Feds: School district violated student's civil rights Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Feb 8, 2013 at 8:42 am
The Palo Alto Unified School district's mishandling of a middle-school student's long struggle against bullying violated federal anti-discrimination laws and requires remedial actions, a government investigation has concluded. Related material:
[Web Link Editorial: Bullying case reveals systemic problems in school district]
Posted by Another Parent, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 9:02 am
The bullying problem in our schools is not just affecting students with disabilities. As you can see from the above, the schools have implemented all kinds of efforts to improve student behavior, but it leaves out the most important thing. Bullies. A bully will not change his or her behavior because of a training session, a movie, or his target getting some social skills. Bullies have to be taken out of the student population and taught to behave in a different way. Until the bully has become something other than a bully, he or she should not be let loose again. This is difficult and the district continues to ignore it. Often this is because bullies are in some cases raised by bullies and the district doesn't want to face adult bullies any more than students want to face their offspring. We have bullies in our schools.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 9:09 am
I have a lot of sympathy for all involved in this situation.
As a young child, I remember a child with a disability starting in our class. We as a class knew nothing about this child who just started one day, mid year. As I remember it we were a friendly bunch and tried to get to know our new classmate, but as this child had all sorts of problems we had never experienced before I can honestly (and sadly) say that we must have ended up being bullies. For us, it had a lot to do with ignorance as well as being unprepared for a classmate who was different and had different needs.
Fast forward to me being a parent and having kids in school. As soon as I hear one of my kids telling me about someone in the class who is "dumb" or "stupid", I try and find out immediately from them what they are talking about. If it sounds like this is something more than just a personality clash, I give the talk about how to treat those with disabilities. If it is a personality clash, I give the talk about how we are all different and that is what makes life interesting. In both cases I underscore the fact that everyone needs to be treated with respect and that although we don't have to be best friends with everyone we still have to be friendly to them.
The difficulty I find though is that as a parent it is difficult for me to evaluate a situation where I only know what the situation is from the one sided view of my child. If on the other hand, I knew in advance from the school that my child was in a class with a child (no need to mention details of name or specific disabilities) who had special problems which may make interaction with other students difficult, I could talk at home about it accordingly.
It is hard for me as a parent to talk to a young child about something more than they have experienced when it comes to special needs fellow students. Giving us a heads up when a potential problem may occur must help us with these pep talks at home.
Going back to my own childhood situation, if my classmates and I had been forewarned that this new student had special needs, I feel sure that we would have been much more eager to be understanding and help rather than in our own ignorance just do what fear or confusion in children can lead to. As I said, we were a friendly bunch for the most part, but this was our first experience of such disabilities first hand. A little forewarning could have made this a much more rewarding experience for us all.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 9:57 am
The most disturbing portion of a very disturbing report is this, from page 7:
"None of the staff or administrators described having received any training that addressed harassment based on disability. The principal said that the staff was "very sophisticated" and "didn't need a disability awareness training." This is alarming because it indicates just how difficult it will be to actually address the root cause of bullying -- the belief that PAUSD staff is somehow better than all staff elsewhere and above having to do menial or plebian tasks such as learn about disability rights or prevent harassment. The Superintendent selects the principals, and the principal at [portion removed] has established through her testimony in this matter that she is unfit and should be removed. [Portion removed] has had an off the rails bullying problem for at least a decade, and this is only the latest, saddest, and most public installment of the story.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Equally alarming as the arrogance recounted above is the clearly false statement provided by the Assistant Principal to the OCR investigating attorney, recounted on page 4: "Although the Counselor's notes included the names of the students and descriptions of the incidents, the Assistant Principal stated to OCR that the school had not received specifics from the Student and that if the Student had provided names the School would have done more."
This student, as a result of a disability, experienced prohibited harassment that significantly worsened the student's condition and increased the disability. The school should face civil liability and it is my hope that the family will retain counsel and pursue their remedies in order to ensure that the student's needs are appropriately provided for as a result of the damage inflicted by the legal noncompliance (and almost willful negligence) in this case.
Posted by Frankie, a resident of another community, on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:14 am
This is not a new issue for PAUSD, and the bully victims are not limited to students with disabilities, different ethnicities or financial demographics. In fourth grade our son was verbally and physically harrassed by a classmate who was having issues at home and taking it out on his classmates, and our son in particular. We had taught our kids that if they encountered problems at school that they should bring them to the attention of their teacher or the playground monitor at recess. This approach yielded absolutely no results. Our son’s frustration level eventually reached the breaking point, and he threw a punch. While the school administration acknowledged the other kid was a bully, their “solution” was to recommend anger management counseling for our son (the victim!) and to do absolutely nothing about the bully out of concern about damaging his psyche. Sadly, it sounds as though little has changed over the years. Our disillusionment with the PAUSD, along with the inordinate level of arrogance, fractiousness, and sense of entitlement in town, compelled us to send our kids to private school. We did so, sold our house and moved out of Palo Alto altogether. We were fortunate these options were available to us, though a good deal of disappointment and anger with our experience remains. I have tremendous respect for the family in this article for having the courage and tenacity to take their experiences to the levels necessary to hopefully make a difference. I wish them the very best for the future.
Posted by Closer look, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:29 am
This child's middle school experience sounds like mine, for many of the same reasons. Growing up, this kind of torture was something that anyone who was different had to endure.
Those of you who are making disparaging comments about bullies may not be aware that the bully stereotype -- big, ugly mean kid -- is hugely inaccurate. Most bullies are the good-looking, popular, socially acceptable kids. The ones who get good grades. Who volunteer to help collect canned food at holiday times because "they care about the less fortunate." Who then turn around and torment those less fortunate, like the student described above. It's how middle school students entertain themselves and show they are part of the pack.
Because of my own awareness of these issues, it's been important to me to make sure my kids know what constitutes bullying and how intolerable it is. That when they see others doing it -- and they do -- they need to say something.
Those of you who think "I don't need to have that conversation because my kid would never bully another kid." Surprise. Your kid may be one of the worst offenders.
Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:33 am
It’s difficult to understand the extent of this issue of “bullying”—even now. The complaint from this family was about a single child. Yet, there are many adding comments on threads involving school issues that “bullying” is a significant problem.
The investigation into the PAUSD’s handling of this child’s situation has been shown to be insufficient. But given the sensitive nature of naming names of juveniles, as well as Staff—we’re left with many nagging questions as to how many “bullying” incidents a day go on within the walls of the PAUSD, and what is being done about those incidents.
We’re also left wondering what the District’s procedure for handling these incidents might be? Has anything the District done to deal with this issue proven successful?
And just who should be considered responsible for dealing with these matters? Is the Superintendent the only person who should be held accountable—or should the School Board also be expected to be aware of these sorts of problems, and also held responsible for the unresolved problems that ultimately need outside resolution—like that of the Federal Government, in this case?
Posted by Another Parent, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:48 am
Closer Look, You described very well who the bullies in our district often are. They are also skilled at seeming nice and caring in front of adults. But every kid on campus knows another side.
Wondering, I agree this is not a simple problem. On the one hand, it is the parents' responsibility. When you send a bully to school, you have failed as a parent. But when these things go on on school district property, district employees are responsible from a legal perspective. I've seen middle school staff in Palo Alto treat a particularly awful bully as a special pet and it is very disturbing. This pet went on to become a drug addled criminal. But while he was in school, he ruled the student population with cruelty to anyone who didn't fall in line, and rewards for those who did. The adults on campus turned a blind eye while every student had to put up with it. Again, responsible leadership would tackle this problem and remove the bully.
Posted by Broader Concerns, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:17 am
As very important as is the bullying issue described in the article, it is but one manifestation of broader systemic issues in our district. The undefined and inconsistently implemented district policy of "site autonomy" appears to have played a fundamental role in this case. It is, in many circumstances, a poor substitute for a lack of appropriate leadership from the administration and, ultimately, the school board. Sadly, the responses from Kevin Skelly and Dana Tom cause my concerns to to be even deeper. On a personal level they (and the entire board) are thoughtful, kind and empathetic. Unfortunately, there is often a great disconnect between these personal traits and their outlook toward their official roles and responsibilities. Despite high academic scores, uncommon resources and many exceptional teachers, I fear that we will continue to have a district with significant gaps in addresing the human needs of our children.
Posted by Don't Get Mad, Get Even, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:37 am
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Unfortunately, we are hearing more about bullies in our schools, perhaps because of Facebook, Twitter and other internet social media forums. I do believe that the ultimate problem stems from the adults, and parents of children who teach their children intolerance (either knowingly or not,)and way too much "me first" and the need to get ahead in life, whatever that means.
In order to combat this problem in our schools, we must first learn as humans to stop judging other people with respect to qualities, and traits that at the end of the day, have no meaning whatsoever in life. We are all humans with something to give to the world, and each of us can learn from one another. No individual human experience is more valuable than another human experience, regardless of fame, power and wealth. We are all powerful as individuals, and we all can be spiritually wealthy if we know, and ever learn the true meaning of life.
When it is all said and done, we might start out differently in life, but we all end-up in the same place at the end of life. So, why all the fuss about cosmetic and exterior differences along this journey.
Posted by Local Gurl, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:38 am
Frankie, the same thing happened to my son. He was repeated physically challenged by a larger kid and when my son fought back in defense of himself, HE was taken to the principal and disciplined while the bully was let back into class. It was unbelievable.
Posted by Not alone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:47 am
This is so similar to what is happening to my child. The school makes you feel like your child is the problem, and makes an example out of you (ostracizing you, saying one thing to you, another thing to others, intimidating you, making you out to be a “crazy parent), so other parents are reluctant to step forward and report bullying.
While there is a lot of lip service into having a safe environment in schools, kids know the truth, and WON'T REPORT BULLYING. Parents have to their kids regularly about what is happening at school, and report problems it to the principal. When only one person is reporting a problem, no one seems to listen.
At least I know I am not alone. Schools make you feel so alone as your child suffers daily.
Posted by J, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 11:58 am
Listen up parents of kids who are bullied -- the only thing that gets the school district's attention is a lawyer with a lawsuit. Don't waste too much time having your child denied an education. Get a lawyer so they know you are serious. Otherwise they keep having IEP after IEP in the guise of saying they are doing something -- that being an appropriate education.
Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Any illusions we had about Skelly's integrity or competence should be put to rest by his lack of leadership on this issue. It is disgraceful for the district to be called out by the Feds for violating someone's civil rights. Even more disgraceful for Skelly to conceal this. What a horrible individual to have in charge of educating our children.
This is at least the second time he has cuckolded the school board.
Posted by PAmom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm
I know first hand that the PAUSD sometimes doesn’t respond to bullying complaints, turns a blind eye, blames the victim, or protects their own. While my special-needs son endured a lot of bullying, some of those bullies finally got suspended in middle school when he became stronger and more assertive about speaking up. In those cases the educators supported him, and he had friends to back him up. It was handled well.
When my younger son was bullied by another child based in part on our religion, however, and he asked us parents, after repeatedly telling that child to stop, to intervene, the principal wouldn’t even answer our email. His and the other child’s teachers had said there was nothing they could do. Only when I emailed the superintendent did the principal respond, 20 days later. He wouldn’t investigate anything, just talked with the kids and the other child’s parents. He seemed taken in by the bully’s charm, and that of the parents, who were also bullies toward me. He violated our confidentiality and told the parents everything we had said and to whom about the issues, which resulted in those parents blaming me, not my husband too, just me, of making everything up and suing me. I heard from another parent that the same principal violated another parent’s confidentiality when they complained of their child being bullied, resulting in the parents of that bully also suing the mom. Our lawyer said that it was obvious that the principal sided with the bullies, as did that other mom.
The protocol for parents with grievances is for them to go first to the educator with whom they have the grievance and try to work it out, but I was forbidden by law to speak to the principal about the child who bullied my son! I was always polite in my dealings with all adults involved. We complained to the superintendent but never received an email acknowledging our complaint. I was told that going on to bringing our complaint to the school board would have been useless as they too would have refused to take us seriously and have just protected the educators involved.
We sold our home and moved, and transferred our son to another school. Our son, while not perfect, had never had any problems with being bullied at school before this child came to his school. It took him years to recover, and he’s never been the same since. The child who bullied him, I heard from many kids, later had a reputation as a bully, and (we heard) was finally expelled for drug possession.
Two other parents, in addition to the other mom who was sued and myself, also told me that that principal refused to respond or intervene when their children were seriously bullied. One of those parents said he was rude to her and her husband in their dealings with him, and that she also knew of many other children, parents, and educators who were also that principal’s victims. That principal was transferred to different schools within the district twice, and then resigned after, as stated in people’s online posts, there were many more complaints against him.
The irony is that that principal had quite a fan club who defended him against anyone who had anything negative to say about him. He was polarizing and divisive, so that many, as with the bullies he protected, were either taken in by his good-guy demeanor o or disillusioned by his sudden about-face over having any grievance at all. At least he and the bully child are gone now.
So yes, there are many more of us out there who, in similar circumstances, never had fair treatment, advocacy, or fair treatment in PAUSD.
Posted by Parent and Taxpayer, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm
J said: "the only thing that gets the district's attn is a lawyer."
Simplistic. But so indicative of our time. And the reason PAUSD's costs keep rising year after year.
Just get a lawyer. Yay! That'll fix everything.
Anti-bullying programs are weak. All the schools use them in some form. They cost a lot of money and time. But do they work against the groupthink that drives adolescent development? Ask your kids how well they work.
The best anti-bullying training starts at home. Sadly, a complex set of forces has shifted to schools too many responsibilities that should not be at the taxpayer's charge. Then, when the school's miss a step? Sue them. Yay! We all win.
Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View, on Feb 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm the_punnisher is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
The PAUSD must fire this special-ed "staff" immediately.
The so called " Special Education Staff " is not capable of doing it's job!
My parent started out as a Special Ed teacher: part of her job duties WAS to follow US GOVERNMENT MANDATES for these children with special needs. You MUST address EVERYTHING that the school area provides, a school is operating " In loco parentis ". That means THE WHOLE SCHOOL DAY, A SCHOOL ( NOW, ESPECIALLY WITH THE ADA REQUIREMENTS ) MUST RESOLVE ALL, I REPEAT ALL ACTIONS WHILE THE SPECIAL ED CHILD IS ON SCHOOL GROUNDS, and sometimes when such a child is forced to " commute " to school to get an education.
The PAUSD is VERY lucky that a multi-million lawsuit was not filed; These parents would have gotten a settlement that would put a serious dent into the PAUSD budget...
To show that the PAUSD is operating in a good faith decision, the whole special ed staff MUST GO; " retraining and problem management resolution " is a real slap in the face to the victim and their parents and they always CAN file a lawsuit as a proper remedy; I'm sure the US Government would like to send the proper " message " to the PAUSD...
Oh, my parent was so good at doing the proper things for her students that she retired as an Assistant School Administrator with the job of dealing with discipline issues at the SJUSD Administrative Office....And she COULD have accepted a formal JUDGESHIP at $400/day to preside over hearings and make decisions on Juvenile Cases.
I also married a Senior Juvenile Court Clerk who handled the same kind of issues, so I might be considered an expert on this subject.
Posted by former district parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 2:06 pm
We moved our kids to private school, for several reasons -- though we were slightly disturbed by bullying here, at the private school they had a much better educational and social experience. Worth every penny.
My belief is that bullies in PAUSD tend to be at the very top or very bottom of the socieo-economic scale. The worst were the little entitled BMW drivers. Disclaimer: not current, so don't look to anyone currently in high school here.
When I look back, I feel our kids received little interest from district teachers as they were high middle high level; I contacted teachers and administrators very rarely yet received very little response. There is some- not all, but some - very good curriculum in this district, and some very good teachers - but not all - though they are all union-protected, but some of the entitled students/parents receive excess attention from the school and some of us are...overlooked.
Posted by Kathy Sharp, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm
I agree with Broader Concerns noted above. Site based administration leaves the district vulnerable to failed implementation and without the means to quickly identify gaps and address.
I am disheartened that Dana Tom's statement does not include a specific commitment on the part of the Board to establish a reporting system to 1)identify bullying incidents on each campus, 2)identify specific anti-bullying activities and interventions which have proven to be effective, and 3)report to the Board on any issues which had been escalated to the principal or district. It is the responsibility of the Board to provide an oversight structure and to task Dr. Skelly and staff to providing this information on a regular basis.
Mr Tom states: I'm confident that our staff can and will do that."
I ask that Mr. Tom and the other Board members reinforce this "confidence" with a specific reporting process to allow the Board and the community visibility into the scope of bullying reported on PAUSD campuses, the succesful interventions provided, and any unresolved escalations.
Posted by Mr Hand, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm
The Superintendant has been negligent in implementing or enforcing policies at PAUSD that hold students accountable for their actions. It’s not just bullying. The same goes for policies around academic honesty and attendance.... Why? Because the current administration is afraid of crossing these children’s parents. If they were to drop a student from a class or give them a failing grade for cheating, truancy, or being abusive to a teacher or classmate, it would hinder the students chances to get into the college or university of their parents choice. PAUSD needs an administration that will act with integrity.
Posted by Son bullied in elementary school, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm
My son was repeatedly bullied in elementary school in Palo Alto. The two worst offenders, who systematically excluded him from games and regularly assaulted him, were sons of parents belonging to the group running the PTA at school. My son did quit reporting the bullying because it made no difference. As to those PTA parents, they had their little clique and pretty much ignored who was not part of their clique. It was no surprise to me that their sons were the bullies
Posted by Chris Kenrick Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm
The Weekly continues to monitor the issues of bullying and cyber-bullying. If you have a story you're willing to share, either on or off the record (where your name would not be used), please contact me at email@example.com or 223-6512. We're interested in cases that were successfully resolved as well as those that were not, or are ongoing.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Based on the data posted from the district's data for this week's Board Meeting, there is a serious issue with bullying at least at Gunn. Around a quarter of Gunn students stated that they had been bullied in the past 12 months "a few times or once a month." The wording is awkward so the board should ask for the specific language of the survey question at issue. However, assuming that this means between 4-12 times over the course of year, that is a large number. An additional 15% or so state that they were bullied online. An incredible ~25% of students state that they have bullied someone a few times or once a month in the past year. Yowza. Those are big numbers.
Those numbers are especially disconcerting given two things: first, this is Gunn high school, a school without an adequate counseling program. This is a school where students routinely state that they have no idea who to go to if they have a serious personal problem, and in which many underclassmen meet at most once per year with a counselor if at all. So that is a perfect storm waiting to strike.
Second, the executive summary of this data is that PAUSD has "low bullying rates." I don't know what would count as "low" but I am pretty sure it wouldn't be 35% experiencing either online or in person bullying 4-12 times, with an additional 6-7% experiencing it every day or at least once per week. Double Yowza.
So, at the Board Meeting you should expect to hear a lot of happy talk about how great it is all going! Good job staff! This is just wonderful, wonderful work.
Posted by Teacher, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm
I agree that what happened to this student is unconscionable. As a teacher in this district, I see three things: 1). I do not know a single teacher who would turn a blind eye to bullying. We would never knowingly allow a student to be treated that way. But once we report something to the administration, we have no knowledge or control of how a situation is handled. 2) I agree with Mr. Hand's comments above. Mr. Skelley has created an atmosphere of cowing to parents and keeping problems concealed. 3) given the culture of not holding students responsible for their actions and the level of bullying that parents are able to do to teachers and administrators in order to keep their children from suffering any consequences to cutting, cheating, or other misbehavior,I can't say I'm surprised that a handful of kids believed it was ok to bully another kid. So sad.
Posted by Mr. Hand, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm
Until people are willing to speak out publicly and directly to the school board, nothing will change. Skelley and the principals that work for him are all responsible for creating a culture where students are not held accountable for their actions.
Posted by curious, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm
Our children were bullied by a special ed aide who has moved to Jordan and is getting rave reviews there. Fortunately for us she was moved by the brave and wise staff at our middle school, but not until after both of my kids were seriously effected by her. One wonders about the social skills of a few of the staff and administration sometimes.
Posted by curious, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 6:36 pm
The other interesting thing we noticed was that at 8th grade graduation, two of the very same kids who had been bullies for most of middle school were giving the speeches at the awards night. That was so hard to sit through as a parent. What were they thinking?
Posted by Terry, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 8:20 pm
I have no children, but I did have a meeting with Skelly. He impressed me as nothing more than a vacuous shill for the teachers union. Doubt if there will be any improvement without real leadership. If I were in his position, teachers would be fired for not taking bullying seriously, and students would be permanently expelled on a second strike basis.
Posted by SPED and IEP jaded, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm
My heartfelt thanks to this family for speaking up an taking care of their child in spite of the hostile climate of their school. Yyour child's experience with bullying was so similar to what my kid is going through as a first grader, and what we are going through as parents of a special needs kid. The adminstration talks out both sides of their mouths, and the teachers are kind, honest and overworked. after reading the civil rights report, I realize just how poorly the PAUSD administration has treated our family. We have been shuffled from SPED meeting to IEP meeting without our kid's needs really being addressed. I got the feeling the administration was treating us as if we felt "entitled" to receive services for our child, and that they were going to do their best to keep the process tedious, the services just out of reach. My husband grew up in Palo Alto, and graduated from Paly. if feeling entitled means feeling like we have the right to try and raise our family in a town where we have a set of grandparents, then yes, we feel entitled. We rent here, and I also think this plays a role in the way the administration treated us during IEPs.
The fact that the district was found in violation of a student's civil rights is no surprise to me. There is a general climate of lack of respect for children at our school. The adults use shame, reward and punishment to get the kids to perform well academically, and then we wonder why socially and physically strong students take out their frustrations on the weaker kids, I.e. those with special needs.
Posted by Notso super, a member of the Terman Middle School community, on Feb 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm
Terry, teachers are not the enemy, but the PAEA and CTA are out of control and would shut you down pretty quickly if you ever mentioned anything that was akin to any shred of accountability. As in any organization, there are lemons here in our schools and only when your child gets one, do you even realize this. Skelly is not the enemy either, but the Skelly experiment needs to come to an end and an adult needs to come in and work with the unions but insist that they stop protecting the weakest, most ineffective teachers and start behaving as a professional organization and lead an expectation of excellence among their ranks. Skelly is under pressure right now to deliver a sizable raise to PAEA so expect more "news" that teachers are underpaid. If he doesn't placate them, it will be interesting to see if their understanding unravels.
Posted by another view, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:42 pm
As a principal in another school district, I will share that bullying does exist but we take a very hard stand against it. There are strong consequences for bullying another student. Also, running parallel, there are many programs on our campus that support including one's peers and recognizing and celebrating our differences.
I do agree that it is the role of the administration and staff to set the standard, but lost in the whole conversation is talk about the bullies themselves and the parents who justify their children's actions. In Palo Alto, such bullying takes place at all levels and sometimes even between staff.
Posted by Parent of 3, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm
Ha, good one, Terry. I've written to Skelly in the past and have to agree he is a cardboard stand-up. Just to see how he allowed Everyday Math to be adopted was disappointing - he allowed himself to be bullied by certain teachers and administrators. While he has hired some great people, we need a leader, not a follower.
Regarding bullying, whether a school enforces anti-bullying depends on the principal at the school. We have been happy with ours, but have heard some stories of bad principals who turned a blind eye.
Let's not blow this out of proportion - there is NOT a lot of bullying in PAUSD. There are just the wounded chiming in, making it sound as if there is mass bullying.
Posted by PAmom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 12:06 am
i to have noticed for years, ever since my oldest son started kindergarten in 1995, that a lot of parents tend to be cliquish (just like someone in an earlier post mentioned). I'm an older parent, sometimes close to twenty years older than parents in my youngest child's grade, and I can't help noticing that many of today's parents also seem more brusque, and less mannered. They interrupt people and seem competitive, confrontational, and sometimes self-righteous. Of course there are exceptions, but other older moms, and even a younger nanny, tell me that they've noticed the same thing. It is a relief to realize that it's not just me noticing those things.
I charge parents to not only hold their kids accountable for their behavior, but to also not interrupt people, be cooperative and supportive of others, and make an effort to include other parents in your conversations and feel welcome by you and your friends on campus and at parent events.
Posted by PAmom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 12:22 am
Parent of 3,
I agree with Another Parent about your last remarks. They are not helpful, and they come across as lacking in empathy and compassion. How many kids are bullied is beside the point. When our kids are bullied, it hurts, and those of us with the sensitivity that makes us have a conscious want the changes made that are necessary for a safe educational environment for all kids.
On another topic, people who lack empathy and compassion, whether kids, parents, or school staff, cannot be told to be sensitive to other's feelings; they only understand limits and consequences. PAUSD staff need to hold bullies accountable for their actions by setting them.
Posted by Parent too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 12:38 am
@PAmom, While I have witnessed some of that, it seems to be some schools more than others, and just depends on the population there. Me, I prefer to know who people really are to their being superficial, it saves me the trouble of befriending people who aren't worth the time.
Posted by parent too, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 12:52 am
@Parent and Taxpayer,
You clearly don't know enough about what goes on in this district. The "just get a lawyer" comment from someone above was not said out of any benefit anyone in that situation would get, it was said with the knowledge of how hopeless it is to try to get the administration to work with you when you have a problem like this family did.
Our family has had a problem with many parallels -- this isn't the only settlement the district reached with the government this year. No one in this administration seems to believe in working with parents for the good of the kids. The money we will spend getting a lawyer to defend our child's rights is money we would otherwise have spent on the schools in donations. But given what our child continues to go through, for no really good reason, I wish we had just gotten a lawyer from the start. If you don't have one, these people just make up whatever they think will make you go away. It's horrendous.
Posted by Parent of 3, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 1:38 am
@Another Parent and PAmom: Actually, all three of my children were recipients of bullying but we had fantastic principals and teachers in two schools who addressed the bullying and took our complaints seriously. We are also very involved parents who have children who tell us so we nip it in the bud.
My three children have not witnessed bullying on campus except for one time, one of them witnessed a student punching another so we reported it to the school (it was a [portion removed by Palo Alto Online] non-resident student who had repeat issues) and the student was suspended immediately.
We attended an elementary school (we were overflowed for a year) and a friend had bullying issues but the principal (who is no longer there) did nothing to help.
So I do understand that we are fortunate to have had caring staff to help us.
However, if I had preschoolers and read this thread, I would be extremely worried about bullying so my point is that there is bullying everwhere, and in our experience, the administration and staff were completely agreeable to helping us, so not all PAUSD schools should be slandered.
Additionally, parents should realize that they should treat principals and teachers with respect when complaining. If a parent chastises them, how can they expect a great willingness to help? Be professional in your complaining.
A final point is that we lived elsewhere a decade ago and had to teach our children to push and hit back in response to other children assaulting them. The principal did nothing to help us. So if you think it's bad in PAUSD, know that it is worse elsewhere. The "bullies" here (even the ones we dealt with) are nothing like bullies elsewhere.
Posted by Annie, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:19 am
This is in response to Michele Dauber.
I have been trying to get smart phones out of Paly and Gunn. This is because:
1. Cyber bullying
2. Kids addicted , checking every 3 minutes even in class when they should have them off (Pew stats back this up)
3. Cheating, NYC and Bloomberg had them banned from high schools in NYC, and still there was a huge scandal and the principle of Stuyvesant (higher scores than Gunn) resigned.
Skelly heard me out on this, for which I am grateful, however the attitude in general is to "let the teachers decide" and an "open campus" and "train them to look after themselves."
However these kids are by definition minors. They are the responsibility of the schools, while they are there, and I think some rules and regulations are not stressors, but relieve stress as they create a predictable and safe environment.
At present this open attitude is punitive for those kids who are socially, emotionally vulnerable to cyber or face to face (or should I say in your face) bullying, or simply to distraction which stops them focussing on their school work.
I think this devolution to the teacher of all responsibility sounds liberal but is in fact a cop out.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:35 am
I agree with you about this as a parent. I think too much technology access is bad for kids because of distraction, and also because the media itself leads kids to express thoughts that they would be inhibited from expressing in person or over the phone. This is "cyberbullying" in common parlance but could be merely the expression of adolescent girl behavior through less inhibited channels. And I think your comment that the free access to devices has a negative effect on kids who have less-well-developed self control is an astute observation, (also applicable to the "open campus" policy for freshman for example. That seemed crazy to me when my kids were at Gunn. I did not want my freshman getting into a car with older students to race off to the nearest Starbucks or whatever and I have no idea why this is allowed unless it is to see how many tickets and accidents we can have on Arastradero.) There is NOTHING in walking distance. Finally, these smartphone devices enable cheating and cheating is a very significant problem in high-competition, high status schools. I am the co-chair of the Board on Judicial Affairs at Stanford and we, like other elite schools, have a significant academic honesty problem which is compounded by technology that enables misconduct. So I agree with you for many reasons.
One thing that is highlighted by this terrible incident is the poor policy of site-based control. As the editorial notes, the parents repeatedly complained to district staff in an effort to get some accountability going at the site and were rebuffed. Site based control is lazy man's management strategy that frees district staff from having to engage with hard problems. This was a bullying problem, but as the DoE "Dear Colleague" letter states plainly, you can call it bullying if you want but it is also, and more relevantly, disability-based hostile environment discrimination. The letter very clearly lays out, in 2010, exactly what policies and practices are necessary to remain within the law. I find it very alarming that the parents were at the district, at school board meetings, and so forth very clearly describing a harassment situation and were told that it was "up to the site." As I have said many times, what then is the point of the highly paid district staff? Do we need all these administrators or should we just have a sign on the door at 25 Churchill that says "Not Our Problem"? Perhaps they exist merely to interface with the PiE volunteers and pose for photos. It is not clear. They did make a nice slideshow for Tuesday in which one of their bullet points on bullying is "stop engaging in disability based harassment."
When you are paying someone over 100K per year to put a bullet on a slide that says "stop violating the law" your leadership strategy is a failure.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:44 am
Also I forgot to mention that my friend Emily Bazelon's wonderful new book "Sticks and Stones" is out from Amazon next week. I have read the book in advance of publication and it is just terrific for those who are interested in bullying. She covered the Phoebe Prince case extensively for Slate and is an outstanding reporter.
Posted by Parent from Ohlone and JLS Connections, a member of the Ohlone School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:51 am
There are successful programs in PAUSD that model strong response and accountability for how students should treat each other at Ohlone and JLS Connections.
These programs should be extended into the school district so that teachers teach more than their subjects but teach to the whole child. Both of these programs set up child based accountability that reaches every corner of the school and an individual's bad behavior is not tolerated. There is a structure to work through these type of issues.
If Kevin Skelly had his way than these programs would be eliminated and all schools would look the same and continue to lack the structure to limit bullying and continue to punish the victim.
We are better than this and deserve better. We can create stronger programs to help all students thrive instead of settling for an out-dated school model where mistreatment is hard to stop.
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 9:21 am
We recently had an incident at one of the middle schools. (This year, my kid who is enrolled.) Where I brought a nasty email in and took the time to describe the situation, which involved a group of girls. I told them that parents of the author of the nasty email, had been very nice and supportive when I talked to them directly. My request to the school was for them to simply have a conversation with the whole group, because other girls were lying and creating the drama. My request was IGNORED and instead, they called the parents of the email author in for a conference. This was THE WORST. Yes, it responded to evidence and looked like they were helping on paper, but what it really did is alienate my kid more and did nothing to address the toxic group dynamics that were really at fault. HELLO???
I too, wonder who trains these folks. CYA, check. Useful? Bueller?... Bueller?...
Posted by PAmom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:28 am
Parent of 3,
I agree that not all schools should be slandered, and as I said in my first post, we had wonderfully effective support from one school when my son was sexually assaulted by a student, and in another incident, the butt of a serious, sexual rumor. My youngest endured religious discrimination. Please don't assume those things weren't as serious as bullying elsewhere. Even if they weren't as bad, please don't make assumptions.
Also, I agree that it's crucial to always be polite when communicating with schools. A friend read all my emails to that ineffective principal I mentioned and said that I was way too nice.
Another good book that addresses bullying is The House at 844 1/2, by Elizabeth Johnson Lee.
Posted by classified, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:42 am
Several threads in the past months addressed financial issues - those threads were not about kids safety, bullying etc. A parent commented there:
"It is a plantation mentality and it is clearly split down racial lines, you simply need to know your place. " - great description of PAUSD for many of us who need to know our place. Plantations had methods of teaching one's place.
Unfortunately, bullying is not "reserved" only to kids. That mentality hearts all. The kids breath the plantation air many hours a day. Classified are many times the closest to the kids, know what is going on.
Posted by Notso super, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:44 am
Covering yourself is the survival skill needed to work in the district, especially for the principals and administrators. Teachers may sometimes complain about aggressive parents but their union protection does not compel them to improve ineffective teaching, lack of classroom discipline, and communication with parents. The norm for my children was for the principal to call me when there was an issue, but I began to ask why the teacher wasn't calling me. It seemed to me that most of my children's teacher either did not know what to do in terms of discipline or bullying, or they simply found it easier to kick it upstairs to the principal and let him handle it. Don't blame Skelly for not being willing to stick his neck out and actually do something that will be good for kids. He answers first to PAEA and CTA, Teri Baldwin and Triona Gogarty. Those two have done nothing for kids. They have done everything to fight and threaten for more pay and less responsibility for their members. To make it worse, Skelly has to make sure he lets each principal do what he wants if he has parent support. Skelly is all too aware of how his job opened up: principals and middle managers turned on Callan, but they know they can't pull that trick again on another superintendent. The same type of coup happened with the former JLS principal and other principals, but with Triona and the previous PAEA regimes. Don't underestimate the power of these postings changing things. Though they are not nearly as powerful as a lawyer in this town, the truth gets out there. But do understand that the administration and board will continue to celebrate anything they can get their hands on on Tuesday nights at 25 Churchill and we the voters are happy with that, though only by a few percentage points.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:50 am
@Ply parent of 3,
You wrote "Additionally, parents should realize that they should treat principals and teachers with respect when complaining. If a parent chastises them, how can they expect a great willingness to help? Be professional in your complaining."
So, you're saying that our principles and teachers are so unprofessional that if a parent isn't "professional" in their "complaing", that their children who are bullied won't get help? That's ridiculous, blaming the victim, and patronizng and dismissive of our teaching staff. (i'm not saying parents shouldn't treat teachers respectfully, they should just because they should, however, the teachers' professional, moral, and legal responsibility is no different if the parent becomes dstraught, and I for one have a lot more respect for our teachers' professionalism than you do if you think their interest in helping the kids hinges on whether the parents know how to buttkiss correctly. Frankly, given how unresponsive the school was here and in the cases above, it seems being "professional" doesn't help.)
The school has a legal responsibility to all of the students, even to those whose parents may get distraught because over time their children are persistently bullied and suffer emotional trauma as a result.
As for whether things are always so rosy here and are so much worse everywhere else - have you read all of the above comments from parents whose children had such terrible experiences here that they sold their homes and moved away and are now happier? You are awfully smug in your opinion that YOUR experience irepresents everyone else's, and insulting everyone who has had to face serious bullying here with little response from the district. Did you not read the story? Do you understand the threshold that has to be crossed before the government will get involved like that or the parent will even consider filing a complaint (or frankly, district staff will deign to do anything but sctively avoid or deny)? Your kind of doesn't-happen-here attitude is one of the biggest reasons things like this child's experience don't get addressed the way they should when they happen.
Bullying happens here like everywhere else. We can hope to do a better job dealing with it, but apparently sometimes we aren't.
Posted by member, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm
How about some reporting on how things are going for this family since the time that the family began this investigation? This situation occurred during the 2010-11 school year. Since the report mentioned that the child was transferred to another middle school about a year ago, it would be informative to know what has happened differently at the new school, in the past year plus, to make things better for the student, if this has been the case. Freedom to develop unique programs at individual school sites is not always a "bad" thing and can be beneficial when those ideas are shared among sites.
For example, were some of the suggestions of both the parents and the district implemented, ie an aide provided during lunch to assist the student, social skills training for the student implemented, etc? Were the students at the new school provided with some type of education regarding inclusion of other with disabilities or are they just more naturally empathetic, have better parenting? Did the fact that the student and the "harassers" were separated make a big difference?
It seems to me that it would be much more beneficial (especially for parents who are experiencing similar situations) to know what is now working for this family (what is different at the new school), rather than just knowing that things were not handled correctly from the get go. It's naive to think that some new training by the OCR will magically prevent this from happening in the future. It's much more helpful to learn what is working rather than focusing too much on what wasn't.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm
Without disclosing details that would render the child identifiable, the situation is now far worse. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] This student's situation is well-known to both administration and school board. Obviously trust is quite broken on the part of the family toward the district and the right thing to do is to provide this student with appropriate services starting immediately, now, tomorrow.
We heard a lot of talk about bullying and about special education during the campaign from Melissa Caswell, and in particular from Heidi Emberling. If ever we needed real leadership on an issue of burning importance to the community it is now. Yet these elected leaders have chosen silence. They have not even asked Dr. Skelly for updates on this child despite the fact that they are well aware of this child's situation and this child's identity. They did not even know that the district had been found to have violated federal civil rights law toward this child. And on Tuesday, do not expect to hear anything other than praise for the district's fantastic great work on the subject of bullying.
Leaders lead. They don't cower cringe and hide and prevaricate and talk in platitudes.
Posted by Mom of 3, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm
@Anonymous: You must have never taken a psychology or sociology class. Clearly, playing well with others is not instinctive for everyone. No one wants to help someone who is ranting and raving. This is not a perfect world. How many people here have posted about being recipients of bullying and been dissatisfied? Two have posted that they have been satisfied/happy with PAUSD. And how many students are there in PAUSD? About 400 per elementary, 5000 in each high school, plus middle schools. And how may have real bad issues with bullying? Compared to the number of students, very few. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Notso super, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 2:17 pm
Michelle, what exactly is Heidi going to do? Ask Skelly to resign? If indeed he did not keep the Board informed, then they could ask for his resignation or buy him out for $500K or more. But at some point, the board has to grow into their roles as elected leaders of this community and take responsibility, but some 18,000 voters let Melissa know she's doing a swell job. Skelly relies too much on attorney Lou Lozano to tell him what he wants to hear and then bail him out. Michelle, you love numbers, how many hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars have fome to Lozano & Smith and the other firms during Skelly's reign? My humble perspective on this mess and all the others: PAUSD is doing great because the majority of students are doing great academically, but the fact that we hold our breath when we hear that Caltrain has taken a life shows that we know that this is a sick district. Voters, only you can change this.
Posted by Notso super, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm
And there you have it, this is the message our kids receive from our community and from the district in the cases of bullying:
" If the heat is too hot, get out of the kitchen."
Imagine if Skelly visited every school and delivered an original message that he, the leader of our school community, that this will not stand. Imagine if be had done this after that first suicide in 2009.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm
Board members have a role as elected community leaders which goes beyond merely hiring and firing the superintendent. Barbara Klausner demonstrated that she understood the importance of the symbolic role played by the elected leadership when she voiced her frustration with the governance issues in the district. She didn't ask him to resign nor did she surrender to the nihlistic and anti-democratic notion that her only role to play is merely to hire and fire. Board members can serve as watchdogs as well, by tracking and asking for updates on issues, including legal issues -- this is part of their role and it is not merely symbolic.
If Board members were to ask Dr. Skelly for an update on the status of a student who was being harassed and reporting a serious issue with bullying, then that would have raised the issue to one of importance and brought it above the radar. Obviously that would have helped the family. And, if they had chosen to be even a little bit more serious about their jobs, they would have recognized that the case indicated a very serious level of staff underperformance that is unacceptable and likely to open the district to liability.
The facts of this case are worrisome not only because they document serious underperformance by the site, and the district, but also because this family has been incredibly visible and proactive in making their concerns know. Most families are not able to do so. So what is going on that we don't know about? As a board member, this case gives rise to a host of questions that are downright chilling to consider.
For example, the law provides districts with something like a safe harbor IF they have appropriate complaint procedures and handbooks. We didn't even have that, and our staff (who get to make all the decisions under our weird version of site based control) disclaim any need by their "sophisticated" ranks for even knowing the law at all. If I was the elected leadership of such an agency, I would have very serious concerns about staff performance. And given the public concern over bullying, I would air them transparently and in public rather than just mumble some platitudes as Dana Tom did.
In terms of Heidi, this is her personal signature issue and the only one she seemed really to know much about during the campaign. Leadership would look like saying that she wants a board agenda item devoted to discussing the findings of the OCR report without disclosing details. Perhaps parents should be encouraged to come and share their bullying stories in an open-mike situation. The principals of all 3 middle schools should be required to talk about their harassment programming. And she should unequivocally demand publicly that this student receive appropriate services in compliance with the law, and demand specific updates in closed session each and every session until the issue is resolved.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm
I find it interesting that the schools that seem not to have much of a bullying issue, Ohlone and Terman Connections, are also our most collaborative and least competitive. A "win at all cost" attitude is effective in business, but not the best attitude for preventing bullying.
One of the most effective things I have seen as a parent in preventing bullying is when kids stand up for other kids.
Posted by Family of the Victim, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 3:37 pm
To all Supporters:
We want to thank you all for your support and messages to the school officials through Palo Alto on Line. And for those who have power over the district, please keep working so harassment stops at schools. Please e-mailed Dr. Skelly so the district does something about it takes responsibility, but not delaying anymore all the academic, mental, and social skills that the student needs. The report of OCR only talks about one year at school, but in fact the student was bullied starting in fourth grade and continue till eight grade. We did tried to do something about it with the little knowledge we had about this issue, but our hands were tight. We face many school officials who pretended hear, but in fact did almost nothing about it. As long as the school officials do not have a policy against harassing based an sex, sexual orientation, disability or race, etc. nothing will be done about it. Soon this news will fade and the families who are facing issues like this, will continue to be ignored, and the students will continue to suffer to the point of loosing interest in live.
Posted by Mine was bullied, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 4:26 pm
My child was physically and verbally abused at school one day to the point of tears while Mr. Milliken was principal. Unfortunately, it was a substitute that day who tried to control the bully but the bully ignored him. The regular teacher would have surely not allowed the occurence. She told her counselor, Ms. Krumboltz, and immediately we saw results. Her teachers were informed and kept an eye on the aggressor in classes (the child was in a few classes with her). They continued to follow-up with my child to be sure everything was okay. The child has been nice to nice ever since. Not sure what was said to the bully, but it worked.
Posted by Mine was bullied, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 5:21 pm
Obviously a typo. The bully has been nice to my daughter ever since the school intervened. Not that they are friends or ever were or will be, but the bully says hello to her and has tried to reach out.
Something else I forgot to mention is that there are always witnesses. A student took my daughter's hand and said, "Come on, let's get out of here." No one wanted to stand up to the bully [portion removed by Palo Alto Online]. But we were told that someone who witnessed it went to Jordan authorities and reported it because they thought it was wrong. The schools should publicize to students that they can anonymously report bullying. This helps the victim so it's not merely a he-said-she-said.
Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Feb 9, 2013 at 5:50 pm
My sister was repeatedly bullied at Paly by a gang of mostly Down's syndrome kids. We have no idea why she was targeted. They even physically attacked her. The school was little help, pretending that they could do nothing to control special ed kids. Then, some of the same ones tried to target me & I put a fast end to it & made them leave my little sister alone. It was one of the more bizarre experiences in my life, to this day.
A few years later, home on spring break, I'm babysitting a middle school kid. She was being targeted by a Down's syndrome kid & I caught him breaking in to their flimsy Eichler one night. It took a specially trained PAPD detective's involvement & switching that kid's school to finally put an end to his stalking/bullying/harassment.
Finally, also at Paly, I was appalled at the racist jocks bullying Mexican boys - they got away w/it nearly 100% of the time.
Of course, back in my day, bullying was considered a sad fact of life, but on the upside, a parent could get involved in a non-politically correct manner & that often ended it.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm
@PA Dad -- I like your idea of a candlelight action for bullying but I think Tuesday is better than Monday because on Monday at 6:00 noone will be at 25 Churchill whereas on Tuesday the board meeting starts at 6:30, so if you met at 6:00 you could be there at that time. But unless you can somehow get 500 of your closest friends to show up on Tuesday, you risk having a no-show event that will not end up showing support for the issue. You might want to take longer to organize it, like for the next board meeting, so that you can get more people there. Just a thought.
Posted by I am for it, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm
I think the idea of Vigil Candlelight on Monday will be fine, and also attend the board meeting. To make sure the school officials are there. This will send a good message to PAUSD and other school districts that might not be protecting kids from being bullied.Perhaps we could invite people who come at the Vigil to come to the Board Meeting. P.A. Dad could I get a way to contact you?
Posted by isez, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:04 pm isez is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Wow, this is the first time I've agreed with Michele Dauber: "But unless you can somehow get 500 of your closest friends to show up on Tuesday, you risk having a no-show event that will not end up showing support for the issue."
Isn't most bullying occuring during recess or lunch? Can't PAUSD hire more yard duties? Or effective ones? The ones at our elementary don't do anything about bullying. Or parents can volunteer. We can't expect our teachers to give up their lunches to be in the yard. There are only about 4 yard duties for 400 children at our school.
Posted by C, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm
My experience with the anti-bullying procedure at Jordan was positive. After reporting that a special-needs student was being bullied (severely -- I only witnessed it one time, but the statements being made were so outrageous that it merited immediate reporting), I was brought to the office to make a written statement of what had happened. The pulled up pictures of students to allow us to identify who the perpetrators were, and a few days later I noticed they were all gone from school. I asked around the student body, the general consensus - later confirmed - was that they were suspended.
At Paly, I haven't had to deal with the administration, but when fights (physical fights, the entire student body watched) broke out at brunch/lunch on the quad last year or the year before, administrators literally forced the students apart and dragged them to the front office (separately) which I thought was fairly impressive because the fighters were quite large. Besides that, recently there was the "gossip girl" cyber-bullying scandal, but it only lasted for 45 minutes but I don't know if the administration has done anything or even needs to...
Posted by Broader Concerns, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm
I just read the settlement agreement and compared it to the claims of Skelly and Tom about its impact. There appears to be major disconnect between their characterizations of the agreement and its actual content. Clearly, the Office of Civil Rights has demanded (and Skelly has agreed in writing) that the district do more than listen to the OCR's "suggestions" and have "conversations" as Skelly claimed. PAUSD appears to have been found severely defficient in its procedures, training and conduct at the district and site levels. The agreement is also very clear that the problem was not " flawed implementation" of already existing policies. These distortions of reality compound the issue and bring into question the commitment that Skelly made to the stipulateed corrections.
I am also surprised that there has been so little discussion around the school board not being informed about such a signicant legal action. Was the board also unaware that the district was under a federal investigation. These are very serious goverance questions the should be asked and answered on Tuesday.
Posted by Notso super, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 10, 2013 at 12:48 am
Broader concerns, I think you are on to something about the Board not knowing about either the investigation or settlement. PA Weekly, how a out you go do some reporting and confirm this? Why did we not know any of this before the November election? This does not smell right. And to the public, don't blame Skelly. Sure, his time is up and he'll go out just like Chuck Weis did at the county, taking a whole bunch of money with him, but the board should really be held accountable. They are willingly fooled by the cheerleading and lack either the know-hows or courage to act. For goodness sake, stop re-electing them.
Posted by Walter Hays Dad, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:14 am
One topic I have not seen discussed in this thread or the article is the District's inclusion programs. As there is a push to mainstream more and more special needs kids, the District has to get this issue right or there will be an OCR report a week.
The week before Skelly signed this OCR report, the District celebrated inclusive schools week. Though a District wide event, it was generally run on a school by school basis. I think Walter Hays did a great job, but how did other schools do? If you are a parent of a child in PAUSD, what was your awareness of inclusive schools week? The whole point of inclusive schools week is to inform students and parents about those with learning differences, in the hope that education will lead to empathy and compassion. It appears from the report that the District is mandated, for the next 3 years, to beef up inclusion style education programs in middle and high schools. Hopefully the District will extend this to elementary schools.
I think Walter Hays did a great job because there was active parent involvement and support from the Principal. Nonetheless, the main parent education event at the school that week reached maybe 10% of the parents with children at WH. Also, I doubt any parent who is a bully would extend himself or herself to get educated on the topic. Hopefully this settlement drives more education and awareness on the inclusion issue.
Finally, for me, this issue is ultimately about us and our neighbors. My children attended the District's Preschool Family program. A tenet of that program is "everybody plays". The teachers, students and especially the parents in the program had to live this on a weekly basis. Yet even in such a nurturing environment, I still saw cliques form, and exclusion start, led by parents who, I think, were not buying into the program and not putting in the effort. And amazingly, I think everyone was college-educated and "successful", so I would assume should know better.
Let the change start with you, demonstrate openness and inclusion to your children and they will model your behavior. When was the last time you struck up a conversation with the parent of your child's classmate who you may never have spoken to? When was the last time you asked for and led a playdate between your child and a classmate with special needs or differences? Why do so many in PA remain insular and self-absorbed? Is the whole town insecure and afraid?
Posted by Misha, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:48 am
Whether the issue is bullying or other concerns of student safety, health, and well-being, there is woefully lacking a sense of responsibility on the schools and district to do what they can and should to protect our children and provide for them a warm, welcoming, and safe environment.
Once a year inclusion programs are great but not sufficient; when individual issues arise, and they will, there must be a clear process and accountability for how the school will respond. In this situation, the failure by the school and district to have in place defined and properly functioning processes and clear responsibilities is unacceptable. If the quotes from Superintendent Skelly and Board President Tom are accurate and in context, then I am appalled at the apparent nonchalant attitude. These leaders set the tone at the top and are important role models.
Does this mean that the school and district are solely responsible and to blame when issues arise? Of course not. But the schools play a major role in the lives of our children who spend a significant part of their daily lives on the campus. And the district has the opportunity, if not accountability, for ensuring that all children every day are being treated with the respect and care that they deserve and we expect.
Posted by Bertha, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm
In my case two of my special ed. needs have been bullied by the teachers, one was bullied so much he ended up with a lot of anxiety. Sadly the only way the teacher was going to stop bullying him because he was not working as good or as fast as she wanted it, was to move him to another school. He was a fifth grader at Palo Verde.
Posted by pandora, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 10, 2013 at 7:28 pm
"Also I forgot to mention that my friend Emily Bazelon's wonderful new book "Sticks and Stones" is out from Amazon next week. I have read the book in advance of publication and it is just terrific for those who are interested in bullying. She covered the Phoebe Prince case extensively for Slate and is an outstanding reporter."
The Phoebe Prince story still makes me want to cry. I will buy your friend's book.
Bullying among teenage girls is probably one of the most rampant forms of bullying going on in schools because it can be subtle and yet hurt a girl so much.
It's not just PAUSD, but I wish there were better ways to stop this. Laws are too much, and nothing is not acceptable. Training maybe helps, there has to be more.
Posted by Parent, PAUSD Supporter, a member of the Duveneck School community, on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:38 pm
the federal Office have investigated one of our three middle schools and concluded that there has been violation of the federal civil right
of the abused student. The surfacing of a shockingly similar situation in one of our elementary schools does support the existence of a
systemic problem with regards to preventing and controlling school based bullying. This situation demands an immediate in depth district wide investigation and an immediate anti-bullying action program at the troubled elementary school to avert another pupil tragedy. Numerous studies by credible institutions have documented that bullying is a serious life endangering behavior and often provokes victim suicide and or violence between the victim and abuser.
Posted by PAmom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 10, 2013 at 10:46 pm
Walter Hays Dad,
I so relate to your post about cliquish, self-absorbed parents!
I also have noticed that some Palo Alto parents are manipulative bullies who think they are so powerful that they are invincible. I really enjoyed the book Queen Bees and Wannabees. I know the term "queen bee" has become a cliche since that book, but it validated my experiences in a way that no other book has.
As Walter Hays Dad said, let the change start with you. Introduce yourself to a parent standing outside the tightly formed groups of chatting parents and start a conversation. If you are part of a tightly formed group, introduce another parent to everyone and make an effort to include them in your conversation. Listen to what others have to say without interrupting. Reach out to a disabled child in your child's class, and to their parents. Chances are that those parents feel isolated, and that within that sea of beautiful, high-performing, likable children, feel like their child is the only different kid in the world.
Posted by stats, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 11, 2013 at 6:14 am
Few students feel unsafe in PAUSD schools. Those who do should be helped, but perspective is important. The stats suggest that at Duveneck, for example, 2 students out of 80 in each grade don't feel safe - which could be due to being bullied or for other reasons.
Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 11, 2013 at 6:41 am
Do not forget Candlelight Vigil today Monday at 6:00. Those who want to make chances and make our schools a safer place to be and learn, please come to the school district at 25 Churchill. Also come to the Board meeting tomorrow at 6:30 and stand up for those students who are suffering in silence.
Posted by Concerned Mom, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 11, 2013 at 10:11 am
I get very nervous when I read that the schools are planning to hold "disability awareness" assemblies "featuring adults and students with various physical and learning disabilities." It was just such a presentation highlighting my son's newly diagnosed disability in preschool that caused all the children in the school, most of them his friends, to shun him completely for months. He was traumatized and begged me to find him a different school.
I hope to never see the ham-handedness with which my son's teacher handled the news about his disability repeated again, but assemblies highlighting *which students* have *which disabilities* is one of the worse ideas I've ever heard. I may have to home school once we reach junior high if this is going to be their approach.
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 11, 2013 at 10:22 am
Concerned Mom --
The assembly referred to in the story featured an outside theater group whose cast members had various forms of disability. It was not singling out local students with disabilities but was designed to show all students that encountering people with disabilities is a normal part of life.
Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community, on Feb 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm
Skelly does not have the power to bind the School Board to the terms of the settlement agreement. Only the Board of Education of the Palo Alto Unified School District has that power, but Skelly failed to place the subject on their agenda before he signed the settlement agreement.
Posted by Celestine, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm
My son was sevely learning disabled due to oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery. Granted, we should have sued Kaiser for keeping me in labor for three days without intervention, but by the time we found out the extent of his injuries, my son was five years old and the statute of limitations had run out!
He was, and still is, a very congenial person, but was bullied and beaten while in middle school and as a freshman in high school here. He was repeatedly told to ignore the bullies, and was suspended for fighting even though he was attacked, and witnesses said he did not fight back! How fair is that? The father of the bully felt that his son was being punished for "winning" the fight, even though it had been one-sided.
Then as a sophomore, he was jumped by two Asian kids, and the principal at Paly at that time thought that this was a "non-problem" because he was bigger than they were, and there is "no such thing as a hate crime by Asians against white people" her words in quotes! So we had no recourse. Fortunately by his junior year he was 6'2" and very muscular, so the bullying finally ended due to that and the fact that by then he had some really cool friends and the girls liked him. But what if he had remained small and overweight? Or worn glasses?
Posted by Walter Hays Dad, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm
Truly sad story about your son's birth. I suggest you talk to a lawyer. While you may not have been able to sue because of the statute of limitations, your son may be able to sue once he turns 18. The statute of limitations may run for him from his 18th birthday. I do hope you have time, at the very least to recapture all you must have spent over the years on doctors and therapies. Hopefully your son is and will be a fully able adult, and not need care, but if he does need help to have a "normal" life, I do hope he is able to receive something for his suffering.
Posted by Inside perspective, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 11, 2013 at 3:18 pm
Horrible that this poor child and family have been through this ordeal--and that so many others have been dealing with similar issues for years. In reading the documents, the district is supposed to undertake some corrective measures. Many of them would have prevented the escalation of this family's situation and that of so many others. Many families have requested these for years.
Keeping records of incidents of physical violence and bullying behavior--something many families have requested for years. When incidents aren't recorded, it is easy to turn a blind eye and "not realize" the degree to which a school has issues and it creates an environment where students do not trust that repeated incidents will be taken seriously or addressed in any meaningful way.
Following district policies related to behavioral expectations and consequences--When there are policies in place and the principal refuses to enforce them with some students, it sends the message to the rest that those students get a "pass" regardless of their violence.
Appropriate intervention and support for students who have special needs and behavioral issues--In this example, the family requested aide support when their child was undergoing serious levels of ongoing abuse and then a transfer to another school. The district could have easily stepped in instead of denying the student a positive learning environment. As other examples allude to, some students with special needs are on each end of the behavioral spectrum. Administrators need to acknowledge when specialized support is required to address students who have serious needs instead of claiming that no issues exist and then forcing the unfortunate students who end up on the receiving end of mistreatment and abuse to continue to suffer. There should be standard ways of addressing behavioral issues and students.
General ed and special ed students should be held accountable for following the basic district behavioral guidelines regardless of whether their parents already have attorneys for them or not. Students with special needs who cannot conform to general behavioral expectations should be addressed appropriately as well with someone trained to help them with guidelines, boundaries, rules and if they cannot conform then appropriate measures should be taken to find an appropriate educational environment with the type of support that they require.
We are familiar with a student in the district who is kind, quiet, and polite and was punched, kicked, head butted, slammed into a wall, pushed off a play structure, called horrible names, was repeatedly threatened--most of which were observed by an adult on campus whether a yard duty or aide or teacher. At least one of these types of incidents happened every single year of elementary school and all were reported following the appropriate channels of communication with the teacher and then the principal. They were handled well at the teacher level but because most were on the playground and not tracked over time, the principal was completely ineffective at addressing it in any meaningful way. The family was active in volunteering with the school, showed up at lunch to monitor the situations and was respectful in requesting changes that would have improved the climate for all students. Many families worked for positive changes in this quiet way. Unfortunately, the principal has others snowed by presenting a picture on the outside that doesn't match what happens to some on campus--to students, their parents, and to some staff.
Thank you to the courageous family for filing the complaint and for bringing to light how widespread this type of experience is for some families. Let's watch what the district does to show that they are serious about making these positive changes to improve the educational experiences of students in the district.
Posted by Holier, a resident of another community, on Feb 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm
Inside, I appreciate your point of view, but it comes off as self-serving and all-knowing and biased towards teacher and against principals. Teachers are part of the district and you have already read many accounts in this thread. If you are truly an insider, take responsibility of your role lead the change.
Posted by Isabel Rosas, a resident of another community, on Feb 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm
I feel for the parents and children who are going through this. I strongly believe that schools should provide mandatory counseling to all children in the school. It is important for children to be able to express their feelings, fear and thoughts and feel protected and safe, that they are not getting hurt and not hurt others. These children are screaming for help. They just don't know how to ask. It is our responsibility as adults, peers, family members, and teachers to have a good communication with our children. This way we can ensure that they have a healthy psychological, mental, and emotional activity. If not it is our job to seek for help to able to help them. This is completely unacceptable this doesn't have to get this far, when the solution starts with us. We can prevent all this pain by respecting, loving, communicating and helping each other. It is up to us, people, to stop this.
Posted by former district parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 12, 2013 at 9:21 am
NBC Channel 3 News San Francisco highighted the PAUSD bullying settlement at the top of the news last night, with a reporter doing a standup (apparently in front of district offices in the dark) stating that Skelley refused to go on camera. Not very transparent. I know nothing about the case in question, but clearly it is receiving some public attention, and the district must have been counseled to lay low rather than defend themselves.
Posted by I rather not say in case of retaliation, a resident of another community, on Feb 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm
We have a special needs kiddo in PAUSD since kinder, and he’s now in third grade. I’m not going to get into the ugly of how we struggled trying to get support for his social deficits, speech/lang, behavior, etc. But, I will share about a current incident that involved a trip to the principal’s office. Our kiddo, at dinner time, shared that he was sent to principal’s office. When we asked why, he could not clearly articulate, but we got the gist of it. Sounded like he and another friend teased and made a peer (female) cry. This little girl is learning to speak English, so they were teasing her enough that she was in tears. Am proud of our kiddo telling us what happened, but am disappointed in his behavior. We explained to him that was a form of bullying, not allowed, etc. (he has been bullied himself). My point is that the principal NEVER contacted us to report that he was in his office for this issue. WE need to be notified to give us an opportunity to correct the problem. Had our kiddo not shared with us what happened, we would not have had the opportunity to correct/educate him further. When I sent an email to the teacher to ask more questions about why he was sent to the principal’s office, she responded “ At lunch a separate issue happened. Another student was teasing a girl in our class and while xxxxx was not participating he was laughing and encouraging his friend. The girl ended up in tears so I had the two boys talk to Principal about appropriate behavior and how to be nice and supportive of other students in the class and he wrote an apology letter to the student.” Our kiddo was laughing and encouraging this other child, he was certainly participating! Again, our kiddo is a special ed student so he needs to be taught right from wrong because otherwise he will just model behavior. In this case, school staff clearly needed to take action and notify us.
Posted by second generation "victim", a member of the Ohlone School community, on Feb 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm
Bullying has been systemic in the PAUSD since the late 60's (at least). I experienced the most hellish 7th and 8th grades that anyone could imagine. I will spare the details but suffice it to say that this occurred at Jordan. The "perps" were "popular" boys. It happened daily and I felt totally powerless to do anything to get things changed. I was also shot with a BB gun by a "popular" boy (he hit me 3 times but I continued walking and acted like nothing had happened). There are many students who suffer in silence who may not even have an adult they feel comfortable sharing information with (even a parent). I also had the feeling that life could become much worse for me if I told on these two boys. I kept silent out of fear. Two of my children were harassed in middle school (as well as one at Duveneck). The harassment of my son didn't stop even after a conference with the counselor, the perp, my child and 2 sets of parents parents. This constant bullying had lasting effects on my son's psyche. My suffering in silence led to depression and anger turned inward. People who say that bullying has nothing to do with creating depression are woefully wrong. Another son was bullied on the phone (we didn't have computers then). In those days the phone answering machines had little tape recording devices and we had audio evidence of this boy's venom being spewed. My son knew who the boy was so we called his Dad. The Dad listened to the message politely and said, "that's my son" and he took care of it immediately. My child never had the experience of being bullied by that kid again. Oddly enough, the thing that the "perp" was teasing my son for had to do with his size. The "perp" was pointed out to me one day and I was astounded to see that he was twice again my son's size. I have a feeling that this boy had serious lack of self esteem about this issue and somehow felt that if he teased my son about it it would make his pain go away. I think the parents are to blame in many instances by fostering a climate of competition from day one (I saw Duveneck 1st. graders cheating in small groups in a math lab because they knew the guy next to them was one activity ahead of them). I was horrified with the fact that Duveneck upper classman girls stated (openly at a PTA meeting) that there were only 3 acceptable brands of clothing that girls could wear, otherwise they might be subject to ridicule. The shocking part is that they seemed to think this was OK. My boy was having such a hard time dealing with the boys at that school that we became a Ohlone family and never looked back. Ohlone did seem to concentrate on fostering much better human relations. I thank Ohlone for turning what was shaping up to be a bad elementary school experience into a good one. I think that the Ohlone model would be one that could be studied and implemented at other schools. I do agree with some people that have posted that there are probably many PA parents these days who are bullies themselves and haven't taught their children good values (or manners). The "win at any cost" attitude seems pervasive. I am happy that this bullying issue is getting a light shined on it. I do agree with many posters that the victim is too often the one who has to suffer more even after telling. We need to suspend the bullies and put them on probation when they come back. If the behavior continues they can be moved to another school in the district or be forced to go get a private education (which so many have been quick to suggest for the victims of bullying). My $ .02. If you care about this issue, please come to the meeting tonight at 6:30 and make your feelings known. We do not have to suffer in silence any longer.