maybe that is why the same meeting has an earlier Closed session on labor negotiations for the Superintendant with its negotiator Mitchell that is mischaracterized as a closed session for the appointment of the Superintendent.

Between the end of that Closed session and beginning of the rest of the meeting, I wonder what McGee and the Board's negotiator Mitchell are going to talk about, if they are not going to talk about the Skelly's and Mitchell's surprise agenda item about the Office of Civil Rights that immediately follows the agenda item about McGee's appointment.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" I don't even see how the board could be having these discussions in closed session. There is no Brown Act exception for deciding how to deal with a regulatory agency."

The loophole that they are using is calling it "potential litigation" - legal but not very responsive to the spirit of the Brown Act. And the board keeps using such loopholes because the citizens of the district don't seem to care.


Posted by alarmed, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2014 at 6:05 pm

@huh
I share your concerns about the current board direction and its libertarian leanings.

In their appeal to the trustees to support their resolution against the Office for Civil Rights, Barb Mitchell and Melissa Baten Caswell state: "We are not alone in our concerns regarding OCR investigation practices. The National School Boards Association's (NSBA) General Counsel presented in April on OCR overreach at the Council of School Attorneys Seminar and continues to monitor OCR investigation practices while being a resource to attorneys representing school districts. NSBA advocates legislation (H.R. 1386) to support local school board governance and flexibility and states: "The expansion of federal intrusion on public education in recent years has impacted local policy-making in ways that impose unnecessary rules, conditions, and restrictions, as well as significant costs, on local school governance."

The bill they reference H.R. 1386: "Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act" was introduced to Congress by Representative Aaron Schock, a Libertarian Republican from Illinois. The bill has 42 Republican and 1 Democrat sponsor. Govtrack.us that tracks legislation gives it only a 1% chance of passing. Web Link

These libertarian views on the government's role in protecting civil rights do not reflect my values. The OCR problems will pale in comparison if the board passes this resolution.


Posted by parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 31, 2014 at 6:09 pm



WAY TO GO PAUSD!!!!!


Posted by I have never been more disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2014 at 6:15 pm

What a waste of time and money. Mitchell is showing us that she has nothing better to do with her time and our money. I wish she would just resign instead of dragging us through this.

The so-called federal intrusion people are mentioning is the Americans with Disabilities Act. The local district does not get some kind of inflexible mandate from on high, local school districts write their own policies and guidelines for how they will follow the law to protect vulnerable students. Ours did, too.

But our district people think we are so great because we're Palo Alto, that we didn't even have to follow our own guidelines for following the law to protect disabled students. That's what this was all about, the feds had to come in and basically tell them that yes, the administrators of this district are not too special to follow the law.

Now instead of putting energy into finally working with families, and creating a culture that values working with families, they want to spend our money and their time sticking it in the craw of the federal agency that has told them to start following the law like everyone else (by their own guidelines, no less).

Before the feds got involved, not only was the district not following the law, if parents asked about the rules, the district people would often play dumb as if they didn't even have the guidelines.

In one fell swoop, Mitchell and company have completely undermined all of my own prior confidence in their new pick for Superintendent. I guess it was a bad sign that Charles Young came along on the trip to pick him. Wow, this is a stunning bit of obliviousness even for these guys. As if they needed the Feds to make them look bad!

Please, someone tell me when we are going to be rid of this group? They are doing FAR more to undermine confidence in the district by letting the community know they see us as a limitless piggybank to pursue whatever slights to their egos came about from having to deal with brusque government lawyers, instead of understanding that parents in this district have been dealt far worse having to deal with this board and administration.

My question is: what are Skelly and Mitchell getting out of this personally, and why should the district be paying for it? Just stop it. There is ABSOLUTELY NO USEFUL PURPOSE FOR OUR STUDENTS IN THIS. What a monumental waste of time, and soooo incredibly telling in the most negative way about why we've had some of these problems. Skelly is leaving. We should also be switching to a legal team that is actually appropriate for a school district, where parents are not the enemy (except when they want our money). We could afford to err on the side of just doing the best job for every student if we had more appropriate legal services.


Posted by I have never been more disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2014 at 6:25 pm

@ parent from Fairmeadow,

I support our district, schools, teaching staff, families, and students, too. Please show your support by supporting them.H

Before the feds got involved, our administrators would often use the same exact language when it came to parent involvement on issues to improve our student health and safety.

Our board and administrators have been their own worst enemy in this, and they are just trying to shift blame, using our money to do it. This is a school district. Schools are about teaching, and part of that is leading by example. Please accept responsibility, resolve to do better, and move on. Ultimately, that's the best and cheapest tactic when there have been liabilities, and it's the best way for our families. As an involved parent in what I think is a wonderful district, I think this is a bad idea that serves no one except a few embarrassed administrators, and sets the stage for our new administrator to fail.


Posted by pathetic, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 31, 2014 at 6:56 pm

This is a perfect storm of idiocy that was caused by 3 factors:

1. Kevin Skelly's dysfunctional leadership and personal defensiveness;
2. Barbara Mitchell's right-wing far out Tea Party libertarianism;
3. FFF's greed.

The brand is self-immolating. All that will happen as a result of this inanity is that OCR will understand that this district is one that should be investigated thoroughly and for many years to come. The only possible sane course is to get new counsel, come to Jesus on cooperating with OCR, and try to close the door on the disgraceful Skelly years.

Regrettably I think that this is a bad harbinger about the new superintendent who must believe in this and be thoroughly on board with it. He is a conservative too, so maybe the reason they went all the way to China, metaphorically, to find this guy is that he was the only one crazy enough to play along.

Sorry to anyone who just wanted their tax dollars to go for education. FFF partners need to remodel their homes and buy summer cottages.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Something stinks in the town of Palo Alto and I'm not convinced it is the school district. Has the OCR ever looked at another district this closely? We are better than some and worse than others. Why aren't other districts under this level of scrutiny. Why haven't larger news outlets picked up on this "scandal"? There are lawsuits going on in most school districts because it is so easy to file. I'm sure the neighboring districts have the same problems we do. You just don't hear about them. I wonder why? Do you honestly think the district would "fire back" if they didn't have a leg to stand on? Oh that's right, government workers never do any wrong.


Posted by Poor poor pitiful me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 31, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Read much? Schools and colleges all over the country are under investigation for sexual harassment. PAUSD needs to stop thinking it is so exceptional and why is everyone picking on us. It is really ridiculous . You are under investigation because you deserve it. In fact you got a compliance review because of your crazy may 20 2013 letter about how unfair and unprofessional OCR is. You can't talk to federal investigators like that without creating suspicion. Why are you stopping me officer? Other people are speeding. I think you are persecuting me! Not a good strategy.

You. Just. Don't. Get. It.


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2014 at 8:20 pm

@ parent,
"Has the OCR ever looked at another district this closely?"
OCR doesn't usually have to. Because almost always, when they point out to districts that they need to do things like make their policies available for families who need them, they say, thank you for pointing out that I wasn't even wiping my, um, nose, and districts just start following the law, using the guidelines they wrote for themselves. It is very rare for a district to decide they have to expend far more energy and money NOT protecting students than just doing what the law requires, especially once it's been pointed out to them. OCR even offered to do free training, but our district turned it down.

Sheesh, the OCR isn't a punitive agency, their job is to help districts follow the law. They CAN fine us, they CAN take away our federal funds, but guess what, they didn't - they bent over backwards trying to give our district a chance to just follow the law on their own, which is the goal.

Remember, following the law means protecting vulnerable students who need it, and I can personally attest that our district was doing a poor job at this in many cases, not just in the one that made the news. And the culture of mistrust just makes things hard for everyone, completely unnecessarily.

We should be putting our energy in to figuring out how to do the best job for students, including the vulnerable ones, possible, and maybe even figuring out how to get even better results for less money if that is the goal. These guys are spending more of our money doing a worse job. Skelly leaving will not be enough.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on May 31, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Can a citizen of the PAUSD explain to me why you tolerate a board that is elected to represent YOU and yet you seem to have no interest in holding them accountable?

This is the Oath which they took upon assuming office:

"CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION
ARTICLE 20 MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS


SEC. 3. Members of the Legislature, and all public officers and
employees, executive, legislative, and judicial, except such inferior
officers and employees as may be by law exempted, shall, before they
enter upon the duties of their respective offices, take and
subscribe the following oath or affirmation:


"I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support
and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Consti-
tution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign
and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the
Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the
State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without
any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will
well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about
to enter."


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Why now? The "resolution" doesn't actually do anything. The real audience is Max McGee, the new boss. Skelly saw his career ended prematurely by this, but the rest of the senior staff now have their own jobs to worry about. If McGee doesn't buy the view inside 25 Churchill that they are being unfairly persecuted, Young and Baker and others will be sent packing. There is a new daddy in the house, and the kids are worried about what's coming.


Posted by The Death of Me, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 31, 2014 at 9:04 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by where is this leading? , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 31, 2014 at 10:37 pm

"following the law means protecting vulnerable students who need it"

Uh-huh. So a district whose student didn't want an investigation at all, let alone a title IX investigation gets investigated whereas recent cases in Saratoga where student victims of sexual assaults were teased and harassed by their peers (the victim later died by suicide) don't.

Please explain the criteria OCR has used in these cases to choose which district to investigate?


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Less than a month after Skelly and Mitchell decided to spit in the government's eye, we had a compliance review. There is your explanation. Not everyone thought that was a smart idea, by the way.


Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 12:07 am

One of the most frequent (and weakest) defenses that is often made by board members and others in Palo Alto, including two current school board candidates, is that OCR is biased against Palo Alto and the evidence for this statement is that OCR is investigating PAUSD when it should be investigating Saratoga over the death of Audrie Potts,

OCR does not investigate where a lawsuit is filed against the district. Plaintiffs must choose whether to pursue an OCR complaint or litigation. They cannot do both. If an OCR complaint is filed with a legal claim, OCR will decline to investigate. See: Web Link

In Saratoga, the victim's parents chose to sue the district and the perpetrators. Web Link

That is one reason that Saratoga is not being investigated.

However, it is also very unlikely that Saratoga's school board and superintendent have adopted such a defiant and oppositional tone with the federal investigators. When PAUSD strikes that posture with a federal law enforcement agency it may lead to additional investigations.

In general, one highly ineffective way of dealing with law enforcement is questioning whether the agency's time would be better spent investigating someone else. For example, when one is accused of insider trading, pointing to your neighbor and proclaiming that he is a far worse insider trader than you are is not a good strategy. Merely because others may also be breaking the law does not mean that you are entitled to continue to do so, nor to set the agenda for the SEC.

Another highly ineffective way of handling being the subject of an investigation is to attack the agency itself. For example, if the FBI is investigating whether or not you have conspired to commit wire fraud, and you have in fact committed wire fraud, writing repeated letters attacking the FBI and accusing them of harassing you by investigating your wire fraud may only generate more investigations of your wire fraud.

Another strategy that I judge highly ineffective is concealing relevant evidence and misleading and/or lying to investigators in response to document requests. For example, if the SEC sent a document request to you about insider trading and you answered that you know only of 5 violations by low level employees but later it turns out that at the time you sent that reply to the SEC you actually had already quietly removed the CEO for insider trading and the SEC found out when it was reported in the paper some months later, well that would be very likely to make the SEC focus on you even more. You would probably also be charged with obstruction but these are only hypotheticals, of course.

Times ahead are sure to prove interesting.


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 12:12 am

Web Link

There have been complaints. When people are at their wits end, they may file a complaint with the OCR as a last resort. This is usually after people have tried to resolve things with the district already for some time, or in one of the resolutions agreements, where a district seriously failed to make available the procedures for access to rights for disabled students under the law.

From the OCR's FAQs, which I found using Google:
"What if I am already pursuing my complaint within the school district or college or with another agency?
"OCR does not handle cases that are being addressed by another agency or within a school's or college's formal grievance procedure if OCR anticipates that the agency you filed with will provide you with a resolution process comparable to OCR's. "

If you have a legitimate complaint, but your district is trying to apply the procedures they have under the law, then OCR does not even take the complaint.

OCR is also not a police agency. Their purpose is to get districts to follow the law. There are a whole bunch of circumstances under which they will not pursue complaints (as above), but it does not mean a person does not have a legitimate complaint. As their FAQ says, they do not usually handle cases that are being addressed by a school's grievance procedures.

It's really, really strange for a district to avoid following the law, not respond to the OCR's asking them to follow the law, and then because they are so recalcitrant (putting them in a small, small minority of districts), the OCR gives them a list of things they need to do to come back into compliance, which they willingly sign and say they'll do -- it's really, really strange that they would not complain that they aren't going to follow the law to protect students, this must all have been an attempt to embarrass them. Right.

OCR had the right to stop PAUSD from getting funds or to fine them. Didn't happen. (Oh, that's right, the goal was just to make PAUSD of all the districts in the nation, look bad, but taking away their funding wouldn't have? In my observation here, given the behavior of the district officials, the OCR has exercised a great deal of restraint.)

When OCR does decide to investigate a complaint, it's usually because it affects a lot of people, or something is very wrong at a district. When they find something wrong, the vast majority of the time a district is already figuring it out and closing the case. It is only in a very rare number of cases, on the order of 20 out of 2,000, where the districts are found to be violating the law and the OCR has to tell them what to do to get back into compliance, and make them sign an agreement because they don't voluntarily do it on their own. Palo Alto had 2 of such agreements in a single year.

Kevin Skelly's bad was signing them without letting the school board know. Charles Young's, as compliance officer for the district, was allowing things to get to that point by completely not doing his job for years. This is not the fault of the government, and the fact that the board is even going down this road under the circumstances should in a reasonable world make them subject to immediate recall.

One of the resolution agreements was because PAUSD did not even make available, know how to work with, or even admit to having procedures for extending 504 protections to students with disabilities, even though the law requires districts to actively identify and inform parents of their rights and extend those protections to the students proactively because it ends up being better and cheaper for everyone that way, especially the disabled student.

Realize, the 504 procedures are written by the districts themselves, the government doesn't just give them a list of things to do, the district writes it's own guide for how it will follow the law, clears it with the government, and then is supposed to give it to parents. Our district had such procedures and was pretending to parents that it didn't.

The other resolution agreement was because a disabled child was relentlessly bullied over a long period of time, the bullying was related to the child's disability, and the parent found no effective recourse at any stage in the district over a very long period of time. There were some other disturbing aspects to this such as administrators objectively lying to investigators.

There COULD have been lawsuits as a result of that, in which the district could have paid damages, but there weren't, because parents mostly just want their kids to get and education and for the protections they deserve to be extended in this district.

I'm just so disgusted, this just takes the cake. MESSAGE TO THIS BOARD: LEARN HOW TO WORK WITH PARENTS AND FAMILIES. DEVELOP A CULTURE WHERE STAFF TREAT EVERYONE THE WAY THEY WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED. GET RID OF THIS POISONOUS LEGAL FIRM. Your troubles with the OCR will go away, because you'll actually be doing your job.

@Insider,
I wish I could believe you, but in many cases the remaining insiders are people whose malfeasance is responsible for much of Skelly's trouble, though he seems unaware of it.


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:49 am

That would all make sense, IF there was a plaintiff in the PAUSD case. Of course, there is NO plaintiff in the title IX Paly case! In the Saratoga case, they have a death.

Which district do they then decide to investigate? Provide some valid reason why OCR would chose to investigate when there was no plaintiff vs a case where there was the ultimate tragedy.

Or do you already know who asked for the Paly OCR investigation? Are you scared you already know the answer? It seems the Weekly is too afraid to find out. A simple PRR should suffice and they seem to limit those only to the district. Perhaps we'll only find out after November.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:57 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Provide some valid reason why OCR would chose to investigate when there was no plaintiff vs a case where there was the ultimate tragedy. "

It helps to read the very useful postings already made before asking such a question:

Burke posted:
"OCR does not investigate where a lawsuit is filed against the district. Plaintiffs must choose whether to pursue an OCR complaint or litigation. They cannot do both. If an OCR complaint is filed with a legal claim, OCR will decline to investigate. See: Web Link

In Saratoga, the victim's parents chose to sue the district and the perpetrators. Web Link

That is one reason that Saratoga is not being investigated. "


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:07 am

I read it and it is wrong on two fronts.

It doesn't explain why Palo Alto is being investigated when there is NO plaintiff.

It doesn't explain why OCR chose NOT to investigate Saratoga when there was NO plaintiff even though the result was the ultimate tragedy.

Come on, give an explanation. Who filed the Palo Alto Title IX OCR complaint.



Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"it doesn't explain why Palo Alto is being investigated when there is NO plaintiff. "

Because there was a complaint filed , rather than a lawsuit as was done in Saratoga.

"It doesn't explain why OCR chose NOT to investigate Saratoga when there was NO plaintiff even though the result was the ultimate tragedy. "

Note this statement from the OCR web site:

"OCR will dismiss the complaint if OCR determines that:

The same allegations have been filed by the complainant against the same recipient in state or Federal court;"

"Who filed the Palo Alto Title IX OCR complaint. " I don't know and don't care - what matters is that people experienced in these matters felt the complaint(s) was sufficient cause for an investigation.

You elect to be anonymous with your postings so what possible basis do you have for asking that names be named - what hypocrisy.


Posted by Not the nadir yet, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:24 am

This is the Kevin Skelly legacy. I remember the various excuse strategies that folks posted to protect him: it's not his fault, it's the parents' fault, it's the board's fault, it's our community's fault (you can figure out what I'm referring to), and the old tried and true it's OCR's fault. We've shelled out $3 million for his leadership, and we've burned through millions more in legal services, has this money been a good investment for our kids? That is the metric. And can this get any worse?


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:34 am

Even if this succeeds, it's going to be a disaster for the school district. This action is guaranteed to involves hundreds of thousands if not more in legal fees over years. Either way, OCR and other regulators are going to pay special attention to any action or complaint from PAUSD for a long time.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As a former Federal regulator I cannot imagine a more effective way of drawing the attention of the leadership of the OCR to any complaints that have been or will be filed against the PAUSD. What in the past was being handled at a staff level in OCR will now be handled by the top management team. Unless PAUSD is squeaky clean on ALL civil rights and discrimination issues this will be a disaster. It is sort of like driving a red Ferrari 90 mies an hour and blowing your horn and shaking your fist at the motorcycle policeman.


Posted by PAUSD Parent, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:43 am

Information about compliance reviews, their incidence and the reasons for initiating them can be found on OCR's website:
Web Link

For example, in OCR's 2009 report to Congress:

"In addition to resolving complaints, OCR initiates compliance reviews and takes other proactive steps to focus on specific compliance issues that are particularly acute or national in scope. It has been OCR's experience that targeted compliance reviews and proactive initiatives increase the impact of OCR's resources, complement the complaint resolution process, and can benefit larger numbers of students than sole reliance on complaint resolutions, which may involve only one student. Compliance review sites are selected based on various sources of information, including information provided by parents, education groups, media, community organizations, and the public, and, in certain circumstances, on statistical data if they are supported by other sources of information."

This report states that in 2007, OCR initiated 23 compliance reviews; in 2008, it initiated 42.

See full report at:
Web Link

OCR's 2012 report to the President discusses further the incidence and reasons for use of the compliance review enforcement action:

"In the past four years, OCR launched more than 100 compliance reviews—
proactive, broad-scale, systemwide investigations of issues of strategic significance. Recognizing a need for greater coherence and strategic focus in its compliance review docket, OCR implemented, during this time, a collaborative, data-driven process to guide its attorneys and investigators through multiple steps of analysis—including a comprehensive examination of each proposed proactive investigation with regard to its need and priority, causes of concern, geography, severity, impact and other relevant information. With coordination and support from national headquarters, each regional office throughout the country now annually launches compliance reviews that are designed to effect significant change at the target
institutions and provide widely applicable solutions to civil rights problems faced by institutions elsewhere….

"OCR's compliance reviews have dealt with never-before addressed issues, keeping pace with emerging concerns and questions arising under the civil rights laws that OCR enforces, including sexual violence at the K–12 and postsecondary levels; comparability of resources; bullying and harassment; booster clubs and the distribution of athletic dollars and resources; charter schools and authorizers; state transportation support for students with disabilities; shortened school days; food allergies; access to college- and career-preparatory courses and services; disproportionate discipline rates; minority over-representation in special education
programs and under-representation in talented and gifted programs; and access to electronic and web-based educational resources."

See full report at:
Web Link

Also, as the district itself has found, OCR does not release records related to an ongoing investigation (even with a formal FOIA request), so there's little to be accomplished trying to obtain documents from OCR about an active investigative process (or even a case where the investigation is done, but the case is still open due to monitoring a resolution agreement).


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:44 am

If you are looking for who's responsible for the Title IX compliance review (not a complaint investigation, in fact) you should look to Phil Winston, Charles Young, and Paul Kandel. They elected to tell the world including OCR about harassment at Paly that wasn't being dealt with appropriately. Also not a smart move, in retrospect. They were told, by the way.


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:47 am

"Because there was a complaint filed , rather than a lawsuit as was done in Saratoga."

No, there was no complaint filed. That is the point! Why is OCR investigating Paly when there was NO complaint filed and NO plaintiff. Whereas they don't investigate a district that has suffered the ultimate tragedy?

Or was there a complaint filed and by whom? That was the other question. It certainly wasn't filed by any Paly plaintiff.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why is PAUSD deciding to drive a red Ferrari 90 miles an hour and blowing their horn and shaking their fist at the motorcycle policeman just because the policeman has already given them a warning?


Posted by Poor poor pitiful me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:51 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:55 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:57 am

Read the definition of a compliance review, and my post. There are no monsters under the bed. Some district staff members (not all) chose not to do their jobs and then shout it from the rooftops. Why? You will have to ask them.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:00 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Some district staff members (not all) chose not to do their jobs and then shout it from the rooftops"

And now the board is joining in the chorus - Why? You will have to ask them.

Stupid, stupid, stupid and a horrible welcoming present for a new superintendent.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:43 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:54 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Alphonso - if you are speeding what difference does it make who called 911?
And if you were not speeding, why worry?


Posted by Alma Plaza, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:54 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

It is all about motivation and interpretation Peter.
Look at the above deletions by the Weekly staff - an obvious attempt by the Weekly to control the message. You seem to be very interested in transparency - what is your opinion about Weekly censorship? - did you see anything in the above comments that should have been censored?


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

From the letter:
"Our school district community is always striving to build on the ways in which we care for all students and to provide for student safety and respect at all times."

I would agree with that statement for our school communities, but strongly disagree with that at the district office level. Even though true at the school level, it doesnt negate what happened to these kids who didnt have the same experience. Definitely some of the CYA perspective from the legal filters down to how staff perceive and behave towards students when there are special needs. I think it overlays an atmosphere of mistrust that makes staff fall back on the idea that since they are good people with good intent, therefore everything they do was good for the student, regardless of what the student or family is trying to tell them.

In fact, I think the OCR has exercised a great deal of restraint with district people, and the accusations the district is making towards OCR could be more appropriately laid at the feet of district administrators, except that parents of special needs students don't usully have the wherewithal to have a whole team of people combing through records to combat district personnel mistakes and misrepresentations. A fly on the wall would see far more of what is accused here from district personnel to parents than of OCR to the district. Parents finally had some recourse, such as it is, and our school board is putting its lot in with making districts completely independent of all scrutiny. The power and money grab by educational law firms implicit in the background is chilling.

It's telling that the main complaint here is the main refrain of Charles Young over the years - his main excuse for his incometence is always how one thing or other is too burdensome. He puts a great deal of effort into (not always even honestly) demonstrating how burdensome every interaction is, rather than just doing his job. I don't even have to ask to know that the parents of the bullied girl were probably treated to plenty of Charles Young's complaints about how burdensome it was to deal with them, in lieu of actually honestly addressing their problem.

At the district level, though, there are too many people who think they are good people, therefore if they say it, it must be true. This whole endeavor is just wrong, it's obvious CYA (no surprise with Kathleen Baker at the district office now) in the case of the bullied girl. District personnel should get rid of ths legal team, get a reality check, and seriously spend some of those millions in training money learning how not to regard parents and special needs kids essentially as the enemy.


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:10 am

The paranoia on display here may seem funny, but it actually tracks very well the culture at 25 Churchill. The imminent arrival of a new superintendent has just upped the level to new heights. That's what's behind this latest move. It seems like a long shot to me that Max will find this persuasive, but these are the same people who got us into this mess. That was their best thinking then too.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:12 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"You seem to be very interested in transparency - what is your opinion about Weekly censorship?"

It is the Weekly's Forum and they can do whatever they want - including things that I object to such as permitting anonymous postings which, by definition, are not transparent.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:39 am

@Not the nadir yet - I'm guessing that it is worse, actually.
I want to thank, again, the family who came forward with the info about the first OCR settlement. I am assuming that it was not the first time that the PAUSD officials withheld info of embarrassing occurrences. The tip of the iceberg.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:44 am

Peter-
Valid point, but you did not answer the questions. Reading the weekly is like reading a State run newspaper - you get one side of the news and the purpose of that is to distort the truth and to shape public opinion.


Posted by context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:48 am

To "Never Been More Disgusted" and "Edmund Burke,"

Before heralding US government agencies as infallible you might want to catch up on current events which lead reasonable people to admit that it is possible that, as PAUSD asserts, the OCR could be a bit overzealous in its investigations here.

Government agencies overreaching? In America? Take a gander at one of OCR's sister agency's behavior – the IRS.

Putting aside whatever your political leanings are, now highly publicized acts of a US government agency's overreaching– including disregarding US citizen's privacy rights – expose a government agency as one putting its agenda (this one extensively targeting conservative-oriented tax-exempt applicants for extra scrutiny)

-over-

its purpose to help citizens meet their responsibilities and, when there are conflicts, to apply the laws governing them with integrity and fairness. (The IRS agents treated nonprofits whose names contained politically conservative words differently from others.)

A Department of Treasury audit found that the IRS did overreach – broadly and often.

Local IRS units:

-used inappropriate criteria to evaluate these cases, even after superiors caught hold of it and directed them not to,

-burdened those groups with unnecessary information requests (questions which asked for personal information about the applicants' donors and employees and their conversations that the IRS head eventually admitted "should not have been requested"),

-substantially delayed processing their cases, and

-overall "showed a lack of knowledge" in the laws governing them.
Web Link

A year after the IRS swore that it did nothing wrong it admitted to it and said that its actions were "absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate."

This was brought to light because the groups which were unfairly treated went public with the facts.

The PROCESS issues were considered so important to restoring the public's trust that the FBI stepped in to investigate. Lots of IRS employees "resigned." Also, as a result of these process problems, Congress threatened to slash the IRS' budget and pushed for criminal charges against employees of a governmental agency hired to help US citizens by applying US laws with integrity and fairness.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Alphonso - I did answer your off topic question, you just don't read what people post.

My response was "It is the Weekly's Forum and they can do whatever they want."

I am very glad that I do not have the job of monitoring this forum - if i did off topic postings and anonymous postings would be banned and any postings by new people would be moderated before they were posted until that individual's ability to contribute to "a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion" had been established.


Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:55 am

Alphonso,

What are you talking about? The very story we are commenting on is a report on what two school board members have placed on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting. How is that "one side of the news" reporting? Why not discuss the issues here instead of continuing to blame whoever (Weekly, OCR, parents) are addressing them? Surely you don't believe what Mitchell and Baten Caswell are saying shouldn't be reported? How would you have reported it any differently?


Posted by Finally, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:04 am

I can only imagine what OCR thinks of Palo Alto at this point. How did we get to where a great school district in a liberal town like Palo Alto is taking on the government over civil rights regulation? Kevin Skelly should have been fired when he first screwed this up and then hid it from the public. I wouldn't take that kind of performance from a first year associate, much less a CEO-level hire. I don't know this law firm, but I do know holding your nose to keep the client happy and run up the bill when I see it.


Posted by Mcchrystal, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:30 am

@ context,
You're talking about the IRS like it has anything at all to do with this situation. I could equally bring up the story of the district Superintendent in Portola Valley who committed serious fraud that went undetected to say, Look at the context of district Superintendents and how easy it is for district people to commit malfeasance without proper oversight. It has nothing to do with anyone here. Your connection is even more tenuous. What has that got to do with this situation? I know enough about actual context from being a district parent to say much worse than anything above about some of the district people involved.

The fact is, the OCR could have lowered a much bigger boom on us but they didn't, at every step they tried to give the district the chance to do the right thing. Their job is to try to protect students by getting districts to do the right thing.

Just as the school board never knew about Skelly signing those agreements, there's much more they apparently don't know, and they are going to come down on the wrong side of history (with a lot of egg on their faces) if they continue with this ridiculous waste of everyone's resources.

I can see Barb Mitchell doing this, but Melissa Baten Caswell? Speaking of maintaining an atmosphere of respect, I had a lot of respect for her until I read that letter. Either she's happy drinking the Kool-aid or acting spineless in the face of legal advice that probably doesn't pass the gut test. Either way, it's wrong. She should remember how she felt when she learned Skelly had lied to them, and how much worse she will feel when she realizes the house of cards beliefs on which her signature was based.

You never rest on your laurels in a high-performing company, district, country. Getting angry at the government for really, actually, gently prodding you to remember that should not be the source of this expensive waste of our precious resources.


Posted by Finally, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:32 am

Mcchrystal, great comic relief! You're right: nothing makes low performers more nervous than a new boss.


Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

Dear Pathetic:

It's great that you've finally unmasked Barbara Mitchell.

"Barbara Mitchell's right-wing far out Tea Party libertarianism"

Wow, she had me fooled! And the Weekly--from their endorsement in 2005:

"Barb Mitchell, 53, is a parent of two graduates and two currently at Paly. For almost 15 years, she has repeatedly answered the leadership calls of Walter Hays, Jordan and Paly. She served as PTA president at all three schools, on the site councils at two, on multiple district advisory committees, as director of the high school science fundraising campaign and as a guiding force in the transition to a unified district fundraising effort….

Her campaign emphasizes strategic planning and a focus on improving educational opportunities for kids and not getting sidetracked on the concerns du jour that can distract both board and staff. She is a tireless worker, strategic thinker and problem-solver and will be immediately effective."

The thought of her spending all those years fooling us by pretending to work hard in the interest of the PAUSD! Shocking!

Terrible too that the Weekly was so misled! Now, at last, they, and you, have seen the light!

I'll bet the entire district is riddled with tea party libertarians! Let's go find them!


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm

"Why is PAUSD deciding to drive a red Ferrari 90 miles an hour and blowing their horn and shaking their fist at the motorcycle policeman just because the policeman has already given them a warning?"

Why is PAUSD driving a red Ferrari within the speed limits and abiding by the laws as shown by all the cases the motorcycle policeman has bought being thrown out of court? There is nothing inherently wrong with driving a red Ferrrari abiding by the laws.

[Portion removed.]


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2014 at 12:16 pm

The article says that the OCR has investigated seven cases over the past two years. How many have they investigated over the past 10 years at PAUSD?

If this is an anomaly, why such a jump? It would seem that something is not right within the district. When you hear about the details of Winston and the bullying cases, along with the board treatment of the little girl who wanted to speak at the public meeting a few months back, and it seems pretty obvious that the focus of the board and the district is not entirely on the welfare of the students but on test scores and college acceptances. Yes, those are great, but it seems like the district should be the ones protecting the students from those pressures, in addition to the bullies and the inappropriate administrators.


Posted by Shakespearean, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2014 at 1:02 pm

"Thou doth protest too much!"


Posted by Fact check, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 1:33 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Huh?, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 1, 2014 at 2:12 pm

@Retired Teacher,
I don't know details about Mitchell's current libertarian leanings. My memory is that at the advice of her supporters she wisely re-registered from Libertarian to "Decline to State" when she ran for school board.
I can tell you that I have lots of conservative friends who are warm, generous people who care deeply about the quality of our schools in Palo Alto and work to make sure that they provide top caliber educations. The two things are not mutually exclusive.
What I suspect the other poster is getting at is how, without a community discussion, the district philosophy has evolved toward a more libertarian approach under her leadership. The board principle of school "site autonomy" has had many well documented issues. What seems to be guiding the actions with OCR is a corresponding district mindset of "district autonomy", including autonomy from the conforming with civil rights laws that apply to every other district. This deserves a deeper and more thoughtful discussion. Perhaps the candidates this fall will share their views.
You may have missed it at the time she ran in 2005, but the candidates were asked about their views on the pseudo science (creationism re-invented) of 'Intelligent Design'. Dana Tom rightly took a lot of criticism for his response and subsequently wrote a letter revising his position. During the focus on Tom's remarks, Mitchell's were largely overlooked. In hindsight, the eight years of her service appear to have been reflective of the philosophy that she expressed at the time.
"Should intelligent design be taught in local schools? Why or why not?
Mitchell: As a school board trustee, I would look to the principals and classroom teachers at the various schools when it comes to instructional practices and content such as that. I think the board's primary role is to set direction for what we want to accomplish. There are state standards as well for content that we set teacher to cover. I think it's very important that we continue to allow principals and classroom teachers to decide how that content should be best delivered. One of the great things about this district has been the culture, the values, the creative, the imagination of our classroom teachers.
Tom: Our students should understand the theory of intelligent design. They should be aware of it because of the press it's gotten and the promotion it's received. It may be something that is appropriate to be taught in religious studies or perhaps in science class. The critical thing is that it's given proper context and appropriate emphasis. The students should understand the ideas and theories and evidence that support it, just as they should understand the ideas and theories and evidence that support evolution. The more informed our students are of any controversial issue the more critically they'll be able to think about the issue and reach a proper conclusion."
Web Link
In her calm, non threatening fashion, she managed to articulately espouse her position that decisions on whether to teach creationism as science curriculum should be left up to each site and even each teacher. Holy Scopes!


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 2:34 pm

"as shown by all the cases the motorcycle policeman has bought being thrown out of court?"

Someone seems really desperate to misrepresent what happened here. There weren't a bunch of court cases, in fact, if people file court cases, the OCR doesn't take the complaints, that's their policy.

Even if something is very wrong in a given case, they typically only take on a case if a district is falling down so badly they can see that the intervention is necessary for everyone's sake. For example, one of the resolution agreements stemming from a complaint that district personnel were not extending 504 protections under the law to students, nor really doing anything they were supposed to in relation to 504s.

The district then made efforts to bring itself into compliance; other cases are not taken because the district was then fixing past wrongs and was deemed to have a process for addressing complaints itself. The OCR doesn't take on cases when it thinks the district's processes are in place, regardless of the merits of the complaint. That's exactly the opposite of what Mitchell is claiming here.

This is absolutely a monumental step in the wrong direction now for the district to say, Oops! Now we think we were totally wrong to agree to follow the law and make these procedures (that we wrote ourselves) available to vulnerable students. We were wrong to start following the law, we're going to double down on the strategies that hurt these students in the first place. (Let's remember that Skelly signed those two resolution agreements with the same legal team to advise him.)

What this says about the mindset of these people makes them unfit to lead in a school district. It's more damaging than any alleged undue scrutiny by the OCR ever could be. It also says to me -- we gotto stop paying these guys so much. Or make their pay contingent on performance ratings from parents and students who are the real customers here and paying their salaries anyway, not the board...

To the above political speculation: I doubt very much that Mitchell is a libertarian. Libertarians would be a lot more supportive of the rights and power of the parents rather than bureaucrats (the board and admin people), it's a completely different mindset.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 2:43 pm

> In her calm, non threatening fashion, she managed to articulately
> espouse her position that decisions on whether to teach creationism
> as science curriculum should be left up to each site and even each
> teacher. Holy Scopes!

I'm not a fan of the "site council" form of school management. But from reading this posting, a disturbing thought has bubbled up from the recesses of my mind. This poster seems to be suggesting that public education is about driving an agenda home—and that people, like Barb Mitchell, represents a "spanner in the works" because she might not be prepared to bow down to those pushing that agenda into the minds of the children in her family, or the families of the district.

Back in 2005, the "heretics" promoting "Intelligent Design" were getting some press by challenging the scientific establishment when it comes to problems with "Darwinism". Today, 2014, we've left ID behind, and moved on to Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). It will be interesting to see what the "agenda based" education crowd will devise in terms of litmus test questions for the next group of candidates for the school board? Presumably those who believe in "one-size-fits-all" education will be pounding anyone who does not toe the government line about human-induced climate change during the next election cycle.

It would be very interesting if somehow the Site Council system could be analyzed for its intelligent use of resources, quality of education at each school, the level of variance between school where school district policies are involved, and so on. While marching in straight lines might be desirable for some, this is not how America came to be a place where people want to move to, and live their lives as they see fit.


Posted by where is this leadin?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Disgusted, There were a bunch of OCR cases and, apart from he first, they were all thrown at. Hardly indicative of a district in trouble. But no one knows why the title IX OCR investigation started at Paly. Perhaps OCR is just too focused on that shiny red Ferrari instead of looking at the districts in trouble. Or did someone request the OCR title IX investigation at Paly? [Portion removed.]


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm

@ where is this leadin,

The misinformation in your post has been countered before, why do you continue to say it?

First of all, there aren't a bunch of OCR "lawsuits". There have been complaints. When people are at their wits end, they may file a complaint with the OCR as a last resort.

From the OCR's FAQs, which I found using Google:
"if you proceed with your claim in a court, OCR will not continue to pursue your OCR complaint."

"What if I am already pursuing my complaint within the school district or college or with another agency?
"OCR does not handle cases that are being addressed by another agency or within a school's or college's formal grievance procedure if OCR anticipates that the agency you filed with will provide you with a resolution process comparable to OCR's. "

You got that? If you have a legitimate complaint, but your district is trying to apply the procedures they have under the law, then OCR does not take the complaint. Our district WASN'T following procedures and clearly didn't have appropriate process in place (admitted as much in one of the settlements), but there was a question of whether they remedied that and apparently they did. People complained from experience (that likely extended back to when procedures weren't followed) and were told it wasn't an OCR case, it was for the district. They do not make those kinds of determinations about the merits of the case up front like that, only whether it is an OCR jurisdiction, you are misusing the information in a way that is far more hurtful of families in this district than anything Barb Mitchell could even imagine happened to her resulting in that letter.

[Portion removed.]

That some of the complaints to OCR later were not investigated or pursued by OCR is not even the same as saying the kids did not have cause to complain. But the fact that you think a bunch of "OCR lawsuits" were "thrown out" shows quite an uninformed bias. What's at stake for the families and kids who need those protections is nothing less than their kids' education and future. Please get a little better informed.


Posted by Confused, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 1, 2014 at 5:18 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Dolly Parton, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Get over it. Love of big government and the nanny state is perfect for Palo Alto liberal values.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm

Assuming that the facts listed in this article are correct -
Is there anyway to know if the new Superintendent was in the know? Is there anyway to know if the new Superintendent agreed?


Posted by Huh?, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 1, 2014 at 5:55 pm

This "Resolution" agenda item may provoke an interesting discussion on Tues. How will Heidi Emberling respond? She is active in liberal Democratic circles, as is Camille Townsend. Will she support a wholesale challenge to the authority of the OCR?
Also, I'll be interested in how in what position the school board candidates will take. They should not remain silent on the issue since they'll own the impacts of it (along with McGee) when they take office. If all three of the candidates were to speak up and oppose the resolution, along with Emberling and/or Townsend, would the board be hesitant to proceed?
Others have spoken about the oddity of a lame duck superintendent and board chair pushing through a confrontational and counter productive action against the federal OCR on their way out the door and leaving others to bear the consequences of them being so obstinate. What is the point other than a prideful and futile effort to salvage their tarnished reputations.
Maybe they'll reflect on that old saw about whether more digging is the solution when you find yourself in a deep hole. Nah.


Posted by where is this leading? , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Disgusted, you're repeating arguments have already been destroyed.

The parents may have been at "their wits end" when filing an OCR, but the OCR found that that had nothing to do with the district. How can you not understand that no means no? The district has not been found at fault. Got it?

As to your OCR FAQs that only applies if you're asking the OCR to investigate. In the Paly case this did not happen. No-one asked the OCR to investigate. Got it? Apparently, when there is no plaintiff OCR can choose to investigate in any case. The question then becomes, why investigate Paly Title IX and not Saratago? Got it?

I'm not the only one asking this: Web Link "Recent cases in Saratoga and Steubenville, Ohio, where student victims of sexual assaults were teased and harassed by their peers (the Saratoga victim later died by suicide), have increased concerns over how school officials address on-campus behavior stemming from off-campus activity."

So why wasn't Saratoga and Steubenville, amongst others, chosen? Why Paly? Who is the Plaintiff in the Paly case?

You got that now?


Posted by Not the nadir, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Jun 1, 2014 at 6:46 pm

We are being compared to Saratoga and Stuebenville? Our mighty brand has fallen.


Posted by Pathetic , a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Hey leading. Hate to break it to you but there was an OCR investigation in Steubenville and how is it that you know that there want one in Saratoga? Do you know every single case OCR investigates. There was an east bay compliance review of another school for sexual harassment in Richmond triggered by a rape incident. That was also triggered by media attention. Why do you assume you have been singled out unfairly? You're just getting the same treatment other bad actors get and you don't like sitting on the Group W bench. [Portion removed.]


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:39 pm

I hate to break it to you, Pathetic, but take a second to Google the high-school rape statistics.

Now, you've done that and with that level of problem and since no one has filed an OCR complaint at Paly, why is Paly being targeted for a Title IX violation? You still don't get it; no one filed an OCR TItle IX complaint at Paly and yet Paly is under investigation. Seriously; think about that.

Why are all those on this forum, willing to burn the district, unable to answer who requested OCR to launch a Title IX investigation at Paly? Everyone keeps ducking the question or pretending it doesn't exist. They are even offended that it is being asked, which is slightly surreal.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:46 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:51 pm

OCR took a look at what they knew, including the nasty letter from Skelly and Paul's media blitz about rape culture, and decided to look into it. The refusal to accept that reality is part of the paranoia at the district that I referenced earlier.


Posted by PATHETIC, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:52 pm

[Portion removed.]

No one has to file a complaint for there to be a compliance review. The federal government gives the district millions of dollars. It can investigate any time it wants for any reason it wants. It doesn't have to have a complaint. It can hear about rape culture on the radio on the way to work when Paul Kandell took to the airwaves to discuss it and say, hey isn't that PAUSD that just sent me the whiny letter accusing my office of persecuting it? [Portion removed.]

Here's the Richmond California compliance review result.
Web Link

Note that Richmond is not kicking OCR around adn whining about how unfair it is that they are being targeted. Note that they are not screaming from the rooftops "Hey why don't you go investigate Palo Alto, I just heard their journalism teachers on the radio talking about rape culture. Are you picking on Richmond because we are black and leaving Palo Alto alone because they are white? I bet you are! You're racist, OCR. Go investigate someone else." Notice Richmond just agreed. Now they are quiet.

[Portion removed.]


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Wow, are you saying we have the same issues as the West Contra County does? Sexual assaults that occur on the campus? Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised, but, if so, WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?


Posted by Truth , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:17 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:20 pm

"never been so disgusted,"

Let me draw the parallels to my IRS example for you (and while I'm at it I'll summarize what's in this week's board packet).

The district is calling for the school board to approve a resolution to allow it to move forward with the district's appeal

- to address substantial OCR factual errors in the 2011 case, and

- to call attention to significant concerns regarding the OCR's investigative practices,

concerns shared by the National School Boards Association too.

Our district has provided the public with the details (that it shared with the OCR too) saying that it "is very concerned …that the OCR is not operating fairly with the District or with appropriate attention to OCR's limited role as a neutral fact-finder and provider of technical assistance." If this sounds familiar, see my post about the IRS abuse case above.

According to the district, this has placed excessive burdens on staff and caused significant damage to the district, in resources (including 100s of hours of staff time responding to OCR document requests) and reputation. This damage has been magnified by the media because reporters only have access to the limited record that the OCR included in its findings.

The IRS is entrusted to do the same thing the OCR does with taxes instead of civil rights.

Both goofed up in the same ways as follows:


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm

1. IRS used inappropriate criteria to evaluate cases

PAUSD/OCR: Here PAUSD points out that the OCR had wrong and incomplete facts in the 2011 case: it falsely concluded that disciplinary action had not been taken, omitted contradictory witness accounts, gave an incomplete portrayal of staff actions, and inaccurately quoted district employees.

The OCR relied on false information when a family gave it an email, ostensibly written by the district, which the OCR showed one of our principals but did not allow him/her to have a copy of it. That email did not match the email stored in the district's server. [Portion removed due to potentially defamatory statement.]

The district submitted a FOIA request to get a copy of that email. The OCR refused to share this email with the district and ignored the district's appeal of that denial [portion removed]; allowing the district to review it would help ensure that facts the OCR relied on were correct.

Ditto: OCR refused to share information gathered from interview(s) and substantial information that the family provided it.

In the information that the OCR did share, the district advised it that there were numerous misstatements of fact and omissions: such as its claim that the district did not act when in fact it suspended a student, omitting that the family repeatedly refused the district's offers to assess the student to determine appropriate accommodation, and not mentioning that the family also refused to attend meetings intended to promptly address their concerns.

The OCR was not interested in gathering information from the parents of the alleged bully that might add to its understanding of the situation and banned school board members from sitting in on resolution discussions that proposed policies the board should adopt, policies that by law are within the board's sole purview.

To top it off, the OCR ignored its normal procedures and training manual by (i) quoting its attorney's statements for the record without providing a transcript to verify the accuracy or completeness of those statements, and (ii) not discussing its findings in detail with the district prior to making them public.


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:27 pm

2. IRS burdened groups with unnecessary information requests, some which ran rough shod over privacy rights.

PAUSD/OCR: Here PAUSD points out that the OCR failed to follow the law and its own investigation guidelines.

At the OCR's request and by its deadline, PAUSD produced 1,500 pages of information that the OCR admitted it did not take a "first look" at prior to entering into resolution discussions.

Before reading the district's detailed response to determine if the complaint should move forward, the OCR proceeded with a request to extend its investigation by pulling 5th graders out of class for interviews. The OCR interviewed groups of 7th grade students during school, refusing to allow their parents or district representatives to review the questions that would be asked for appropriateness, to sit in on the sessions, or get a transcript after the fact. It then called on the district to pull 60 student "leaders" out of class for group interviews, students who had NO involvement in the case it was investigating. [Portion removed.]

BTW both – talking to non-witnesses and interviewing in group settings – appear to violate the rules set out in the OCR's training manual (OCR must "interview witnesses under circumstances that assure privacy").


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:30 pm

3. IRS substantially delayed processing cases

PAUSD/OCR: PAUSD cites delays and lapses filled with no responses and silence.

More than a year ago, the district put the OCR on notice about investigation errors and procedural inconsistencies. Twice the OCR assured the district that that it was willing to review these concerns yet, to date, the only "review" the OCR has done is to deny the district access to investigation records that would, at the very least, allow the district to conduct its own review.

The OCR is to complete investigations in 3 months; the 2011 case took the OCR 15 months to resolve.

Another long and still on-going delay is the district's appeal of the OCR's denial of its FOIA request mentioned above. The OCR's decision was due last September. It is now June, 8-1/2 months after that deadline. The district is still waiting despite having reminded the OCR on 6 different occasions that the deadline had passed and it would like its determination.


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:34 pm

4. IRS lacked knowledge of the laws governing them.

PAUSD/OCR: In this week's board packet, PAUSD cites chapter and verse where the OCR failed to follow its own rules and guidelines.

For example, in something that PAUSD parents might find particularly concerning, the OCR told the district to arrange a time for it to take 60 minor-aged students out of class to be interviewed about sexual abuse and sexual harassment. The request was addressed to student "leaders" without regard to whether they had any knowledge of the people or cases the OCR was investigating. As mentioned above, nothing – including in the OCR's own case processing manual –gives the OCR the authority to do this.

To show good faith, the district agreed to help the OCR organize these interviews provided that the OCR advised parents what would be discussed in those interviews and get in writing informed parent consent, as contemplated by the OCR's own training manual. Instead the OCR, against its own guidelines, presumed that parents would be OK with it. It did NOT provide any information about the types of questions it would be asking and did NOT ask for written consent.

Others elsewhere on Town Square have pointed out that constitutional law experts on both coasts – from D.C./Georgetown's hallowed halls to those at Stanford – criticized the OCR for PRESENTING AS LAW rules that are NOT found in either federal civil rights statutes or OCR regulations. For example:

- OCR's requirement that school districts monitor off-campus sexual harassment and

- OCR's very low bar/standard of review when there is a harassment claim (insisting that schools use the standard that Congress debated and rejected when writing the federal statute).

These experts' conclusion: the OCR's guidance letter strips accused students of basic due process protections and institutionalizes a presumption of guilt.


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm

5. Other – Operating in Bad Faith

AFTER the OCR and PAUSD entered into good faith voluntary agreement regarding the 2011 case, the OCR issued "an unexpected report concluding that the district had violated anti-discrimination laws..a startling contradiction of extensive and well-documented staff actions in which civil rights laws were followed."

--

If what the district says is true and this falls out like the IRS case above did, we will soon learn of other districts where the OCR has acted similarly. To restore the public's trust, other federal agencies will step in to fix this. Current OCR employees will be replaced with those better trained on how to apply the US Civil Rights laws with integrity and fairness.


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Pathetic, then you walk smack bang into why Paly is being investigated for compliance whereas districts with far greater problems (Saratoga) are not.

You see, you can't win.

You have been unable to identify who asked OCR to investigate Paly. Instead, you then claim that they didn't need anyone to ask - but are still unable to answer why they are investigating Paly when there are districts with far greater problems.

So, either someone requested they investigate - and you've been unable or unwilling to identify the individual and I wonder why. Or OCR has some serious problems in choosing which districts to investigate, in which case the district is perfectly within their rights. That is, after all, what this thread is about. You're just questioning the wrong target.


Posted by Truth is even better, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Context is helpful is reiterating, in virtually identical terms, a number of false and misleading statements in the resolution prepared by Mitchell and Caswell.

For example, OCR found that PAUSD violated the civil rights of a disabled student by failing to protect her from bullying from many students, not a single student. The suspension of one student under circumstances that aren't even detailed doesn't show factual error. The alleged "tampering" is admittedly based not on actual evidence, but on the statement of a district employee about what she remembers about an email. (It's surprising that this poster is willing to go as far as she is to accuse the complaining family of falsifying evidence. She should remember that posting anonymously does not shield her from libel laws).

It's worth remembering that Mitchell and Caswell were among the board members who failed to respond to requests for help from this family, and failed to direct them to the appropriate Uniform Complaint Procedure. It's quite remarkable to see them now attempting to smear this family through intimations like this.

The statement that OCR did not discuss the district's findings in detail with the district's attorney is based on the lack of detailed notes by the district's attorney, not on any actual documentation.

OCR's desire to interview high school students about their experience about adult responses to sexual harassment on campus (there is no evidence that they were asking that they be "pulled out of class") is entirely appropriate, given the evidence that the leadership at both high schools and at the district has not taken its responsibilities in this area seriously -- quite apart from the fact that the principal at Paly had to be removed for sexual harassment himself.

OCR issued a finding that the district had violated the law in the 2011 case because PAUSD failed to reach a resolution agreement until after the investigation was concluded. There was no "bad faith" involved, just a poor decision by district staff not to resolve the complaint earlier. In fact, the child did not receive an appropriate placement until after the case was revealed in the media.

The rest of "context's" claims are similarly tendentious.

What is actually going on here is a PR offensive by the district, probably in advance of adverse findings in the Paly and Gunn cases. Had the district decided simply to comply with the law and cooperate with the federal government in doing so, as the vast majority of districts do nationwide, none of this would be happening. Instead, the taxpayers of the school district are forced to pay enormous legal bills to argue against civil rights enforcement -- by a school board that has refused to this point to have any discussions of this topic in public. And the fulminating in these posts against the IRS, the Department of Education, and the fringe constitutional theories that echo those already advanced by Barb Mitchell show the ideological stance where this is coming from. It also shows why Mitchell and Caswell have opted not to share these discussions with the public to this point. It's unlikely that there will be much public support for this extreme position.


Posted by rep, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:51 pm

"Had the district decided simply to comply with the law and cooperate with the federal government in doing so, as the vast majority of districts do nationwide, none of this would be happening. Instead, the taxpayers of the school district are forced to pay enormous legal bills to argue against civil rights enforcement"

Truth, when your side is losing 6-1 claiming the winning side should just "give up" is disingenuous. My soccer side would be offering the mercy rule at this point.

"Never in the history of the OCR, have so many cases been taken on with so little chance of success"


Posted by Truth is even better, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 1, 2014 at 10:59 pm

I don't think any "side" is winning when our school district is found in violation of civil rights law, and responds by attacking the federal civil rights enforcement agency rather than making it right. That doesn't serve the interests of students in the district. It only serves the desire of public agency employees and school board members to avoid embarrassment. I do think that this characterization accurately captures how some people in and close to the district have handled this entire episode. I can only hope that the new superintendent brings a different, more mature, and more responsible attitude to his job.

The fact that the poster above, who is doing her best to faithfully represent the district's position, has to have her post edited to remove potentially defamatory statements about a district family speaks volumes.

As one poster above mentioned, I am not surprised to see Barb Mitchell involved in this mess. I am surprised to see Melissa Caswell, and I hope that at some point she realizes that she has taken the wrong road, and takes steps to move the district in a more positive direction that is more consistent with the values of the community that elected her.


Posted by District insider, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Well said. There are many hoping for better leadership.


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:56 pm

To truth is even better,

Lots of he said/she said in your posts so no need to go back and forth with you on those other than to say that if the PROCESS is biased, broken and/or unreliable no one can sort fact from fiction. Process and facts are what the district is trying to fix so everyone can move forward. How can anything be wrong with that?

This might help readers put in context your dismissal of experts' claims - that the OCR's overreaching poses serious constitutional concerns for the accused - as "fringe constitutional theories":

Stanford's Berkowitz, who holds a JD and a PhD in political science from Yale University, reads the OCR letter as obligating schools "to curtail due process rights of the accused" and "institutionalizing a presumption of guilt." "College Rape Accusations and the Presumption of Male Guilt" (Wall Street Journal August 20, 2011). Web Link

Georgetown constitutional law professor Jon Turley, a graduate of Northwestern Law School, observed that the OCR letter forces schools to either (i) strip students and faculty of basic due process protections, or (ii) be declared discriminatory. "Accused Students Deserve Protection (USA Today December 5, 2012) Web Link

American Association of University Professors is also concerned about how OCR's Russlynn Ali's letter violates due process (reported in TIME magazine).

(from old Town Square posts)

These experts sure sound mainstream, not fringe, to me. (Please do not reply that the only opinions anyone can trust are those espoused by Democrats.)


Posted by Truth is even better, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 2, 2014 at 12:09 am

Context is helpful, the situation is not inherently murky, and making false and misleading statements does not take a clear situation and turn it into a "he said she said". Readers should see my last post, and note the points that "Context" is now not defending, along with her prudent decision not to repeat potentially defamatory comments about a district family that were excised by the editor.

It is certainly true that you can find libertarian critics of OCR and of civil rights law, and government in general. Peter Berkowitz, of the Hoover Institution and formerly of George Mason Law School, is one of them, as is Jon Turley. I think they represent a fringe point of view, not mainstream. Let's see if Barb Mitchell chooses to cite them on Tuesday evening, when she has to stand behind her words in public.

If Mitchell and Caswell were in fact convinced that OCR is acting outside the law, they would presumably be seeking in the resolution authorization to sue the agency. They are not. They are seeking authorization to seek out like-minded others in Congress and the (presumably right-wing) policy advocacy community, so that PAUSD can lend its name to their cause. Is that really what the voters in this district want their school board to be doing on their behalf? Do the taxpayers of the district really want to fund legal work supporting the views of Wall Street Journal editorial writers, rather than education for their children?


Posted by I have never been so disgusted with this board, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 1:07 am

The district people are on shaky ground if they want to pursue a charge that someone else didn't hear their side and had faulty investigative practices.

Shall we let the parents have a legal and administrative team to help them establish same against the district?

This isn't an ideological discussion about government versus whatever. School districts seem accountable to no one; parents found recourse where they could get it.

I do not understand the need to wildly exaggerate and even lie about what happened. There was no spate of "lawsuits", no bunch of cases "thrown out". A few of the cases has "insufficient evidence" to pursue. Let's remember that our district willingly and with expensive legal advice paid for by us, signed two resolution agreements, one because our district failed to provide parents of disabled children the most basic information and process required under the law, even pretended they didn't have procedures when asked. (Please note that they are capable of not pursuing cases when here is insufficient evidence; not only was there evidence in those cases, but the district agree of their own accord and publicly said they were remedying things.)

This isn't an episode of Dallas where they get to rewrite everything and say it was all just a bad dream.

Just as Caswell and company never knew about Skelly signing those resolution agreements, there's clearly much more they apparently don't know (or are lying about - but I find it hard to believe if they did know, they would think they could get away with this). This is going to blow up in their faces. I really thought Caswell and Townsend were smarter than this.


Posted by where is this leading?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 2, 2014 at 7:35 am

Disgusted, no, the OCR found the district had no OCR violations in these cases.

Disgusted, is trying to mislead you. Apparently these cases weren't "thrown out", they just were found in the districts favor!

/facepalm


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:22 am

Truth,

Let's be clear on Stanford's Paul Berkowitz's - whom you call "fringe" and a "libertarian critic of OCR and of civil rights law and government in general" - credentials:

- Undergrad: Swarthmore College, English
- Masters degree: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Philosophy
- Law degree: Yale
- PhD: Yale, Political Science
- Where he's taught: Harvard University, Political Theory and law at George Mason University.
- Expertise: Classical and contemporary liberalism and American constitutionalism
- Political affiliation: not formally aligned with a particular party

What Berkowitz has done, which may be what you find objectionable, is shed light on a situation which due to OCR's "guidance letter" causes educational institutions to violate the constitutional rights of students in sexual assault cases - both the victim and the accused - reminding readers that due process under the US Constitution requires:

- a presumption of innocence,
- settled rules and laws,
- timely notice of charges,
- adequate opportunity to prepare a defense,
- the chance for the accused to question the accuser, and
- an impartial judge and jury.

Noting that assault has become a politically charged issue on college campuses now that that OCR letter requires colleges - in place of or parallel to the police - to be the investigator, judge and jury, Berkowitz implores untrained college administrators to be mindful of the constitution.

He uses a recent case at Swarthmore as an example. 19 months after three alleged consensual encounters, a Swarthmore student reported that she had been coerced sexually. She "offered no physical or medical evidence, and no police or campus safety reports." After an investigation, Swarthmore cleared the accused.

But then, in response to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education by two Swarthmore female undergraduates claiming that the school mishandled sexual misconduct cases, Swarthmore suddenly re-opened the case and expelled the student saying, again without physical or medical evidence or police/campus reports, that he "more likely than not" committed sexual misconduct.

This standard of review is one required in the OCR letter but is not found in the Civil Rights Act or its regulations. It is akin to a flip of the coin (51% likely). Because of that, this standard was flatly rejected by Congress when debating the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act. Legislative drafts called for that standard (for example, S. Bill 128, 2(a)(5)) but the version the President signed into law did not include it. Senators on the Judiciary Committee, experts on standards of review, removed OCR's standard from the bill because of the harsh feedback they received. (lifted from another Town Square discussion: Web Link)

The cost of the expulsion to the accused? The honors student who chose Swarthmore over other elite schools because his parents met and married there and was expelled on the basis of "he said/she said" evidence discovered that Swarthmore's verdict rendered him ineligible for transfer to some 300 colleges.

According to Berkowitz, this case "presents one of the nation's finest small liberal arts colleges acting in haste and panic, railroading a young man in order to convince the public and the federal government that it had…'zero tolerance for sexual assault, abuse and violence on our campus.'"

Berkowitz points to other cases where students were perfunctorily expelled who spent years to get their reputations restored by courts which operate under strict rules of evidence and standards of review.

"[O]ur colleges and universities have aggressively eroded due process protections for those accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Over and over, colleges and universities ...appear to operate on the assumption that an accusation creates a presumption of guilt and the burden is on the accused to prove his innocence.

"[U]niversity officials must be educated ...to properly gather and analyze evidence, establish guilt, and ensure fairness for the accuser and the accused. And they should be taught to promptly advise all students who believe they have been sexually assaulted to report their allegations to the police.

"And as an indispensable element of their obligation to teach the principles of freedom, colleges and universities must be persuaded to restore to disciplinary procedures that they rightly conduct the presumption of innocence—a cornerstone of justice—and all the ancillary protections that follow from it."


Web Link


"Libertarian"? "Fringe"? Hardly.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:33 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Regardless of the context or the perceived injustice of the OCR investigations it is strategically and politically unwise of the PAUSD to get into a fight with OCR.

The NEW superintendent should sit down and negotiate with the OCR.

And then, if the situation remains unresolved, the school board should simply provide the facts to their elected Federal officials so that those officials can consider if any political pressure is justified.


Posted by Richthofen, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:33 am

The extreme reaction of PAUSD to the charges reeks of guilt. It has been said by criminologists that the guilty always scream and holler the loudest.


Posted by pathetic, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:36 am

Peter Berokowitz is not Stanford faculty as the poster above describes in her fulmination. Berkowitz is a Hoover Institution fellow, Hoover being a right-wing conservative libertarian fringe think tank located on Stanford campus.

He was denied tenure at Harvard, sued, and lost. He concluded from that that the academy was biased against conservatives rather than the more likely scenario which is that his file wasn't very good. He had previously taught at George Mason law school which is a poor-man's University of Chicago, and well-known right-wing ideological mosh pit. He then decamped for Hoover, where he does not have a tenured appointment, and from there he frequently fulminates in op-eds and essays on various right-wing hobbyhorses.

He has the absolute right to opine on whatever he wants. But is is not a law professor, not a political science professor, not a Stanford professor. [Portion removed.]

I am not sure if he is libertarian or merely right-wing. Looking over his various causes, I would say he is a pro-Israel, security-state neo-con with a standard issue Republican agenda against Obama and civil rights.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:58 am

Peter, I have a strong feeling that our Federal and state elected officials have taken a look at this and decided to take a pass. Jerry Hill, Rich Gordon, what about you? Joe Simitian, you're an old friend of Barb, care to join the fight against President Obama's civil rights agency?
Nope, I think Heidi and Camille are going to be alone on this one if they go along.


Posted by Oh, Weh , a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:01 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Peter, I have a strong feeling that our Federal and state elected officials have taken a look at this and decided to take a pass."

If that is correct then the school board should be smart enough to realize that they are not going to win this battle but instead will simply draw more scrutiny iF they persist in driving a red Ferrari 90 miles an hour and blowing their horn and shaking their fist at the motorcycle policeman just because the policeman has already given them a warning?


Posted by Jordan mom, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:14 am

I notice that "Context" who first posted a large slab of charges repeating the Mitchell/Caswell "resolution" has now abandoned all of that, and has now moved on for some reason to criticizing how OCR and Swarthmore try to make college campuses safe for young women. Is that the real agenda here? Otherwise it seems irrelevant.

Mitchell is going to be out of office in 5 months, she should wait until then to pursue her political agenda on her own time and her own dime.


Posted by Context is helpful, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:25 am

pathetic,

I never said Peter Berkowitz is faculty at Stanford. He is listed as Stanford "University - Academic staff" ergo why I said he's at Stanford.

Attacking Berkowitz personally rather than his points reads as an admission that, on the merits, Berkowitz's views on the constitution are unassailable.

[Portion removed.]

You better hope the Berkowitz didn't write an article on 1st amendment slander/libel/defamation laws since you've said lots of mean, harmful [portion removed] things about him in your post. While you wait to see what actions Berkowitz will take in response to your post, I don't suspect you'll be posting your credentials so that readers can assess how biased and informed your views are.


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:35 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by pathetic, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:10 am

This current board and Super and senior staff are unfixably broken. The district has been egregiously damaged by Kevin Skelly's lousy management, this board's lack of oversight, and now, by their pointless potshots at the federal government's oversight authority. This has become an Onion article. What is probably needed here is national press attention rather than merely Weekly reportage. As good as it has been, I think that the coverage is too local and what is needed is a national spotlight that will allow people outside the bubble to judge this lunacy as it really is.
[Portion removed.]


Posted by Citizen, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:12 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by pathetic, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 2, 2014 at 10:19 am

Maybe Terri Lobdell should write a book about Palo Alto schools and civil rights enforcement, or at least a national magazine article for Salon or Atlantic. Rich, highly educated liberal Democratic community with schools somehow taken over by right-wing fringe movement that sounds more like the Solid South than northern California. How did that happen? What are the consequences for students? [Portion removed.]

And PS [portion removed], the head of OCR is an African American woman who went to Paly. She doesn't need a reason to think there might be something rotten in Denmark. She already knows what it's like here.


Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

@where is this leading
You wrote: "Disgusted, no, the OCR found the district had no OCR violations in these cases. Disgusted, is trying to mislead you. Apparently these cases weren't "thrown out", they just were found in the districts favor! "

No, you are completely wrong on this. You are so lost in your bias, you're still almost completely in the dark about what the OCR even does.

Doing a search on "OCR" on the Weekly site leads to this story about the recent cases: Web Link

"Office for Civil Rights investigators said they found "insufficient evidence""

and
""While the student did not agree with the district's conclusion, the evidence did not establish that the district FAILED TO PROVIDE A PROMPT AND EQUITABLE PROCESS for addressing the allegations of discrimination," the federal agency stated in a letter received by the school district April 28. ... In the earlier cases that were closed after findings of insufficient evidence..." [emphases mine]

That means the complainants had INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE that the district failed to provide them with due PROCESS.

You're still completely in the dark about what the OCR does. They do not adjudicate these individual cases, they try to figure out if districts are making "prompt and equitable processes for addressing the allegations of discrimination" available to people who need them. They assume districts make the determinations. OCR makes sure districts have the processes available to do this and are following them.

Let's recall that the two settlement agreements that were signed by our Superintendent found major violations in just our district's processes. It's what someone above pointed out, this belief that we're so great, we don't even have to follow our make available processes that we wrote ourselves to follow the law.

And frankly, I'm not surprised that there was "insufficient evidence" in the later complaints - the district was trying to make up for being completely in the wrong (despite many parents of special needs kids trying to tell them) from the first two cases. So they were making efforts - mandated to make efforts - The OCR would not have taken a later case if it thought the district now had the processes in place from properly implementing the settlement agreements from the first two cases.

Additionally, frankly, some of the people in the district office have a pretty low ethical threshold when it comes to making and handling the records. Sorry, but witnessed it. And they have a total CYA lawfirm and a communications person working full time on all this.

You know, they love to complain about the burden of these things, but something comes to mind from advice my mother gave me in my youth. In teaching about honesty, she said, when people tell lies, they have so much stuff they have to remember and life gets really complicated, really fast. It's so much easier to just tell the truth, be transparent, and deal with people honestly and fairly. Our district could really benefit from that advice!


Posted by resident3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:13 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

pathetic

"Maybe Terri Lobdell should write a book about Palo Alto schools and civil rights enforcement, or at least a national magazine article for Salon or Atlantic. "

Anything that doesn't rely on anonymous analysis would be good.


Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

@ where is this leading,

But you do bring up one really frightening prospect, and that is that our DISTRICT doesn't know the difference any better than you do, and thinks that OCR not taking the cases means they have license to treat the complainants unfairly and deny the students their rights even as they put everyone through a puppet process.

I hope that's not the case, as it's illegal and will eventually lead to more OCR scrutiny...

Geez, you would think in this district that was just the recipient of a $20 million gift, they would realize that parents talk to each other, and today's 30 cents saved (I'd don't even know what they save, it seems like they spend more money on legal fees than if they just did the right thing) is a million dollar bequest they'll never even know about by some parent who sends their kids to private school because of how their kids' friends were treated, or gives to RWC and EPA instead because of how these admin people behave. I wouldn't give them the money, though I held my tongue when talking to those who did...


Posted by George Orwell, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm

George Orwell is a registered user.

Bravo! Restrict the thread, silence the discussion!

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations." G. Orwell

Looking back I would have articulated a bit more adding timing:
Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed, when someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.


Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

I wrote""
"[OCR} do not adjudicate these individual cases, they try to figure out if districts are making "prompt and equitable processes for addressing the allegations of discrimination" available to people who need them. They assume districts make the determinations. OCR makes sure districts have the processes available to do this and are following them."

I'd like to further point out that it's not a victory for the district if the OCR is finding that although the district seems to finally be making the process available - which is a good thing - that so many families are so unhappy that they felt they needed to turn to the OCR. That's a sign that something is deeply wrong here, that we do not have administrators who know how to work with families. That is reflected in what I hear through the grapevine from families.


Posted by resident3, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2014 at 10:43 am

resident3 is a registered user.

Anonymous22,

"the OCR is finding that although the district seems to finally be making the process available - which is a good thing - that so many families are so unhappy that they felt they needed to turn to the OCR. That's a sign that something is deeply wrong here, that we do not have administrators who know how to work with families. That is reflected in what I hear through the grapevine from families."

It depends which grapevine you're on. We have very large schools and generalizations are impossible. The Paly rape culture articles are a good example of a national issue which is something that needs to be addressed, but I doubt 20 out of 2000 Paly kids would be able to speak to those stories directly, other than rumors they may have heard. The rape culture articles were a good conversation to have, and everybody learned about the issues, but it may as well have been a science fiction story for many students. That the actual rape culture cannot be extended to "reflect" all families should not minimize the problem, but how it's handled should be done as cooperatively as possible between the OCR and the district. You get more out of it, as it sets an example to the students and the national culture you are trying to impact.

Context is helpful,

I like your focus on process. It matters greatly that it's done right on both sides. I agree with the push back the district did on interviewing students; however, the district says it encourages and has many other ways that students can report about peer to peer harassment; I'm not sure about that. It is more common that the overworked and overloaded administrators don't want to hear about any complaints. Having zero complaints means nothing if there is no real process to lodge any complaints, and even worst if this data is not reported to the public on a regular basis or handled in an equitable or uniform manner. If we heard every year that everything is perfect, that would need to be looked at.


Posted by frustrated mom, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm

frustrated mom is a registered user.

I would not mind if they challenge OCR using their own money, and not our student's education funds. Int he first place, why are they mad about OCR coming to do their investigations? they are the ones who made them come to our town. In the first OCR complain..they never do nothing to stop the bullying of the disabled child, and they also underestimated the education of the parents in this case. They are now complaining that OCR is unfair and that they do not answer e-mails, but that is exactly what they have done in the cases that parents have file complains. The only reason these parents have turned turn to OCR for help is because PAUSD administrators were not being fair, and did not reply to the pleas for help when the students needed it immediate protection. Now why complain? PAUSD, board members and administrators put themselves into this big mess, and by trying to get out of it by fighting OCR is not a smart idea. They are digging their own grave. If they are not violating students' rights they should not be afraid of OCR doing investigation. But in fact they want to keep them out of PAUSD because there a re a lot of bad things going on behind close doors, and they are afraid that more things will come out to light. They are not challenging the OCR cased that they have been found wrong doing. Only because those parents do not want to make them public, as it is the case for sure of couple of cases. They only make it public when there have not been enough evidence to sustain the claim, and yes it does not mean it did not happen, only means that the parents did not have enough documentation in writing because most dealing was done verbally.

To all administrators: Please use your own money from your paychecks to challenge OCR, perhaps Katherine Baker, former principal at Terman should start paying the lawyers, at least now she makes more money with her new position so that way she can afford the legal fees. Perhaps parents who brought complains to OCR should go directly against those administrators who violated the student's right, and not suit PAUSD, but the people who failed the students. Only then they will learn from their mistakes.
I find that PAUSD is making a big mistake in bringing the lawyer at tonight's meeting so he can say yes and reply in PAUSD favor. Of course he is going to make PAUSD happy, he is getting paid. Bring a neutral lawyer and asked them some of the questions, and then I will believe you. Please use other tactics to try to convince community members that your are the victims of OCR. Do not use our parcel tax on this no nonsense fight. I you want to challenge them do it, but do not touch our students funds. Enough is enough, assume responsibility and stop blaming others for the burdens that you brought on yourselves.


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