Painful bullying stories told to school board Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Feb 13, 2013 at 6:45 am
Amid tearful recountings by parents of painful school bullying situations, Palo Alto school board members and Superintendent Kevin Skelly Tuesday night apologized and vowed to learn from a recent federal finding that school officials violated a student's civil rights in a local bullying case.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 6:14 AM
Posted by Watching Meeting, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 6:45 am
I watched the meeting last night and as a Palo Altan I'm an shocked and angry at what has happened. PAUSD's board had better take action or face a recall themselves.
How is it possible that Superintendent Skelly did NOT make the school board aware of this issue?
How is it possible that Skelly signed an agreement on behalf of the district without board approval? Is this legal? Is it binding? Why aren't board members irate about this issue?
What legal counsel did Skelly consult with on behalf of the district and why wasn't the board kept abreast of the issue?!
Skelly's contract was renewed recently - Is this why he did not disclose to the board what was going on?! If he withheld this information from the board, can his contract be nullified?
Why are school board members OK with the way Skelly is handling this?
Will the school board do an investigation of how this issue developed and how Skelly handled this issue? What sanction, if any, will Skelly and/or staff receive for keeping this quiet?!
This is unacceptable anywhere, but to have it be happening here, where people pay inordinate amounts of money to get into our school district, is unfathomable.
Shame on you Skelly, Dr. Young and anyone else who was involved and shame on the PAUSD board for not being outraged as Skelly simply shrugged his shoulders and says he "blew it." Talk about an understatement!
Posted by Disgusted, a member of the Juana Briones School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 7:07 am
I've had enough of of the Skelly-Young combo. Both were in charge of this complaint and "blew it." I've seen enough of institutional racism against our kids of color, and so has the Office of Civil Rights. I am disgusted how silent our community is right now.
Posted by Wildcrat, a resident of another community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 7:15 am
It is so obvious why Skelly and Young did not tell the board. This is embarrassing to watch at this point. Shucks, sorry about violating your civil rights. You voted for this behavior, not me. Thank you Wynn, Ester, and others for speaking up. It took courage.As for Mariaelena and her group, they have been speaking at board meetings for years about this issue, so we have had years of warning and we blew it. That is called incompetence, Skelly and Young. You may have been qualified to get the job, you are in no way qualified to keep it.
Posted by Let's do Something, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 7:51 am
To those who believe that bullying does not cause suicide take a look at t his video. You will changed your mind. It is about a training students on bully issues. The instructor is qualified because till this day, even though she is a professional now, she still suffers the detrimental results of being bullied. Part of it was played at the Board Meeting last night. She also wrote a book about her story called "Please Stop Laughing at Me
Posted by T Tierney, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:27 am
Another problem of suspect behavior from Superintendent Skelly. It was only a few months ago that he was caught in another "problem of transparency" by improperly getting agreements from individual members of the school board instead of meeting in public.
These are deliberate acts, not accidental "I blew it" moments.
Posted by democratic process, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:28 am
This district is going to have sooo much trouble getting a new superintend when Skelly finally leaves. Who'd want to run this district with the amount of parental bullying and, indeed, hate directed at them.
Posted by Another Parent, a resident of the Greendell/Walnut Grove neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:38 am
Democratic, I agree. Every time he blows his nose people call for his head on a plate instead of working with him. I also believe that mainstreaming special needs students brings up challenges for the students, who are left to cope without enough guidance and support. The district does need to find ways of dealing with bullying effectively and quickly so that nobody is left in an awful situation. Let's stop bullying district staff and roll up our sleeves to support this effort.
Posted by Observer, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:49 am
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
The only way to penetrate the lack of accountability here is litigation. The board has abandoned it's oversight role. It was embarrassing to see Dana asking whether Skelly thought that maybe um possibly did he think that he could possibly um think we might someday move toward consistency at the sites. Answer: that would be hard and take a long time. When the political process fails what you have left is litigation. People are going to start suing. If they didn't like the Brown Act wait until they see what discovery feels like. But this is hopeless. The board are cheerleaders. Barbara Klausner you were missed last night. Heidi was definitely not a upgrade. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by another deep throat, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:49 am
Since there was already a "deep throat," I will be another one...
some years back, the son of a school board member used to threaten (semi-jokingly, semi-not) about his power since his mother was on the school board - a definite (odd) form of bullying. Power here is not necessarily physical; it is monetary and status-power-laden.
Posted by I apologize!, a resident of another community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:52 am
No one has received more chances than Skelly. Callan would have been fried (and fired) long ago. There will be no shortage of candidates to fill his position. Comparing "blowing his nose" to the violation of a child's civil rights is disgusting. This is a serious issue and offense. The governance structure failed despite having years of warning. I'm starting to think that they suffered from arrogance.
The bottom line is that this is inexcusable. This needs to be Skelly's last year. His failures and apologies demonstrate a pattern and are predictable. I guess Young should be at least demoted, if not let go, but what about the special ed director, Holly Wade? What about the principal?
Posted by another deep throat, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:53 am
example: when this boy didn't want to cooperate on doing P.E., the teacher would tell the entire class THEY were responsible for getting him to do whatever activity it was, otherwise they ALL would be held responsible. Some sort of idiotic idea that these other kids had any pull over the boy (who was not physically large but FELT powerful and clearly was defiant to some degree). I didn't care for this as a parent of someone who happened to be in the same class and had nothing to do with this kid. Ut caused minor distress to my kid, nothing major, but an illustration of a form of bullying.
another example: my D stated this boy directly stated that his mother was on the school board (which was well known, but perhaps not to some peer kids at Duveneck and Jordan) and so he could get "them" in trouble (something my D witnessed in his dealings with other kids, nothing to do with my kid at all)
To his credit, this boy is now in college and indications are more adult/nice.
Posted by one sided, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 9:47 am
This article is too one-sided. How about some quotes from the bullies themselves and their parents? Why are they bullying or why did they bully in the past? Did they continue to be bullies later in life? Were their parents bad parents?
Transparency has to start with identifying the bullies and their parents so that corrective action can start. Without addressing the bullies themselves, any action the schools take is defensive at best.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:03 am
I think it is time to start defining the term bully. A child who has suffered teasing for some time and eventually loses it and starts fighting back is not a bully in the traditional sense. Unfortunately, this child who is a victim of teasing then gets reprimanded and gets the label bully.
This is something that has happened a great deal in elementary and middle schools and has been witnessed by my kids. Also, if a child stands up to defend someone else getting teased, they are also considered the aggressor and dealt with accordingly.
Funny thing is, I agree with the comments above that the child of a board member (never witnessed that one) and the child of a PTA president or enclave member, can use that "power" as a threat to peers.
Bullying is not always physical, it is often more subtle than that. Teasing takes many forms and is often done by the "sweet" girls rather than the physically large boys in a class.
Posted by one sided, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:10 am
I agree with @Parent. That is why this program needs to report on the bullies themselves and not just the school's response. When does bullying start being called bullying? Who soon can action be taken?
Posted by Management 101, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:23 am
Skelly is a good example of someone who was promoted once too often. As a #2 he might have been fine, with strong leadership from above to counter his instinct for defensiveness and inaction. Without supervision to backstop him we get these repeated failures. It could be that no board could play this role, but this one is far too weak to do that job. The rest of them, Young, Wade, etc., just don't have the strength themselves to overcome the lack of ability at the top. Remember that at this point Skelly has picked the entire senior staff including principals.
Posted by transplant, a resident of Mountain View, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:21 am
Much if not all of the bullying occurs during recess and lunch periods, where there are few adults present to monitor the children. The staff present during these times needs to be more vigilant and aggressive in addressing the bullying issues. "Times-out", along with other weak responses, are not doing it. Sending the student (s) to the Principal's office doesn't seem to help, either. In fact, some regard being sent to the Principal's office as another reason to stand out in the eyes of the student population.
Posted by I apologize!, a resident of another community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:26 am
Pamela, lead the change and model not pointing fingers.
A poster above made a good point that Skelly has hired all the other administrators. He has also thrown aside several good ones. I am waiting to see who stands with him? Where are the principals? They threw Callan under the bus pretty quickly. Do you not remember the anonymous note left on a bench? Look it up. Where is his trusted ally, Triona Gogarty from PAEA? Where does she stand on bullying? What steps did PAEA take in this matter? Do they care about the civil rights of our children? Does president Teri Baldwin have a statement on what teachers can do or will she just blame the principals? It looks like no one wants to touch this with a 10-foot pole.
I certainly don't want to bulky anyone but this district needs new leadership, experienced leadership, board that will pay teachers more and hold them accountable for the success and well-being of our children, a superintendent who will implement an anti-bullying and other programs districtwide in spite of a principal threatening to leave a note on a bench, but most of all our district needs a community of voters to not vote 18,000 times for Melissa, Dana, Barbara, and Camille. Only then, will they realize what they have failed to do.
What do you think Skelly and Young and Wade are doing right now? Are they teaching a child to read or ensuring that my child's teacher is not texting on her phone? They are most likely talking to the district lawyers on how to keep their jobs first and make this latest problem go away. From the same lawyers that have been advising them to get to this point.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:26 am
To those who think we should "work with" Skelly and Young, you have no idea what you are talking about. They get in this situation because they don't have an ounce of sense about working with families whom they are paid handsomely to serve. Give us an administration full of energetic problem solvers who want to work with us, who believe in honesty, and this won't happen. I know of what I speak, being in a similar boat to this family and having wasted months trying to "work with" those people.
Posted by Broader Concerns, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:27 am
There are two important issues that are intertwined here. The first is the very important concern about PAUSD's policies, procedures, training and actions in response to bullying. My comments are focused on the second issue of the appearance of a systematic pattern of serious breaches of professional responsibility, governance and legal obligations.
It is difficult to think of a more serious violation of professional responsibilities by a superintendent than deliberate actions to conceal from the board and the public a federal Office of Civil Rights investigation and action. Skelly claimed "embarassment" as his reason primary for this deception. The board and community should be deeply concerned whether this indicates a fundamental lack of maturity, strength and over riding sense of reponsibility expected in any superintendent, let alone of such a prominent district. It is hard to imagine any other governing body accepting as excusable this highly serious deception and rationale. However, Barbara made clear during her final months of office what has become increasingly clear to many who are watchful and experienced to goverance. That is, our board has acquised to an inverted relationship with the superintendent where they generally operate in a subordinate relationship to him.
it is important to keep in mind that Skelly never did disclose the existence of the investigation or consent agreement. They only became known to the board and the public after the Weekly obtained the information from the plaintiffs.
in addition, Skelly has still not disclosed how long he concealed from the board the existence of the federal investigation. These kinds of investigations take many months to complete. Presumably, the investigation was near completion during the fall school board campaign when the goverance lapses by the superintendent and the board were central issues. Was his concealment also a political act intended to influence the election outcome? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Finally, it is highly likely that Skelly was fully aware of the ongoing investigation when his performance review and contract extention occured over the summer. If so, it would mean that he with held material and substantial information from the board to obtain personal financial and professional benefit. These are very serious issues that were not discussed last night. As others have noted there remains a profound lack of outrage by the board over these very serious issues.
Posted by Monjara, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:42 am
You people have no idea how things work here in Palo Alto schools, all schools not only middle schools.
There is a hidden policy championed by Skelly is to blame the victim.
Blaming the victim in their mind is easier than taking responsibility and punish/rehab the bully.
I am telling you folks my son and many others who were bullied were asked to see the school therapist, while the school principal and the bully see no one. I hope that this Principal reads this post and know what I am talking about and hopefully changes the way of dealing with bullies.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] The principals in PAUSD are siding with the bully in order to keep things quiet. Skelly I am sure he knows/knew about this epidemic that is hitting our schools. He needs to leave and let some else take charge NOW.
Posted by sara, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:46 am
1. Skelly hid all of this while his contract was up - in light of his cover up can his contract be immediately voided?
2. Skelly hid this during a school board election - if the public knew about this, the school board election might have come out very differently - and I believe it would have - and I believe more people might have stepped forward to run. Can the election be recalled?
3. I understand that because this is now part of the public record, real estate agents will have to disclose it to potential home buyers.... is this true.... and if it is... then WOW
4. Why hasn't the school board held an emergency meeting and placed Skelly on administrative leave?
Posted by Fair haired family, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm
After what happened to my son at Jordan, there is no way I am letting my daughter go there. We have signed her up for a private school instead. PE teachers, for some reason, seem to be the worst offenders as adult bullies, even encouraging the student bullies.
Howeveer, I have talked to a few other families who are parents of blonde, blue-eyed children, and they are fearful for their children in any public school, even PAUSD schools.
Skelly deserves to lose his job over all of this. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by redwood, a resident of another community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm
My kids went to the palo alto schools. There was bullying in middle school particularly -- the climate in the elementary school -- the whole school -- worked hard to have a collaborative/non competitive/all inclusive feel. Issues were talked about in the classroom as they came up. There wasn't any particular program -- but each teacher my kids had really addressed those issues instantly. At middle school, the whole climate changed and there was no attention to this issue at all. What a shame that this is still ongoing and that Skelly blew it. What a shame.
Posted by Crescent Park Mom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm
Lets give Skelly a chance to address our concerns. There are many things that he and his staff do very well for PAUSD. I'm not ready to "throw the baby out with the bath water". I think he hears us loud and clear and I'm very confident that we are going to see this issue moved to the top of his list.
My child has been bullied since elementary school. Needless to say she has incredibly "thick skin" and somehow has come out on the other side of it a stronger person (may help her someday in the Boardroom!). For the most part, but not always, I think our children are aware of bullying and don't engage in it. For those that do, look to the parents of those children. That is where you will find the root of the problem. Any therapy needed for the bullies must include the entire family.
I always encourage my children to reach out to other children they see alone or to report any bullying they see. Both of them have reported incidents. It actually makes them feel empowered to do something about it.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm
Actually, Skelly's apology and promise is in my opinion a really encouraging sign and I respect him for it. Unfortunately, he hasn't been forthcoming about everything he should own up to, so I sadly cannot believe this is really sincere or that things will change.
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 1:54 pm
You wrote, "It is difficult to think of a more serious violation of professional responsibilities by a superintendent than deliberate actions to conceal from the board and the public a federal Office of Civil Rights investigation and action." Yes, that's right, and I have heard that there are other recent OCR findings involving other families that haven't yet been released, even now. But the reaction of the board last night was instructive. No one mentioned the issue until it was brought up by speakers, and even then only Townsend brought it up in an oblique way, and then lavished praise on Skelly for apologizing after he was caught. Skelly has figured out that this board is not going to hold him or any staff accountable, so at worst he will have a few uncomfortable minutes at a board meeting and then allowed to move on. Watching board members try not to talk about this last night was depressing.
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm
I admire Kevin Skelly for apologizing; for once I agree, at least partly, with Anonymous. I do not admire the verbal bullies who look for every excuse to scapegoat school leaders and board members while ignoring the place some parents, some students, and some of our warped societal values also have as major causes of problems with stress and bullying.
How about some constructive suggestions and some constructive effort to improve the situation, rather than demand wholesale sacrifices of leadership, causing chaos and putting any solutions far into the future? Not to mention that good leadership people are getting more and more likely to give district with its over-active school bashers a wide berth.
Posted by Moving Forward, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm
Let's focus on making things better. What sort of person/people/group can help our kids understand the issues regarding bullying, keep as safe as they can and know when and how to approach adults to discuss this topic and specific incidents? Who can work with our teachers and other administrators to provide them training on dealing with such issues of safety with our kids? What type of budget is needed for this? What options for therapy do kids have after they have been verbally abused? What training can we provide our kids to deal with physical threats of violence?
Let's take the focus away from blaming people and concentrate on improving the situation for our kids NOW and into the future.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 3:40 pm
With all due respect, feeling that someone who has failed professionally in the way this federal investigation unearths, and who also failed to report it to the board -- and who has apologized in the same breath as failing to bring up other similar failings he is not telling us about -- it's not "scapegoating" to demand accountability, it's appropriately demanding accountability. Your points seem generally aimed at glossing over this serious failing and whether purposefully or not, casting those who are trying to solve this as the problem.
Is there any scenario under which you feel any administrator has failed their professional duties enough for the public to scrutinize and demand accountability? Please explain, because you are coming across as blaming the parents for Skelly's professional failures.
I didn't feel this way a week ago, but I feel like many of the others that this warrants a re-examination of Skelly's and Young's contracts and a hunt for someone who feels a strong desire to work with families in our district. Given the circumstances here -- that you seem to want to leave unexamined, because there's more -- I see no reason to believe things will be different. Where you see "blame", I see finally a few parents waking up and trying to do something to make sure no one goes through what that family did again.
Everyone please read about the broader issues above. This is about more than bullying, it's about whether the administration is too arrogant or incompetent to follow major laws designed to protect students or even to follow the processes that district people themselves wrote to follow the law.
Posted by democratic process, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 3:50 pm
"...this warrants a re-examination of Skelly's and Young's contracts and a hunt for someone who feels a strong desire to work with families in our district."
That's where you're wrong. You want someone who will bend to your will.
We have a democratic process and it's working fine. You saw what happened to those calling for the super's head in the last election. You haven't yet learnt that continuing with those tactics are going to get you the same result.
The super, board and district are working with the families in the district. You are misconstruing "working with families in the district" with "doing what you want".
Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm
"That's where you're wrong. You want someone who will bend to your will."
Here you go again, attacking people who find something very wrong with what the federal government found that Skelly did.
You are wrong. And you really miss what's wrong with this district admin and Skelly and Young in particular if you think that.
There is absolutely a culture of treating families with distrust and NOT working with them. If anyone had begun with a spirit of working with that family, the next logical thing would have been to use the laws to do the best job possible. Communicating with people also flows from trust. There is too much broken here to fix it.
The superintendent isn't elected, in case you didn't notice. This shows he doesn't deserve to be serving the families of this district for which he earns more than the governor of the whole state. Between Skelly and Young, we spend as more or more than the nation pays the President.
Posted by what happened to no excuses, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 4:26 pm
Democracy was intended for people to disagree. Disagreement makes for a healthy democracy. Bullying people to keep their mouth shut is not exactly democracy.
Democracy is what made the Feds come calling on PAUSD, and what the Super wanted to hide.
Skelly recently proposed hiring a PR company to deal with the press and to better communicate with the public. There was a quote from him alluding to poor writing skills from staff, and that this could be helped by the PR firm.
I can't help to think he had his "blow up" in mind.
Posted by democratic process, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm
I'm not attacking you, I'm telling it like it is.
We don't elect the superintendent, we elect the people that chose the superintendent. We did not elect the one person that wanted to remove the superintendent. QED.
You can continue your attacks but you'll get the same result. Calling for people's head is not part of this discussion. It is bullying. Period. Exactly the behavior we are tying to remove from this district.
Posted by Board Observer, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 4:43 pm
@broader concerns: "our board has acquised to an inverted relationship with the superintendent where they generally operate in a subordinate relationship to him." I couldn't agree with you more. It's time to look at Skelly's actions with a critical eye. Our kids deserve better!
There were a few people who wanted to address Skelly's Supt. report which came at the beginning of the meeting. Barbara Mitchell(she is not even the president....apparently Mr. Tom did not have the guts to do it) delivered a message to them that they could not speak at that time. They would have to wait until the end of the bullying item. I believe that this was not appropriate protocol and that the board had no right to tell the speakers that they could not comment right after the Supt. report. Their comments were in response to things in that report. It was an agendized item. I believe that the public is supposed to be allowed to comment after any agendized item. This prolonged the apology (oops "I blew it" again) until after the speakers who addressed the bullying item. It should have been addressed right away. Had Klausner been on the board she would have addressed this right away. This is a very serious "oops" on Kevin's part one which when added to all the other "oopses" could shed a very unfavorable light on the Supt. I am wondering as well if this revelation could have affected the election outcome and Kevin's review and renewal of his contract had he been in full disclosure to the board when he first got wind of this action. The fact that Kevin saw no need to say much of anything about the issue until after the public (whom the Board and Kevin serve by the way...) got to speak which shed more light on the district's failure to protect this child. I think he ought to start doing his job in a way that requires no apologies or "embarrassment".
I don't get Townsend's lavish praise of Skelly for his apology. It was truly sickening. If I were her I would have been outraged that yet another of these missteps was happening. I would have been very angry about Skelly's lack of respect of the Board. There is a very serious problem with transparency in the district and maybe it is time to replace Skelly. You know, it's really quite telling that one of the most frequently heard phrases I heard from Board members and Skelly last night was, "we can do better"......does that ring a bell? Indeed we can do better and the time is now. If it is true that there are other cases that the OCR is investigating this could put the district in line for some big time litigation woes. Let's get someone on board that will put and end to all the "oopses" and will do the job in a completely transparent and righteously just manner. It is time for us to have a Supt. who can lead and do the right thing (requires action Kevin!) and a Board that expects as much from their Superintendent.
The packet statistics presented at last night's meeting are misleading as they only used data about bullying that occurs "once per week or more", but if the definition of bullying includes acts occurring less frequently than once per week or more, Palo Alto appears to have much higher rates of bullying that likely approximate the state and national norm for similar schools. This was in today's local paper and I think you can get more thorough data analysis at the We Can Do Better Palo Alto site. I totally disagree with the districts stance that our district has lower instances of bullying. We just have better ways of spinning data to present our district in a better light. Unfortunate!
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm
I'd like to add that apparently the child that was harassed, (harassment is different from bullying and has different laws around it), had a speech problem. It's easy to make a quick judgment that the child is stupid and to feel free to tell him/her that to their face. We are not teaching our children to respect and tolerate differences or to act with empathy. The schools can't solve this problem for us. Sure they can punish a child but that child will continue to bully and or harass until he/she learns why they do it and how they can stop. The bully is often a target of bullying at home from siblings. It's up to parents and adults in this community to solve this problem, not just the schools.
And while I'm at it, to the parent who is sending their child to a private school, I can tell you that the problem is equally bad there, if not worse. The difference is they can expel the child who then ends up at a public school. It takes a tremendous amount of resources to deal with these issues. Instead of complaining about how things are handled, step up and help out. Go to the classes that the district offers on bullying. Get yourself educated. Then you'll understand how complex and difficult this problem is. The superintendent made a mistake. Firing him is going to achieve exactly nothing about this problem of bullying. Books have been written about this, research is being conducted. It is not an easy problem to solve.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
You are casting the asking asking for accountability, truth and competence as bullying to defect real examination of a serious professional breach. The federal government conducted an investigation here and found that, contrary to your interpretation of parents trying to "bend" district people to their "will", the parents were trying to ensure their child had a free and apropriate public education, like everyone else, and their child was was bullied and traumatized while administrators ignored major laws and processes designed to protect children. In at least one case, the assustant principle lied to investigators.
You think it's bullying to want to remedy that? To paraphrase a former President, That's not giving you hell, it's giving you the TRUTH and you just think it's hell.
Posted by How green is your valley?, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 5:18 pm
I am also angry about what has happened. But please donít let us become the monster we are trying to slay here.
Like so many corporations in Silicon Valley, it appears the school district fears it may need to defend itself against a possible further law suit on this case and perhaps others. While I don't support their stance, I am not surprised that the board members limit what they feel they can say publically, and throw their support behind the Superintendent, who they probably perceive to have helped them dodge legal liability.
The sad thing about that is this. When organizational systems fail to allow themselves to take a good look in the mirror and address the truth of their short comings, real growth and learning often fail to occur. The district needs to take the agreed upon actions, but they may need to go deeper.
Leaders in organizations need to be able to stand up and admit the real issue here, which is the failure to provide the proper environment for all of its constituents to learn and grow. Sadly, the omission of administrative protocol was the main mea culpa here.
One of the main principles for supporting people with disabilities (mental and physical) is the notion of universal access. Be it our sidewalks, our buildings, or our conversations, when we improve access for one, we improve access for all. We all get to grow and benefit from opening ourselves up to new ways of doing things, and new ways of interacting with each other.
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm
@"democratic" (quotes intended ironically)
"We have a democratic process and it's working fine. You saw what happened to those calling for the super's head in the last election. You haven't yet learnt that continuing with those tactics are going to get you the same result.
The super, board and district are working with the families in the district. You are misconstruing "working with families in the district" with "doing what you want"."
There was no candidate running who called for the super's head. That is a total falsehood.
There was a candidate, Ken Dauber, who called for greater accountability and transparency. He did not win. You are correct. Perhaps the people get the government they deserve. But discrete and insular minority group members such as middle school disabled children did not get to vote in the election so they should not be saddled with ineffective government that the majority has (barely) selected. For them, there is thank goodness, the protection of the administrative and judicial branches, where they will now turn thanks to the fecklessness of our elected leaders.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm
Palo Alto native,
Please take the time to read the report the government produced from their investigation. This isn't just about bullying. I love our teachers and experience in Palo Alto, too. But administrators wholly failed to follow prominent laws that protect students. They didn't just fail to follow them, they didn't even seem to behave as if they knew they existed at best, like they were above them and too sophisticated to need them at worst. That even though adminstrators write the processes to follow those laws. There is at least one incident of an administrator clearly lying to investigators to deny the failures. Skelly has been an administrator long enough that he not only knows the law, he almost certainly oversaw the writing of the processes to follow them for one or more district. Furthermore, he hid what was going on from the board.
I am NOT happy with that, and do not think he deserves a pat on the back for it. That's salt in the wounds of those who have been hurt be these adminstrative failures.
P.S. I am not Ken Dauber nor a member of WCDBPA, but I probably should be.
Posted by Idiotproof, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm
We moved to PAUSD because in our previous district, a first-grade teacher had thrown a book at our learning-disabled son. The principal refused to believe it, until a meeting in which the first-grade teacher threw her binder and books on the table in response to frustration with learning-disabled kids, and then stormed off from the meeting without being excused.
Unfortunately, we went from the frying pan and into the fire here, with students stealing our phone number and harassing my son after school every evening. The school refused to remove our phone number, so we changed it and did not notify the school, just gave them a business number instead. Damn if the kids did not steal that and start calling!
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm
@ "democratic" process. You said "I'm not attacking you, I'm telling it like it is. We don't elect the superintendent, we elect the people that chose the superintendent. We did not elect the one person that wanted to remove the superintendent. QED. You can continue your attacks but you'll get the same result. Calling for people's head is not part of this discussion. It is bullying. Period. Exactly the behavior we are tying to remove from this district.
First of all, that is not what QED means. Second, there was no person running who wanted to remove the superintendent at that time. All the candidates agreed that Dr. Skelly has strengths and weaknesses. During the campaign, Dauber praised Skelly more than his own mother. So that never happened. Totally false.
Second, no one called for anyone's head. See above.
Third, calling people "bullies" for asking for political accountability is a despicable strategy, particularly in the context of a political discussion about actual bullying.
If you want to defend Dr. Skelly, why don't you do it on his record. He's done a lot of good things (finals before break, A-G). For you that's enough. For many others, however, his tendency to defensiveness, dishonesty (I didn't give the board the report because I was embarrassed (!!!)) lack of transparency, and what we see as failed management strategy of site based control -- the good is not outweighing the bad at the moment. Defend his record, don't run around calling people bullies or terrorists or communists or whatever just to silence them.
There were a total of 11,700 complaints to OCR over 2009-11 period. If you read through the sites above, you will realize how complicated it is to even file a complaint. There are probably far more incidents across the country than filings. The parent in our district had free access to a lawyer, which most parents don't have. I'm not excusing the lack of expertise shown by our district, but trying to illustrate this is a huge problem for every school district. People complain all the time about how top heavy school administrations are. This is why. It takes a tremendous amount of time to solve these issues. When you look at what qualifies as harassment, it is mind boggling. Much of this could be solved if we did a better job as a community in raising children who are tolerant, are not afraid of differences, who have empathy and are willing to be an upstander. Easier said than done.
If you look at curriculums of credentialing institutions, you will find that most do not address the importance of social emotional learning in children. How can we expect teachers to deal with these bullying when they have not had any education about it? I hear parents complaining all the time about all the staff development days our teachers have. They are not nearly enough when you look at how we expect the schools to not only address academics but also ethics, nutrition, etc. Much of this is really the parents' jobs. When parents don't do it, we expect the schools to.
It is so easy to be outraged when things like this happen and call for firings, etc. but that does nothing to address the root of the problem. We need to do a better job of educating our kids and parents on what bullying/harassment is and how to prevent it. It starts with the adults in a community.
Posted by Wildcrat, a resident of another community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm
Thanks for explaining that. Now I see, violating the civil rights of a child is ok because others do it, so that would just make Skelly and Young, Wade, and the board mediocre, instead of harming a child, which is the opposite of why they were hired or elected.
Posted by C, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:22 pm
First off, I'd like to point out that victims of bullying are a minority of students. It's true that we might need better procedures for handling bullying cases, but the district has to be doing something right if on surveys students say they feel safe. Also, what can be interpreted as bullying can range from a child being isolated because others ignore them to actually severe bullying. In my experience, the administration has responded well to the severe bullying cases -- in one I am very familiar with the bullies were suspended, in another case that I'm relatively familiar with, the bully was forced to transfer schools. These were extreme cases, yes, but I think the district handled them well.
"Howeveer, I have talked to a few other families who are parents of blonde, blue-eyed children, and they are fearful for their children in any public school, even PAUSD schools."
Hi -- I'm blue eyed and relatively blonde and I've had no problems in Palo Alto. I went to Duveneck, then Jordan, then Paly if that makes any difference to you.
"when this boy didn't want to cooperate on doing P.E., the teacher would tell the entire class THEY were responsible for getting him to do whatever activity it was, otherwise they ALL would be held responsible. Some sort of idiotic idea that these other kids had any pull over the boy (who was not physically large but FELT powerful and clearly was defiant to some degree). I didn't care for this as a parent of someone who happened to be in the same class and had nothing to do with this kid. Ut caused minor distress to my kid, nothing major, but an illustration of a form of bullying."
I don't particularly like this technique of getting kids to do PE, but it certainly works. Just like how people will run faster if they're running with other people, no one wants to be "that kid" who made the entire class do another lap. When they used this on my classes, the teachers would usually not enforce the extra lap, as long as the kid who didn't normally participate tried (ie jog a bit instead of walk). I suppose it is a form of peer pressure or societal expectations, but those are everywhere....I can only think of one teacher who strictly enforced the limit (or tried to) and (s)he was enormously unpopular.
@Idiotproof -- That's totally absurd. Give a list of the numbers your son receives calls from to guidance (in my experience, guidance is very helpful w/ reporting bullying -- I reported a case against a special needs kid and I was given a yearbook to use the photos to determine who the "bullies" were and they were suspended almost immediately). I'd also recommend blacklisting the numbers (unless you want to collect evidence).
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm
Wildcrat - I didn't say it was okay. It is never okay. I said it is a problem across the country and the world. All school districts are grappling with this problem. I'm trying to put it into perspective. Again, it comes down to all parents, teachers and adults in the community putting some effort into this. One of my children was bullied for his speech difficulties. He also participated in excluding one of his classmates. I educated myself about bullying. I intervened. I have sympathy for the target, the bully and the bystanders. I understand the complexity and I intervene whenever I see a child (or adult) make an unkind comment. That's what it takes.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm
"That does not change the fact that it must be awfully hard to be a PAUSD employee. "
We pay Kevin Skelly and Charles Young each more than the governor of the state of California (when he chooses to take the salary). They could have made things a lot easier for themselves if they had just done their job. We're not talking about arcana here -- districts get to WRITE the procedures by which they comply with the law. Those procedures had already been written by people in the district. They were there. These parents aren't the first to whom they apply, not even close, there are many.
This administration didn't know the law, didn't know the procedures, didn't follow them, and didn't work with the parents over a fairly long period of time when they had many opportunities to correct their failures. When someone complained, they weren't apologizing and trying to do better until the government put it in black and white, to the detriment of this child and the family for the delays and dishonesty. This is shameful. If doing such essential educational administrative functions is too hard, they shouldn't be doing that job, because those functions are competently fulfilled by administrators in districts across the country who are paid far less.
I like Mr. Skelly, but I don't like his performance, we really need someone who is more comfortable working with families and doesn't think he's above the law or our families.
Posted by Wildcrat, a resident of another community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm
I don't blame Skelly for bullying. I hold him accountable for having a four-year warning to deal with this latest issue, for having legal advice nearby, and still being unable to effectively handle this specific issue which the OCR found to be a civil rights violation. My family is a family of color. We don't have a lot of disposable income, but we have enough intelligence, education, and independent judgement to determine that Skelly, and now Young, Wade, and the board, are incompetent, not in the insulting way, but in the definitive way. Skelly said a few years ago he did not expect Latino children to compete with white and Asian children. He did a mea culpa and we went on. Now he dishonestly hid vital information from the board, and indirectly to the voters, about how he and the Compliance Officer violated the civil rights of one of our children. There is no mea culpa for that. The board is supposed to take definitive action but based on last night's board meeting, they clearly don't know what to do. A degree from a prestigious university does not always translate into running a school district or other organization. Dana looks lost, Heidi looks not pleased but all she brought to the table was some Googled information, Camille talked a lot but said very little, Barbara spoke slowly but nothing of substance was said, and Melissa did mention Castilleja again. I wish she would resign and serve on Castilleja's board.
I am not a bully. I am a citizen. I pay an inordinate amount of taxes that funds Skelly's salary. He gets around $250K, got $25K moving expenses, gets $750 monthly for a car, and has an interest-free $1,000,000 home loan. He also got yet another contract extension in June to work until 2016 (for those of you who miss Barbara K., all she did was talk big one night, then vote to extend Skelly's contract, then resign). This was right after the Brown Act violations. He was essentially rewarded for that. We pay him so much so he can be the one person to take responsibility, and there is no question of his wrongdoing. I don't want heads to roll, I don't want to blame, none of that is necessary. You just have to do what is right:
1. Get rid of Skelly. He has to go, ASAP. This could cost $500K. Skelly will actually profit and he will be superintendent of a new district.
2. Demote Charles Young to a teacher for the 13-14 school year. He will still make over $100K per year or allow him to seek a job in another district. His method of lying low while not fixing any issue whatsoever is negligent. That the OCR has determined that your handling of this case from July 1, 2011 to now in 2013 means you were a lousy Compliance Officer. You failed. It's a fact.
3. Pink slip Holly Wade. She has had three years to handle this and didn't. Post for a new special ed person.
4. As for the board, that is up to the voters, but I would ask any attorneys out there to let the public know if there is any way we can get an investigation to determine if this act of deceit by Skelly was just of his doing or if the board was in on it.
As you can see, all trust is lost. You can't trust the board, you can't trust Skelly, you can't trust Young, you can't trust Wade. This is not the first time that they have behaved so dishonestly. My take on Skelly at this point is that Skelly appears incapable of feeling shame about this or anything else. I've watched him apologize literally over a dozen times in the last six years. The time for giving him or the board one more chance is long gone.
Please correct any information about Skelly, Young, Wade, or the board, especially about any of their salaries. I like to spend my money wisely and I have high expectations for all of the above. They have failed miserably and I ask that the board to not reward them with continued employment.
Posted by another deep throat, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm
I am the one who posted about the PE thing -- fyi the kid in question (son of a member of the school board at the time - round about 2005-ish, I forget) enjoyed his power and did not cooperate with the teacher or his classmates. The classmates had aboslutely no influence or power over him - this is a terrible method of trying to get wellbehaved kids to goad a misbehaving one into compliance; or to punish all for the misbehavior of an individual! My point was HE was bullying - in a way - a sort of stressful way though it was not physcial at all - by inflicting some misery (anger or ridicule of teacher, disruption of PE class activities, focus of attention on HIM) and he would occasionally "remind" others of his "power" as son of this member of the Board. I found this incredibly offensive - he was very attuned to his "power." I recall he claimed he could report other students and get them into trouble, intimidating them (this included a bunch of absolutely normal, regular students who had the bad luck of being in his classes or within his daily life).
Posted by District Teacher, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm
So, as a classroom teacher, if I make a huge mistake that involves the health and welfare of a child, it's okay for me to cover it up then, months later, say the reason I didn't tell anyone is because 'I was embarrassed?' I think not. I'd probably be fired -- and should be. This is disgraceful and truly embarrassing to those of us who work in the classroom and take our work very seriously. The credibility gap widens even more...
Posted by C, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm
Ms. Powell -- I by no means represent the student opinion, I just gave my opinion as a student. I made no claims about general bullying procedure, but noted that in extreme cases my personal experience has been that the district handles it well (by extreme I mean going beyond name-calling and whatnot, but reaching a limit that is unacceptable... in my two examples, a cyber"bullying" case that involved the police, and another, the harassment of a special-needs boy/girl may not have noticed they were being taken advantage of). In this case, I doubt the district aide discrimination although I don't doubt the peer bullying. I found the peer report section (the interview session done by the OCR) the most informative and interesting, and although some of the actions and responses are relatively commonplace I assume they must have been done more severely in this case. I think there's a communication problem between guidance and the school (missing names) which can be fixed relatively easily and I think the idea of assessing the student instead of actually examining the bullying is idiotic. I think that it's not surprising that the district wasn't in on this until recently (ie the appeal) because bullying is generally dealt with on-site which makes sense because it can be dealt with faster + it's not plausible to convene the school board to listen to several thousand students-worth of bullying cases. In the end, I think what the student probably needed most was friends... speaking as a middle school survivor, it's awkward when you have to sit alone with nothing to do. I'm suggesting no fault on behalf of the student by saying this, but Best Buddies is probably the most beneficial thing I can think of, even beyond improving district policy, just because BB will provide a) a bunch of students willing to go to administrators about bullying, and b) people to sit with at lunch and will virtually guarantee friendships that district policy will never be able to create regardless of how hard the district tries. I never actively participated in the club myself, but my friend was a buddy which is how I ended up reporting the special-needs bullying incident (I knew her buddy and I witnessed the scene). There are other clubs out there which will foster friendships, but BB is pretty much a combination of the nicest people at school -- it's great to join as a buddy on either end.
@deep throat -- I totally misinterpreted your post and assumed that they were two different children, not the same boy who was a son of a school board member. I thought you were referring to some PE teachers' policies of 'if everyone jogs you run one lap, but if even one of you walks you all have to run two.' Well, my post is totally invalidated & inconsequential now, sorry. As for the kid, that child strikes me as obnoxious, but I can't think of any way to easily remedy the situation other than to send him up to the office... then again, it is PE and I doubt sending him to the office would do any good.
Posted by Candy Bowl Hunger, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm
I don't really see the relevance of the board member story although I do that kids tend to learn their behavior from their parents, so I suppose it might be interesting to know who we're talking about.
On a totally unrelated note, C: I think you would benefit from a closer reading of the OCR report. When you go to school tomorrow you could also ask one of your teachers to help you find the district bullying policy, which says that the compliance officer for complaints of harassment isn't the school board, it's Dr. Charles Young, the Associate Superintendent.
Posted by what happened to no excuses, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm
It is disgraceful. I hope teachers have a voice in encouraging the BOE to stop this practice of cheering, congratulating and back slapping no matter what anyone does.
Someone asked for solutions to the broader problem. Well, I'm still in the shock stage, and can't believe PAUSD has earned a Civil Rights Violation. I can't even say it without cringing, a CIvil Rights Violation.
To those defending the Super's actions or no-actions, please type out the full subject of this thread - Civil Rights Violation.
Any lawyers out there? This is not like a parking ticket right?
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm
I am glad you asked. A finding by the federal government that a school has discriminated against a student and violated his or her civil rights not like a parking ticket at all. It is very serious. From a legal perspective several things about this case stand out.
As an initial matter, peer-to-peer harassment is generally very hard to establish as the basis for a discrimination complaint because all that often is required of schools is that they show that they have appropriate policies and mechanisms for complaint resolution in place. Despite the fact that OCR under Russlynn Ali made it clear that bullying, including anti-gay bullying and disability bullying would be a high priority during her tenure at DoE and issued a Dear Colleague Letter about it in 2010, PAUSD failed to implement its own policy on the subject, probably due to its irrational attachment to site-based control.
The fact that PAUSD did not implement its own policy, the fact that its designated Compliance Officer Charles Young did not handle the complaint in accordance with the policy, the fact that no one informed the complaining family that there even was a policy, that Charles Young was required by that policy to handle their complaint, that they had appeal recourse up the chain of command -- the district office told the school that it was a site issue, the fact that Board President Dana Tom responded to an appeal for help to the family that they just had to trust the school to handle the matter rather than telling them about the board policy or the complaint procedure or to contact Charles Young, but just kicked the issue back to the site, the fact that the student did not receive appropriate services to address the issues directly caused by the school's negligence for an astonishingly long period of time -- that is what makes it unusual and unusually bad and unusually unlikely that the district would prevail in any future possible litigation.
The finding by OCR is extremely serious. It was quite disappointing to watch Charles Young try to defend himself by saying that somehow the fact that PAUSD entered into a settlement agreement with the federal government showed that this was not so bad. The fact that the government allowed us to agree to their terms and conditions in exchange for them not suing us does not mean that this is not that bad. That is not even a sensible way to understand what happened. And given that Dr. Skelly actually purposefully concealed these events from the Board because, he said, he was "embarrassed" that he did it, we were on the road to never finding out about it. Of course hiding it meant that it was just that much easier to to continue to stonewall the family's pleas for help, which is precisely what he did until the Weekly broke the story and published a scathing editorial. This FUBAR mess occurred for reasons that we will never know unless it is revealed through discovery because our elected officials are totally incurious about how this could have happened.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 12:55 am
Based on my own experience over the years, volunteering in the classroom and so forth, and also as someone whose child developed special needs, I don't think I ever could have believed what was in that report if we hadn't also experienced the same kinds of behaviors. We couldn't figure it out, it's like suddenly we were treated like "the enemy".
I think this report is just the tip of the iceberg, and an apology isn't enough. In addition to being unprofessional, this kind of behavior opens the district and thus all of us up to significant liability. We need to bring in more competent people who understand that those laws and procedures are there to help better serve all families.
I don't really understand the site-based control power dynamic very well, but given the antagonistic culture in the district office towards many parents of kids with special needs, I actually wish our school principal had more power, not less. If district personnel were doing their jobs, maybe I'd change my mind about that.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2013 at 7:19 am
The harassment policy is in each school's handbook. Often lifted directly from the ed code. At most schools, parents and students are required to sign a statement indicating that they have read the handbook. If they had done so, they would have known there was a policy. Unfortunately, most parents do not actually read the handbook since they already know everything. This is clear when they or their child violate the rules and state "they didn't know" so it is not fair when there are consequences.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 7:52 am
There are at least two issues with the harassment policy. First, the federal investigator specifically found that the school handbook (and all three middle school handbooks) failed to include "disability" as a protected category for harassment. The handbook's "harassment policy" mentions race, sex, and other categories but not disability status. The school in effect had no policy for disability status harassment per the federal investigation (see page 7).
Second, the district complaint policy was utterly ignored by everyone from top to bottom. Neither board members (whose policy it supposedly is) to Kevin Skelly, to Charles Young, the legally designated compliance officer specifically named in the policy as the officer in charge of ensuring it was implemented, to Holly Wade, to Mike Millikin to anyone at the school -- not one of these people ever mentioned this policy to the family, the principal, or anyone else so far as anyone knows. There may be secret emails that will come out later that reveal some information about the policy and why it was not implemented, but unless the board orders an investigation or those emails are discovered in litigation, we will all just remain in the dark about why no one ever implemented the supposed harassment policy. It's also hard to believe that this is the only such failure, and that in all other cases the actions of these officials is consistent with district policy. Tellingly, at the board meeting, nobody on the staff and no parent said we follow the policy in all cases, but in this one somehow it slipped through the cracks. Instead, they said, we have no policy. Which is not true but no one on the board said so. Instead they praised the staff for its fabulous apology for this FUBAR mess.
Why was there no implementation of this policy? Probably because of an irrational attachment to school site based control in which everything is kicked to the school to handle even when the board actually has contrary policy. And since the board could not care less about ensuring that its policy is actually implemented, but is only interested in writing it, we are all open to liability. Hopefully the district's liability insurance policy covers willful indifference to student rights.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 8:20 am
@Palo Verde Parent -- re "coverup" point:
In the video at 2:21 the superintendent said "when this thing [the OCR settlement] came out, I informed you [the board] about it but I didn't give you the report and I didn't share the findings of the OCR group [sic] with you.
How did Kevin Skelly "inform" the board and what did he inform them of? Where is the memorandum informing them? Why did the board not inform the public? If that actually happened, then why did none of them, including Mr. Tom, the board president say, "OK, please provide us and the public with a redacted version of the report. Let's put it on the agenda so that the public and the board can be informed." Apparently, no board member was curious like: "hey federal civil rights settlement sounds like something I should know about!"
Posted by Palo Verde parent, a member of the Palo Verde School community, on Feb 14, 2013 at 8:32 am
Isn't Charles Young the same official who transferred the child with the cystic fibrosis gene to another against the parents wishes? That also ended up in a legal mess because pausd violated the rights of a student under the ADA.
Posted by soccer mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 8:40 am
There are a few things about this that I don't understand. Why is this not an agenda item on the upcoming board meeting? Isn't the Board required to review and discuss a settlement entered into by the District that requires a lot of actions in order to ensure compliance? There are key dates that have to be met, handbook updates, legal review, teacher and student training. Does this cost money? There is an option in the settlement to use the staff of the Civil Rights department to provide the training or if this does not happen, they need to review the training materials. We are almost out of time this school year. Can this be done?
Yes, the Board just got informed, but now don't they need to act? What if the District does not do all that Dr. Skelly signed them up to do in the settlement? Can we get sued? Is there money to pay fees and fines? I thought that we were cash strapped and couldn't afford to give the teachers a raise?
There is even confusion about if we have or do not have a policy. Can the Board answer this question since I think they are the ones to set the policy?
Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 8:46 am
What this thread needs is some perspective. Yes, this issue is a serious one. To act as if people are treating it like a parking ticket is to set up a straw man. Yes, Kevin Skelly did mess up, and so did at least one other administrator, and probably more, at a school site. Yes, bullying is a serious issue, as is student stress. Nobody--NOBODY!--is ignoring the fact that students suffer serious harm from calloused and cruel behavior.
But--and this is important--there is a difference between willful violation of civil rights and not implementing a policy, or even having policies that don't satisfy the most rigorous standards of the Office Civil Rights. There is a serious problem here, and it needs to be corrected. Can the current leadership correct these problems? I think the majority of people in Palo Alto think that the leadership is perfectly capable of doing so. The fact that the superintendent apologized is an excellent start. The fact that he and his team have dealt very well with other issues in the past while maintaining the excellent quality of the district--not an easy task!--bodes well for the future.
Unfortunately, there are scapegoaters and naysayers in this community who appear to want to see heads roll. No matter how hard the district works to get better, it's not enough, and not happening instantly. No matter how intractable the problem, no matter how many causes contribute to the problem, if the schools don't solve it completely, toss everyone out!
Some of us on this thread have asked everyone to work together to make the situation better for all students, for all who work for the schools, for the board, for the community. How about some positive efforts, folks! How about admitting the problem is difficult, avoiding unfair personal attacks on everyone who disagrees with you, stepping away from vendettas against particular people? How about working together for the common good!
Posted by double deep throat, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 9:11 am
The date that OCR completed the investigation was in April 2012. The district staff knew about the OCR findings in April. Kevin Skelly concealed the situation during his contract negotiation and for the entire election season and only signed the agreement in December when the election was over. Camille and Melissa ran on a platform of all is well. All was not well and Kevin knew it on April 3, 2013. When the truth comes out this will be it for a lot of people. Bullygate is not over.
Posted by Management 101, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 9:27 am
I agree with Retired Teacher that we need to work together for a common goal, but that means that we need to understand what happened and what to do about it. Can Kevin Skelly do better than he has? I believe in the possibility for growth as much as anybody, but the evidence on this is weak. Even his apology at the board meeting came in two parts. First he apologized for what everybody already knew about: the failure to protect this student. Only after speakers from the audience pointed out that he hid the settlement from the board did he apologize for that. I see that as coming from an instinct for managing through secrecy and defensiveness, not transparency. I don't know his heart though since I just see the public acts, I don't know him personally.
The issue you are raising though is whether we as a district can do better than Skelly as a superintendent. There it is clear that the answer is yes. There are many superintendents who would have been able to spot this kind of systemic failure and to have reporting and compliance procedures in place. This is really the meat and potatoes of his job. Academic excellence comes mostly from teachers and from the students themselves, who in Palo Alto are already at the top of the heap.
Whether that happens sooner or later is an open question. This incident, on top of the others over the last few years, has probably lit a fuse. Ultimately it will be up to the board to decide what to do, and that will probably be based on their own political self-interest.
Posted by Dauber voter, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 9:35 am
Ken Dauber promised to place all district communication on the web. If he had won we would have known about this. We need to make a rule that the board tells the public everything it hears from staff when it hears it and in whatever form it hears it (oral written email whatever). Did Skelly tell the board in April and then they say on the info or did he hold it until December or did he never tell them at all? If they had to put it on the web we wouldn't have all these questions.
Posted by Oversight, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 14, 2013 at 10:20 am
Why hasn't the board initiated it's own investigation into the failings of the district? At this point, they are operating with a small set of the facts. The Feds may point out what was legally violated, but there is a set of policies, procedures, guidelines and people involved that likely extend beyond Fed findings.
Why hasn't the board initiated it's own investigation?
Posted by I apologize!, a resident of another community, on Feb 14, 2013 at 10:24 am
A majority of Palo Altans support violating the civil rights of a child. You can google MLK, Cesar Chavez, any of the Afghanistan girls who have been shot for their right to an education should you need more education why basic civil rights are kind of important.
This is not about your comfort or wishes to label anyone who does not agree with you, this is a bona tide civil rights issue.
Skelly and Young, the board, et al have demonstrated a pattern of failure or deliberate neglect. Notice how fast they changed their tune with the cystic fibrosis case once the news covered it and a lawyer was involved. That is not a sign of excellence.
To forgive this, perhaps the worst offense, hopefully the worst, is akin to an abused partner telling his or her friends not to worry because his or her will change.
Skelly and Young are merely following an established pattern of unprofessional behavior or they are too incompetent to keep their jobs. You can't have it both ways.
Posted by The Truth , a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm
Palo Alto Community has wonderful schools and very, very involved parents. This type of stuff happens everyday in Redwood City, go visit one of their middle schools, a fact. This type of bullying occurs everyday and is just dealt with, kinda the norm, not even considered bullying.
Here in Palo Alto these things will not be tolerated which is why Palo Alto is such a good school district. How about the bully, his parents?
You could put anybody in Skelley's role and this stuff is still going to continue until parents let their kids know it will not be tolerated and is not okay.
Skelley might have made a error in judgement but he is not the real problem. Bullying is the problem and parents that allow their kids to behave that way are the problem.
Posted by what happened to no excuses, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm
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BOE - you can dress us up nicely, but you can't take us anywhere.
Do you really think Skelly is the best this school district can do? Please put a stop to this culture of apologies and excuses from the Super. You've turned us into the Kardashians.
Please do not take seriously the people who think this is no big deal. Those who are "uncomfortable" or "embarrassed" by situations that are actually regular life and there are excellent ways to approach any problem. Please seek excellence. You demand it from the students, you need to demand it from the leadership. Not a C, no pass here and there. We need people in their A game.
Posted by truth, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Look bottom line, bring in Obama to run district, he is going to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them and do a better job. My point is that whoever is in charge or whatever actions are in place to stop bullying, it all lies with bully and parents, society issue.
This is merely a witch hunt for Skelley and please do not compare him with last sup: she never interacted with kids or took the time to know teachers, a fact!!!
Posted by I apologize!, a resident of another community, on Feb 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm
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Where are your core values, Palo Alto? Do you truly diversity but only if it lives on the other side of the 101? Is is ok to violate a child's civil rights as long as donations flood in?
Why have Teri Baldwin and Wendy Plew of the PAEA and CTA been so silent? Make a statement about what teachers are doing to do? Where is PiE? Where is your statement? Where is PTAC? Does the PTAC stand for enabling the violation of civil rights?
Folks, your action or inaction shows what you stand for. The PA way is cancerous right now. Total system failure. Culture of silence. Not kid-centered.
Posted by Management 101, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm
Thank you PTA for the link. The PTA's work and the links on that page address how to prevent bullying from happening. That is important work, and part of the educational mission of the school and the district.
However, that work will not always succeed, and that is the nature of the failure in this case. When bullying and other kinds of harassment happen, there has to be a mechanism in place to protect children, which receiving reports, investigating them, and responding appropriately. There is apparently such a mechanism on paper in PAUSD, but the officials whose responsibility it is to carry out that mechanism failed to do so. In fact, it seems clear that the Superintendent and the Associate Superintendent failed to make sure that the system as a whole was operating, and also failed to play their own assigned roles in it. All indications are that the failure was systemic.
It would be helpful for PTAC to express a point of view on that issue.
Posted by Peggy Duncan, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 14, 2013 at 5:54 pm Peggy Duncan is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I took the time to read the Office of Civil Rights report, and I must say that I am very shocked. Bullying is terrible but it happens. How adults respond is what really matters. I have lost confidence in the superintendent and the others named here and in the report, particularly the associate superintendent and the principal involved (I guess we don't know which school in order to protect the child's identity, only that it is a middle school).
I don't understand why the school board is satisfied with this state of affairs. How can they accept that they were not informed about this? How can they not want to find out what happened so that it can be corrected?
I am afraid that like the other adults in this situation they have decided to take the easy way out and look the other way. Remember that in this situation, as in so many others, we need upstanders not bystanders. School board members, please step up to your responsibilities even if it is difficult.
Posted by JLS mom of 2, a member of the JLS Middle School community, on Feb 14, 2013 at 11:56 pm JLS mom of 2 is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
My heart goes out to the family and the child in this tragic case. I went to a gathering over the weekend, and there were several lawyers there discussing the Weekly story. They seemed to think that the family should sue the district and that they would definitely win. They also said that a lot of documents and facts will come out if the family sues. It seems to me that would answer the questions that people are asking. One lawyer was telling a story about a case she did against a local company (I won't say which one) for discrimination on behalf of a female executive and the things that came out during the lawsuit were really embarrassing to the company. She said that's what will probably happen in this case.
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community, on Feb 15, 2013 at 9:24 pm village fool is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
About 110 comments were posted above in about 30 hours after the article was published. Having this topic available for comments only to those who are logged in stopped the flow. That happens every time.
Seems to me that this pattern reflects one of the fundamental issues enabling the situation described in the editorial last week.
While many seem to trust the editor's input regarding this issue (even though may have agenda), trust seems to be gone when asked to register. Registration is simple - info not checked.
Many comments were addressing lack of transparency, best practices etc. Those occurrences thrive in atmosphere where people do not feel comfortable to express their mind, ask questions. Reasons are pretty clear, I think - concern as to kids well being, retaliation was mentioned etc. Many comments called for upstanding - who will do that?
If my understanding of the atmosphere is correct - the systemic issues mentioned are well beyond special ed. Many mentioned - the tip of the iceberg.
Having written the above, I'm fully aware that I'm posting anonymously here. I am not proud of that.