District moves to correct civil-rights violations Palo Alto Issues, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:01 am
A Palo Alto special-education student whose complaints of bullying and harassment led to a federal civil-rights investigation and a scathing reprimand of the school district received approval last week from the district for placement in a residential facility.
•[Web Link District submits responses in bullying case]
Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 22, 2013, 8:41 AM
Posted by Chris Kenrick Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:59 am
I do not know the current figures but in June 2010 the outgoing director of special education for PAUSD, Carol Zepecki, told me the district sends about 30 or 40 children a year to "non-public schools certified by the state" for special education.
Those included the Esther Clark School at the Children's Health Council in Palo Alto; the Pacific Autism Center for Education in Santa Clara; Palo Alto Prep (then in Palo Alto, now in Mountain View); Achieve Kids in Palo Alto and Morgan Autism Center in San Jose.
In a handful of cases -- perhaps four or five a year -- children with emotional disturbances are sent to residential facilities, mostly in California, Zepecki said at that time
Posted by Amanda, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:05 am
I can't believe Skelly. What a horrible job he has done. I am furious he still has a job with PAUSD. He needs to go. My kids deserve a capable superintendent. They both go to Fairmeadow and if we have needs that need to be addressed I hope we would get a rightful response rather than ignored like these two cases.
Posted by Abe Mitchell, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:49 am
There should be ZERO tolerance of any type of bullying in the twenty first century.The so called "BULLY BOYS OR GIRLS" responsible should remember that irrespective of what country, class or creed they may belong if the situation were reversed they would be the last ones to tolerate the same.People should made to understand this!
Posted by Skellytons in the Closet, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:53 am
This article speaks for itself. I am looking forward to next week's board meeting. What was Skelly thinking by hiding all this from the Board? And, Skelly's explanation cited after Melissa uncovered the second case, "My only explanation for why this, and the other OCR resolution agreement on the bully case, were not shared with you immediately is that entering into these is something new for me and my direct reports. We have not had complaint cases go this far in my prior six years at PAUSD -- thus, did not see the significance of the resolution agreement being signed since it was part of a lengthy process we continued to be embroiled in," is beyond lame-o. How many more things has Skelly kept secret?
I am wondering. If there hadn't been a whole raft of speakers at the forum following the bully item at the last board meeting we wouldn't have all this information. It seemed like the board was willing to let it go with an apology in his Supt. report. In point of fact Townsend praised Skelly for his apology. Nobody was allowed to talk after Skelly's report and the speakers had to hold comments until after the bully item on the agenda (not playing by the rules and designed to protect Kevin from any forthcoming remarks I suspect). It shouldn't take the press to notify the board that there are severe problems with the leadership from the top down. I am also very dismayed to learn that Charles Young knew about all of these revelations and didn't find it necessary to let the board know (I guess he can't reveal that which his boss was "embarrassed" by). This whole thing is beyond belief. When is the Board going to look at Kevin's actions with a critical eye. They are Skelly's boss not the other way around. You wouldn't know this by seeing the way the board has been subordinate to Skelly.
Thank you Melissa for digging up more the day after the last meeting. When will Skelly reveal all?
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm
Why didn't the board ask for any followup? More to the point, why did they agree to keep all of this secret? This looks like yet another case of a too cozy relation between the board and the staff. Charles Young marks an email "Confidential" and that somehow turns it into a secret that the board has to keep? He's telling them that OCR found a problem and that the fix is going to require training staff, notifying parents, etc. - and there's no curiousity? What about putting it on the agenda for a public meeting? Too embarrassing? This is what Barbara Klausner was talking about, exactly when she was talking about it.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm
@parent - unfortunately we are using exactly the same moniker - after reading the agreement in the bullying case, it seemed really clear that the family tried over a really long time to work with the district and just wanted appropriate accommodations for their child in school, who was traumatized by the bullying. They didn't keep him home all along, they did only after a long period of trying to work with the district and only after the child was too traumatized by the experience. I'm guessing the family was pretty traumatized by the experience and had little reason to trust the district. I don't blame them for not wanting to return. It's terrible to lob accusations at them like that when there's nothing in the case that indicates it. Plain and simple, the district people could have avoided this if they had just worked with the family and followed their own procedures with the intent of doing the right thing.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm
@parent - the government report makes very clear that the district isn't handling things accurately, doesn't know the law, and isn't following its own processes to follow the law. I'm sure the administrators feel as you do, which is why it's good there was an impartial third-party the family could go to for help. That isn't always the case, as school districts are legally pretty autonomous (in government, usually that equates to "insular" without some checks and balances). The OCR report even pointed out a situation where the assistant principal obviously lied to the investigators.
Just as schools have a zero tolerance for bullying, schools districts should have a zero tolerance for such monumental departures from administrative professionalism in schools. Unfortunately, I think the people involved will likely react by feeling a need to do a better job covering up and politicizing this, rather than serving the families of the district earnestly and in accordance with the law. I don't see how this can be fixed with the existing administration.
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm
@parent (1st one): I agree! That family probably sent their handicapped child to school everyday in the hopes that he would be punched in the face and that school and district officials would so nothing over a long period of time and then cover it up so that he could become depressed so they could have the privilege of a residential placement for psychiatric disabilities. As everyone knows if its legitimate bullying the disable body has a way of shutting that whole punch in the face thing down. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm
I'm not sure if your point implied this or not, but just in case, these OCR settlements don't involve the district paying out any money. In fact, OCR doesn't tell the district how to deal with a student, only that it must comply with the law. These investigations were done because PAUSD was so clearly not complying with the law. It's a serious charge, because school districts get to write their own procedures for complying with the law, and understanding those are central to performing their jobs for administrators.
It may be costing the district more because the bullied student had to be moved elsewhere, but it's clear the family tried to place him in PAUSD and work with the district to resolve the problems. If they had understood and followed their own procedures, this might have been avoided.
Posted by soccer mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm
This is not the first time that the district, under Kevin Skelly's leadership has been sited for lack of compliance regarding youth with disabilities.
In November 2009, the California Department of Education (CDE) identified Palo Alto Unified School District as having significant disproportionality pursuant to the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for 2007-08. (PAUSD is one of seventeen school districts inCalifornia with this finding.
CDE found that PAUSD was placing a disproportionate number of Hispanic and African American students in Special Education. A corrective action plan was required and the Board monitored progress in the 2009 and 2010 school years.
I think the basic problem is that a school superintendent shouldn't have to be told to work with families. Understanding how to work with families, wanting to work with families, including those with special needs, should be air and water to them. After all, they're not hired by the state, they are basically hired by the families to serve the schools and do the best job taking care of all kids.
"Poway's Special Ed Program Dumping Ground For Kids?"
Basically, under Skelly's direction, the Poway district was spending huge sums dumping special needs kids into an inadequate separate one-size-fits-all special ed program, and sued the families spending huge sums on legal fees when the families didn't comply. The law says students are supposed to be accommodated in the least restrictive setting possible. Through such contentious litigation with special ed families in Poway, I can't see how Skelly would have been able to avoid knowing the laws he was found by the government here to have seemingly not known, not followed, not trained employees properly in, etc.
Posted by Greetings from Scenic Poway California!, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm
That's nothing. Check out the landmark bullying case Donovan v. Poway Unified that went to trial while Skelly was the assistant Super. He put the bullying victims in that case into "home schooling" just like in this case. Those victims got depressed and the jury gave them almost a million for civil rights violations. There is a pattern. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm
Well, we could do worse, for sure, but you do bring up a good point about the defensiveness. In this bullying case, it's clear this separate placement isn't what the family wanted. How much of the family's time, district administrative time, and the student's life were wasted because Skelly wasn't just willing to treat them with respect and work with them from the start? He's not some guy appointed from on high to rule over us. He works for the families of this district who pay his salary - which I might add is more than the salary for Governor of California or federal judges, and that's not even including all the many perks he gets - but he doesn't seem to like to work that way. We really need someone who gets up every morning wanting to solve problems and do the best job possible for every family in our district's care.
Posted by electeds?, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm
Ok, when are our so called Committtee of 400 and "electeds" and esteemed Palo Alto leaders going to admit that this is a disaster and pull the plug on Kevin Skelly? They are all saying it behind the scenes but not publicly -- he must go. He's not competent to run this district. It doesn't matter any more whether it would be uncomfortable for you to say in public what you are already saying in private. Why are the Weekly and the Daubers and the Haussers taking all the heat for being honest -- he's not up to the job. And shame shame shame on Melissa Caswell and Camille Townsend for concealing what Dr. Young notified them of in April 2012 all through the campaign, talking about how this election was about how well it was all going and that the election was a vote of confidence in district leadership! Yes, if you keep all the problems secret, piled up in confidential memos and secret emails it can all look good. Where is the leadership we need from our community leaders? Pull the plug already. Or isn't a little disabled girl getting punched in the face enough for you? Maybe if it's not your little disabled girl you just care more about your reputations and cocktail party invites.
Posted by Palo verde parent, a member of the Palo Verde School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm
Parent, that is a nice vision. Practically though the School Board makes the decision and they are already on record saying this is OK. Everyone will wait until the fuss dies down. Skelly will decide when he leaves not PA parents.
Posted by Yoohoo Lou, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm
This is from Charles Young's secret confidential email to the School board describing the OCR investigation that they all denied knowing about when the story broke in the papers last week: First, he expressed his disdain for the investigation by complaining that "this week, our students and staff at [name of middle school removed by Palo Alto Online staff to protect the identity of the victim] were taken away from the classroom and their work to address and respond to an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaint." He then recounted the investigation and how despite the fact that parents could have excused their children from being interviewed, 35 kids agreed to talk. Reading the report, of course, those students gave the most damning statements, telling about how the disabled girl was horribly mistreated by peers who made a game of avoiding her. If all those kids knew about it, how odd that the staff did not.
None of that is apparently putting any flags on the field for Young and his crack team of lawyers. As he reports it, the district "attorneys felt like it shed only a positive light on the school and our support of students." [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
That together with [name of middle school principal removed] (who did such a fantastic job according to Young) telling the OCR investigator that her staff didn't need any training on disability harassment because it was super "sophisticated" are the best parts of this. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
The district's legal team is as inept as its staff leadership. These are the same lawyers who advise stonewalling special ed families, refusing services to those who need them, approve the giant stinky pile of confused and contradictory Board Polices and Regulations, then advise ignoring those same policies and regulations, and sign off on the Board violating the Brown Act. We not only need new leaders, we need new lawyers. PAUSD is a gold mine for these crackerjack legal minds -- first give bad advice, then charge by the hour to defend the terrible results of taking that advice. I wonder how many millions of dollars in fees to both sides and damages will result from this.
Posted by Not Qualified to Lead, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm
Anyone who has seen him in action can see that Kevin Skelly, although Harvard-educated, does not have the skills required to be in a position of leadership and decision making. He does not have the necessary people skills, and exercises bad judgment. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Spectator at Large, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:31 pm Spectator at Large is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Can we afford the uptick in malpractice insurance premiums (assuming the district insurance company pays damages? I hope that there aren't any court cases that our district will have to pay for but if it comes down to that I hope that the district gets better counsel. Given all the evidence, isn't it time to let Skelly go? If he had revealed what was brewing to the board at the time his contract was extended to 2016 would he have gotten that extension? Given that information may have been withheld, couldn't the board revisit that contract extension? Can the district afford Skelly any longer given the number of missteps that have have been revealed recently? I am wondering why Skelly's record in Poway was ignored by those responsible (the board?) for hiring him. Perhaps those doing the hiring were willing to overlook his record with the Poway district but now YOU have to look at what has occurred in our district since the decision was made. Can we afford to keep Skelly? And how about Young? He is Skelly's subordinate but it appears that he needs to have a serious looking at as well.
TO THE BOARD: please don't sit there and praise Skelly for apologizing (Townsend) or gloss over any of the damaging information that has surfaced. This is VERY serious business and the people who elected you deserve to have you serve us better. Now that you know what you know (it's not your fault that Skelly concealed it because he was too "embarrassed")you must move forward and get to the bottom of everything. We can't afford to look the other way any longer.[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Enough is Enough, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm
I must be dreaming, I am in denial, and do not want to believe that this is really happening in Palo Alto. I moved here so my kids could have a better education, be respected, and feel safe at schools. I guess is time to stop paying the parcel tax. That money was supposed to be used to improve our kids education, but now it is going to be used to pay the victims of these cases and the next ones to come. I felt so bad to hear the painful stories of bullying and corrupted school officials at the school board meeting last Tuesday. All the school officials involved in these cases and the ones told at the board should leave the district and get hired somewhere else. Enough is enought.
Posted by Reform now, a member of the Juana Briones School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm
This is really happening. We really are watching the board made to look like clowns by Skelly, who has perfected the art of apologizing. I have reached the point of disgust of the dishonesty shown by Skelly and now the board. They have to go.
Skelly, please do the honorable thing and announce your resignation. It is simply too much.
Posted by Charlotte, a member of the Juana Briones School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm
Taking no specific standpoint on the issue, I feel the need to emphasize that the amount of effort required to keep middle school "clean" (in the way that the middle school did) is exponentially greater because classes are taken in different rooms. The elementary school probably had to in total refurbish 5 rooms, one per grade or so, while a middle school would have to do 7 per grade -- actually, if the middle school did sixth grade wheel, it would be something like 10 or 12 that year -- minus any overlap in classrooms (relatively uncommon). It would be expensive to re-do the carpeting and cabinet-ing in that many rooms across campus. I'm not being bias here, but doing all that for one student.... the school did what it could cheaply, change the cleaners, so at least it tried.... They still should have gone through the procedures and gotten an evaluation though.
Out of curiosity, what is the "specialized alternative school" for middle school? I didn't realize one of JLS, Terman, and Jordan was cleaner than the others....
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm
It occurs to me that the same poor (arrogant?) attitude toward families in the district, especially special needs families, that played into this happening in the first place, is going to make it really difficult if not impossible for Skelly and Young to fulfill these settlements by training staff, etc. to follow the laws.
Because they clearly know the laws -- Skelly's previous issues in Poway with special ed families demonstrate that, aside from the fact that it would just be really ridiculous to believe a district superintendent wouldn't understand something so central to his job -- but didn't follow them for reasons that have to do with their own attitudes about applying the laws and dealing above-board with families.
I don't see anything in how this has come to light that would remedy that. Their training staff now, as the OCR settlements require, to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law will only get the district into further trouble in the future and continue to leave the most vulnerable among our children unprotected. It opens the district to liability and -- something the government only does when a district is really recalcitrant -- future fines/punitive actions.
I see nowhere in any of this that our leaders had an epiphany about understanding or following the spirit of the law, which is fundamentally how all this went bad in the first place.
Posted by Amazed, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm
I just got home and read about these latest developments.
I watched Skelly apologize at the last board meeting for concealing a federal consent agreement and then heard him promise to never conceal something this important again. Then we got to watch Townsend actually praise him for his apology while the rest of the Board sat there. Now we find out that he was concealing from his bosses and the public a second consent agreement for a different set of violations. Was he just trying to elicit more praise from his board this coming Tuesday?
On top of that, he has now changed his excuse for miss leading them and the public. Instead of his "embarassment" he now claims unfamiliarity with a case "going this far" as his reason for his deception. No kidding, since the article states that over the last four years only 21 cases nationally have gone this far. That's 21 cases out of 20,000 or so school districts in the country. And now we find out that we have two of the 21, but for very different sorts of violations. Skelly is unfamiliar because the federal Office of Civil Rights finds these severities of violations and resistance to correcting the errors so rare. Do we really have someone in this high of position who, when facing exposure that he concealed a very serious federal action, claims that the dog ate his homework and then the next day claims that the cat spilled milk on his next assignment? This would be laughable if it was not so egregious. Seriously, how can a person with such an apparent lack of maturity and responsibility continue in his position?
Under the current leadership, PAUSD staff and the Board continually talk about our exceptionalism. I don't think this is the sort of exceptionalism we as a community have had in mind. Then again, I don't have the priviledge of residing in their alternative reality.
Posted by Mom of 2nd student, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm
The OCR investigation only applied to the process. They found the district wasn't giving us or other families notice of their rights or following due process, for example.
The Weekly story was probably vague to protect privacy. There has been no request either in elementary school or middle school to keep the school "clean", only to use safer cleaning products for normal cleaning practices that are greener and healthier anyway. We did also offer to find a way to defray associated costs if necessary, but the district has never discussed that with us. There has been no request by us to re-cabinet all the classrooms, only to take care of one particularly problematic cabinet in one room. Again, we offered at many points to pay for replacing it and even handle the cabinet outside of the formal discussion just to get it done. The teacher has even said she is happy to just remove it but it's bolted in.
Replacing the carpeting in two or three rooms will be more expensive, but older carpeting on sweating slab foundations of that era grow mold and other things that can cause allergy and health problems for all students and faculty. Because of this experience, we have heard many complaints from parents across the district about allergy and asthma associated with these older carpets, including parents who have also complained and asked for older carpeting to be removed or changed because of their student's asthma. Today I heard from a mom at another school who told me they experience the same musty smells and mold allergy in some areas with tile instead of carpets; poorly insulated slabs can grow mold on the glues, I guess.
In regards to the carpeting, this is not a hypersensitivity situation, we are asking the district to simply follow best practices to have healthy indoor air quality for all students as recommended by the EPA for schools, the California Department of Education, the California Department of Public Health, or the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health. It has to be voluntary because there are no laws protecting student health in schools in this regard. If the district followed standards for operations and maintenance for existing buildings per the Collaborative for High Performing Schools, whose standards the district already promises to follow for our new construction (but not the older buildings where the kids still spend the majority of their time), this problem would not be at issue in our case.
The one carpet in the elementary school that was replaced was only replaced after a pipe broke in the floor and ruined the carpet. We complained about mold in the room and the district's expert found that the carpeting was wet and stained, yet the district did not move to replace it until the pipe broke. The removal as well as the repair of an incidental OSHA ventilation violation found at the same time seemed to solve the health problems. The district's own expert recommended that the district make and/or follow an indoor air quality management plan in the future. Had they been following one to begin with, that room would have been maintained better, and the carpet might still be okay today.
Having an indoor air quality management plan and following it is cheaper in the long run, and is important for student health and performance. Here's a wonderful resource from the American Association of School Administrators with more information Web Link They give examples, such as one district that reduced asthma inhaler usage 50% by implementing a plan. Another reported significantly reducing absenteeism from illness.
Yes, it's probably true the district does not want to implement a plan for healthy schools across the district because it costs money in the short run. But we do need to ensure that reasonable measures are made at our school. And taking reasonable healthy schools and indoor air quality steps across the district will save money and be better for students and teachers in the long run.
Posted by Spectator at Large, a resident of the Leland Manor/Garland Drive neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm Spectator at Large is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
@Amazed: Well said! It looks like our district's exceptionalism includes our superintendent's exceptional abilities at making up bogus excuses for actions that are unconscionable. It is truly pathetic that he can't think up better excuses. And what is worse, the Board will most likely buy it! If I were on the Board, I would be furious that such lack of respect is constantly being doled out by Skelly. Lies of omission are truly not acceptable and it is time for the transparency that has been called for and agreed upon by Kevin (going forth from the aftermath of the confidential memos to the board fiasco). I am tired of his saying "My bad" and hoisting two thumbs up when he is called on his stuff by the Board (seriously, this happened at one of the board meetings only he didn't even say "My bad"!). I think it was after Barbara Klausner had the guts to address one of the things that probably influenced her decision to leave the Board. Barbara was the only one who had the guts to speak directly to the transparency issues and I am hoping that the current Board will do what they know needs to be done. If you are a Palo Alto resident and want to make your feelings known to the Board prior to Tuesday's meeting, please send them an email. They may not agree with you but I think they try to listen to their constituents (sometimes that is). And, if you have always wanted to attend a Board meeting, please come out and speak your truth this Tuesday night. The meeting is broadcast on public TV so alternatively you can watch it at home.
If Kevin gets praise from the Board at next Tuesday's meeting (as he did from Townsend at the last meeting) that will be the last straw. It is time for the board to start doing their jobs.
Speaking of the Board, I am really wondering if the Board would have been composed of the same people who are sitting now had this OCR information been made public prior to the election. Could it be possible that it was kept under wraps in order to affect the outcome of the election? Just wondering.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm
I find this conversation so discouraging. Some of the adults adults in this community are out for blood, implying that firing the administrators will solve all the problems with bullying in the schools. If I were in administration in the district at this time, I would certainly be afraid to admit to any mistakes as it just provides more ammunition for those parents who want to see the district and board taken taken down. It's more important for them to be "right".
I wish the community had an understanding for what bullying is, how pervasive it is, how under the radar it is, and how little education we all have on it. My child was bullied in second grade because of his speech issues. I educated myself and have a much better understanding of how complex this issue is. It is not a problem for just the schools to solve. They do have to deal with it, and unfortunately, often don't do a good job, just as parents don't do a good job. Parents never want to accept that their child could be mean, so they often point the blame back at the target. Ask the teachers and principals what their least favorite problem to deal with is, and I imagine they will say trying to find out the truth about "bullying" incidents at school.
So ask yourself, “whose problem is it?” It belongs to all of us. Educate yourself. Much of "bullying" today is kids being mean. They are saying, writing and doing mean things and following up with "Just kidding". Most parents think "my child would never bully". Unfortunately, all children and adults are capable. Talk to your children. Most children don't define bullying the way we do. They see the mean behavior as "normal" and are just grateful it isn't directed at them. That's the main reason why children don't defend other children. They don't want to become the next target.
Where do you think the kids get this freedom to be mean? They aren't born to bully, they learn it. They may have a sibling that is constantly "bullying" them, so they turn around and take it out on a classmate. Many children who are targets actually become bullies themselves as a defense mechanism. Kids also learn the behavior from the adults in their lives. Watch what you are modeling and saying. You may not think your kids are watching and hearing, but they are.
Ninety percent of kids with special needs are bullied. What happened to the child in this case is not unusual. We need to do a much better job of teaching our children that differences are not something to be afraid of or laughed at. Most importantly we need to teach our children empathy, tolerance and respect for all.
And for those of you who are horrified that a kid punched another child, walk down a middle school hall in any school. It happens. There are not enough adults around to see it. Even if every teacher stood in their doorway, they wouldn't see most of what goes on and they certainly won't hear the taunts and the teasing.
Please realize, that bullying is not just a PAUSD problem but is an international problem. It occurs with children and adults. It is even more complex with the internet. The US government is now holding conferences every year to look at this problem. Research is done, papers are published, and books are written. If there were an easy solution we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Nothing will change unless the adults in the community are willing to take an honest look at the problem and help with the solution.
I know parents who moved to this district because of its reputation of providing services to children who need it. It is incredibly expensive and unfortunately schools find they need to balance the needs of these children with the needs of all children. That sounds horrible, but it is what it is. The world of special education is in flux right now. We have to do a better job of getting both adults and children to understand, tolerate and respect differences. I think this is what the new inclusion programs are attempting to accomplish. In the meantime, please realize that districts across the country are trying to deal with kids of all different abilities and needs as best they can. They don't always get it right. If funds were unlimited, everyone's needs would be met. It would be easy to assign a child their own aid to come to their defense. If only we didn't have to live in the real world.
Whenever a parcel tax comes up there are multiple complaints that the schools have plenty of money and too many administrators. Just imagine a day in the life of one of these administrators. Ask your principle how many issues he/she deals with in a day. Each of these issues, from the mundane (I want a different teacher) to the serious (my child is being bullied) is the most important thing to the parent. There are not enough hours in the day to be perfect in handling all situations. That's reality.
Please check out We Can Do Better Palo Alto's Facebook page. Web Link I find it interesting that they are obliquely telling parents to feel free to sue the district. This will not make anyone's children's problems go away, but it will take resources away from the schools to help deal with the problem. My view is that education of parents, teachers and kids is paramount. And, it is not a once a year assembly. It is a concerted effort to make change in our own behavior and that of our children. It is not to assign blame but to educate.
I’m not excusing what was done or not done in this case, but I’m hoping that people will take a broader view of how serious this issue is and how they need to be part of the solution. You can't have it both ways. You want an exceptional education for your children. That takes money. You say you want fairness for all. That takes money. How does Solomon divide?
Posted by C, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:45 pm
I am starting to think I thought to extremely of the phrase "certain chemicals prevalent in inexpensive cabinets and furniture" and that re-cabineting and re-carpeting wouldn't be necessary.... Mom of 2nd student, thank you for correcting me in that regard. I'm just overly suspicious of district criticism because I think it's a crazy post to hold and I feel a bit bad for Skelly. But besides that @candybowlhunger it would be more on the order of ~10 rooms to be redone if 6th graders go through "wheel" and rotate through different classes throughout the year. Regardless, I think carpeting can be done although I do have more of a challenge with cabinetry.
Posted by resident, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:10 pm
parent Paly community,
Your post about the broader issue of bullying is kind of irrelevant to this situation.
It's like saying let's talk about the broader problem of steroid use in sports when there are already basic laws and rules about steroids. They just were not enforced, used or applied in these cases, with poor bedside manner at that.
The district screwed up in applying its own policies, Skelly was not ethical when hiding this, and now you want to talk about the broader problem for which these policies and rules, were already in place to deal with in the first place?
Posted by Amazed, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm
I think there is broad agreement that bullying has many contributing causes and we share broad responsibiltity for attempting to reduce it. However, I think that you are missing the issue at hand, which is that our district has been woefully irresponsible and in violation of federal law in response to bullying when it occurs. Despite the attempt of the administration at the last Board meeting to shift the focus, the issue for the federal investigators was not our frequency of bullying, but rather how our school district responds to bullying when it occurs. The OCR found that we are severely and unusually deficient and in violation of federal law. That aspect is within the control and responsibility of the district and we flunked.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm
@resident - What I am trying to say is that you can have all the policies you want in place, but until parents take responsibility for teaching their children respect, tolerance and empathy, nothing is going to change. Just having a policy doesn't mean that behavior will change. What a policy does is help avoid a law suit. It doesn't help teach children how to be nice.
Yes, steroids are illegal but are you saying we shouldn't try to change the culture that demands perfection which results in athletes resorting to steroids? We reward that kind of performance. We adulate athletes who achieve the remarkable. Who can blame them for cheating. Why do you think cheating occurs in our schools? Kids think they have to be the best. They will resort to any means possible. Even Michelle Dauber admits that cheating is an issue at Stanford.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm
The point is actually that in both of these settlements, the district didn't follow important laws that protect students and which are pretty central to administrators' jobs. The OCR doesn't step in just because of bullying but because the district was doing such a poor job following specific laws (that applied in that case). The districts get to write their own rules for following those laws, too, they are just required to know and follow them. Skelly was an administrator for many years and apparently involved in some pretty serious controversy over special ed in his previous district, so it doesn't really make sense that he just didn't know better.
In the case of the bullied student, she had a disability that made her a target of bullying. Because the district did such a poor job following the law and accommodating the child's disability, the problem got much worse for the child. The government stepped in to ensure the district understood and followed the law in that case and in future cases. Same for the second settlement. From above, the OCR found "the district hadn't conducted a proper evaluation and ... its 504 procedures were not in compliance with federal regulations"
Given the statistics, apparently most of the time the government doesn't have to step in and tell the districts to do this and how to do it. Administrators seems to have protracted the first complaint which resulted in an in-person investigation but avoided that by settling faster in the second one. Following these laws is District Admin 101, it's not unreasonable for parents to demand more accountability.
Posted by Reform now, a member of the Juana Briones School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm
There is very little complexity in the OCR case of Skelly and Young. They, along with others demonstrated that they are unfit to lead. In Skelly's own words, after six years as a superintendent, he did not know how to handle it. Young's performance is mediocre at best. These two are not the best and brightest and $250K will attract better than the mediocrity we have.
I hope as a community we can get away from blaming individuals or each other and start working on holding our leaders accountable.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:13 pm Ken Dauber is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"parent" and "E" are right that bullying is a complex issue -- but complying with federal civil rights laws and with the district's own policies and procedures really isn't. As I pointed out in another thread (see Web Link), nearly all school districts in the United States manage to avoid running afoul of federal law governing disability harassment. The roughly 14,000 public school districts nationwide generated 1513 complaints of disability harassment to OCR over the last four years, with just 15 districts (including ours) receiving findings of violating civil rights laws.
While it's true that following the law and district policy won't produce Utopia, it will provide children some real protection from repeated harassment, and increase their sense that adults in their community value them and their safety. It will also, as "parent" points out, help to avoid lawsuits, which in the Poway case that I mention cost that district $750,000 in damages and legal fees.
I also want to register my objection to the language that "parent" uses, that critics of the district's performance on this issue are "out for blood." I've repeatedly seen parents who participate in the democratic process around our schools described using violent language like "beating up" or "banging on" or "out for the blood" or "seeking the head" of staff members. Asking for accountability from elected and public officials isn't a violent act -- nor is it bullying.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:40 pm
The out for blood comment stems from the opinion you wrote in the Palo Alto Weekly blaming the superintendent for the suicides and the posts on the WCDBPA page. You relate the deaths by suicide to academic stress. Has that been proven? Not as far as I can determine. The whole Brown Act accusation? Requests for all emails? As far as I can determine, none of your charges of illegality were proven.
Asking for accountability from elected and public officials isn't a violent act? Depends on how you ask.
Posted by resident, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm
parent Palo Alto
"are you saying we shouldn't try to change the culture that demands perfection which results in athletes resorting to steroids? We reward that kind of performance. We adulate athletes who achieve the remarkable. Who can blame them for cheating. Why do you think cheating occurs in our schools? Kids think they have to be the best. They will resort to any means possible. Even Michelle Dauber admits that cheating is an issue at Stanford."
What say you about the actual rules against steroids? Respecting them, using them, applying them, enforcing them? or about academic honesty policies?
Policies may sound lame to you, but they are what guide district administration, and ultimately define culture. In case you have not noticed, policies, and their proper use are also cause to get in trouble for "violating" someone's Civil Rights. PAUSD just did that.
Say you had no academic honesty policy? This would be ok, as long as we work on the broader problem of cheating?
Posted by Amazed, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm
I am hesitant to get dragged into your disagreements with WCDBPA, but it is pretty amazing that you have tried to turn this issue into a blame the messenger scenario. Heck , WCDBPA isn't even the messenger here. The truth has come out because of The Weekly's reporting along with the frustration and courage of the two (so far) families. It is hard to dispute the fact pattern that we are now aware of.
I doubt that facts will change your perspective, but defending this egregious conduct by Skelly will only continue to enable nore of the same. That is how we got to this shameful point.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm Ken Dauber is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"parent" is trying to achieve by distraction, ad hominem statements and false attacks what she is unable to achieve through rational discussion.
I've never blamed the superintendent for the death by suicide of our students, though I did call for a more robust response and new leadership on the issue. The response to academic stress is a community-wide effort led by Project Safety Net, as part of our broad community response to the tragedies, as I'm sure "parent" is well aware. As to the issues of transparency, the recent revelations, as well as those of last spring and summer, amply demonstrate that this is an area where the district needs to improve. In fact, if the transparency improvements that the Weekly advocated last spring were implemented (improvements "parent" obviously opposed) then we would not have been in the dark about the OCR findings, or the confidential email Associate Superintendent Charles Young sent to the Board regarding the OCR finding in April 2012.
Now more than ever we need open and civil discourse, rather than reflexive defenses and attacks on concerned parents and community members. I urge you to be part of that process. But I'm not going to get involved in a mud-wrestling exercise in order to persuade you.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:44 am
Please don't try to state that Project Safety Net identified student stress as a "major" issue. It was ONE of the several issues (I think there were 22) that they identified and YOU decided it was the major issue. Your quote: "They haven’t done a good job to this point of looking at the schools’ own practices that can be changed to reduce unnecessary academic stress and to reduce student social and emotional stress at its source. So, they haven’t really reduced the root causes, in the schools at least, of the stress and distress that are affecting teens in Palo Alto.” What do you know about the suicides in our community that point to academic stress? Why is academic stress the school's fault and not the result of the pressure our community puts on perfection?
"Now more than ever we need open and civil discourse, rather than reflexive defenses and attacks on concerned parents and community members. I urge you to be part of that process." What was uncivil about my response? Just because I don't agree with your methods, why does that mean I am not part of the process? Where was the attack?
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:16 am
Great job Weekly on your first class reporting on this case. It is very important for the community to know what has happened. The lack of transparency is astonishing and the Board simply has to address it. I have come up with a list of questions that I would like to ask Dr. Skelly for his performance evaluation:
1. Why did you refuse OCR's Early Resolution Option?
2. Why did you allow PAUSD to have a Finding against us instead of negotiating?
3. Why didn't you submit that decision to a Boardl?
4. Have you considered hiring new lawyers -- these have not given you very good advice so far apparently?
5. Why did Charles Young not apply the Uniform Complaint Procedure as specified in AR1312.3 in this case and in the other bullying cases?
6. Why does the OCR Resolution Agreement state that the Uniform Complaint Procedure *is* the District's discrimination policy but you STILL have made up and presented to OCR a different policy "Internal Complaint Policy" that is handled at the site?
7. Do you think site-based control has worked well in this case now that we have a finding against us from the federal government and are going to be facing individual lawsuits?
8. Do you think Dr. Young managed well in this case? Do you think that he should be dismissed? Do you plan to dismiss him for his serious lack of follow through in this case?
9. If not, why not?
10. Are you familiar with Donovan v. Poway? What was your involvement in Donovan? Why was that case not settled but proceeded to trial? Was that a good decision to go to trial on those facts? How do those facts differ from the facts in these cases?
11. Do you believe that there is a connection between bullying and suicidality and depression? A recent JAMA study found that there is such a connection. Do you agree?
12. Do you believe that students who have been severely bullied are at increased risk for mental health problems?
13. Why do you think so many people on Town Square are calling for dismissal and almost no one is defending you? Do you think that you have alienated some in the community with your management style?
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:33 am
14. Dr. Young's April 9 2012 email to the Board states that he will provide additional information about the OCR findings you received that week: and that he would "share them with [the board] so you are aware of the areas we will be addressing." Did he ever do that? Why not? Did you? Why not? Do you have any documentation that you ever told any board member at any time about the OCR Resolution Agreement or the OCR Letter of Finding before it was made public by the Weekly?
15. Dr. Young's October 21, 2012 "Ed Services Weekly" states that "The results will be available by January." Did Dr. Young or you or anyone else to your knowledge report to the board any results in January 2012?
16. During the period from the OCR finding in April 2012 and the day after the last board meeting February 2013, the child in the OCR complaint did not receive residential placement despite the family's repeated pleas and documentation from doctors. Why not? She clearly needed it since you agreed last week. Why not the week before or the week before that or the week before that?
17. If you agree that depression and suicidality are caused in part by bullying why did you leave that child untreated and at risk for suicide?
18. Why did Dr. Young inform the board that the interviews with students in October 2011 by OCR "shed only a positive light on the school and our support of students." Why was your administration concerned with shedding a positive light on the school rather than getting to the bottom of what happened and improving practices?
19. The principal of the school in the OCR investigation told the investigators that the staff did not need training on disability harassment because the staff was "sophisticated." In retrospect was that a smart thing to say or believe? Should this principal be terminated? Why not?
20. The assistant principal in the OCR investigation was not candid with the OCR investigator about having reports from the student and family including the names of accused bullies despite school records to the contrary. Should this AP be terminated? Explain your decision?
21. Did you plan to ever inform the Board about the two OCR Resolution Agreements? If so, when?
22. Do you believe that the School Board serves an important function in school governance? Explain your answer.
Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:45 am
parent Palo Alto,
I agree with Amazed, "I am hesitant to get dragged into your disagreements with WCDBPA"
and for the record I have no affiliation or have any need to anyone.
This being said, your discomfort WCDBPA has some pretty serious consequences. I'm getting the idea that the recent elections and any issue at PAUSD now turns into parent-to-parent power plays.
Someone (maybe you?) keeps posting on the threads that the recent election was a referendum on Skelly. This is pretty much nauseating to me, as a regular "neutral" parent who voted for simply who seemed the most qualified.
At this point, I would like to know if there is collusion between certain parent power players in the district and Skelly. It would have to be some pretty important people he has on his side.
I read in one of these threads that a former school board member may have been behind some emails regarding the elections. And I can imagine that PIE and PTSA have other power people who may be swaying the board. Is this also why PTSA has been silent on all of this. Not even a peep on replacing the carpeting or air quality?
Parent power players:
You need to get over your Dauber Derangement Syndrome, and start seeing things for what they are. Stop making this about your vendettas, enough of the broken record about who said and how one said this three years ago, and it's all somebody else's fault.
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:51 am
I think we should keep the conversation focused on Dr. Skelly and bullying. Let's focus on the situation at hand and not fight last year's (or 2011's) battles. That is all water under the bridge at this point and we have very serious problems to address.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 8:52 am
@Mr. Burke, "Why was your administration concerned with shedding a positive light on the school rather than getting to the bottom of what happened and improving practices?"
You have with this sentence encapsulated my entire experience with people in this district office on all matters. And why I also think it's time for a change. I wouldn't be so hard on the principal and assistant principal unless I knew what arm-twisting they were getting from on high, first. I'm not sure "site control" isn't just another way to deflect families who go up the chain trying to resolve whatever problem is at hand, because I find when the need strikes, there's just another reasonable sounding misdirection, sometimes pointing back at the district office.
Posted by Really Confused, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm
These developments have also caused me to be very disapointed with WCDBPA. I have counted on them to be our watch dogs on student well being and governance issues in the district. During the campaign last fall they and Ken Dauber were systematically accused, publicly and through a whispering campaign, of exaggerating our problems. I recall receiving a mass email from Mandy Lowell Mumger and Walt Hays attacking Dauber. I did not learn until later that Mandy and her husband spent millions, along with the Tea Party Koch brothers, to try to pass Prop 32 which was designed to bust the teacher's union and other unions.
Now we have found out that our problems are much worse than WCDBPA claimed so I can't even count on them to be good enough watch dogs. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Observer, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm
Parent, I have to agree with much of what you are saying.
Really Confused, I'm right there with you. Sometimes I believe Dauber is too much a bully for the task, although I agree with a number of his stated goals. At others, I think he isn't bully enough. I don't believe that bullying will ever get us what we need, but the current situation is very dysfunctional. This district needs a new approach. The students are being let down terribly by all this. Any constructive ideas, not requiring anyone to be ritually sacrificed?
Posted by MidtownMom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:16 pm
I agree with @parent Palo Alto HS. We should not forget the bigger picture throughout all this. We often don't get to hear the other side of the story unfortunately, and I am sure that at least part of the reason is to avoid further problems.
I doubt any of us have much idea of the demands parents expect the district fulfills on a daily basis. And every single one feels their demands are reasonable, within the law, and of great priority. Some of these parents have the means to bring a lawyer with them to meetings.
Not an excuse to what's going on, but a reminder to be conscientious of the bigger picture. The laws are designed to protect, regardless of the different push and pull we have to deal with in reality. Stronger, more organized groups will have greater power to lobby, just like the unions. But it doesn't eliminate other obligations the organization has and the balancing act it must achieve.
Some things are hard to say without opening a tougher can of worms, especially in light of a litigious society.
Posted by wondering, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:29 pm
just wondering....is the board scared or in awe of skelly? is it cause most of them are female, that they are typically less agressive and so don't want to cause waves or be tough with skelly? seems like anything thing he says is swallowed whole by the board without any question.
wake up school board! [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Really Confused, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm
I have heard district insiders accuse WCDBPA folks of bullying when they dare to advocate strongly on behalf of student's well being rather than the district's test score prestige. I am grateful for their commitment and courage. Many of us fear retribution for our children or ourselves if we speak out publicly on these issues. After hearing the widely circulated claims that they were exaggerating our problems, it is pretty shocking to learn that they were actually understating them.
Posted by Thank God I Didn't Vote For Townsend, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm
I Regret Voting for Townsend: Sorry for stealing part of your screen name but I am right there with you. It is time for Camille to stand up to Skelly (unlike her performance at the last meeting). Along with Camille the other members should follow suit. I am glad that Ken Dauber wasn't elected frankly so that he doesn't have to sit on a board with a bunch of people (for the most part) who aren't willing to deal with Kevin's errors of judgement (I am being nice here). Ken's continued efforts to try and secure the best for our students and shed more light on some of the more unsavory goings on in the PAUSD administration should be praised by Palo Alto parents. Why did it take a writeup in the local paper to get Kevin to tell the Board what is going on? These are serious issues!! We have been cited by the Federal Gov. for God's sake! Nobody could consider this trivial in any way and there is no way that Kevin could have kept this from the Board because of "embarrassment" or whatever other cockamamie excused he has dreamed up. We need a turn over in leadership (maybe even some of the Board members) because the district will continue to be getting into deeper doo doo if the same old same old continues. Please wake up and do your jobs PAUSD Board members!
Posted by I regret voting for Townsend, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 2:02 pm
No problem, I completely agree with your post
"These are serious issues!! We have been cited by the Federal Gov. for God's sake! Nobody could consider this trivial in any way and there is no way that Kevin could have kept this from the Board because of "embarrassment" or whatever other cockamamie excused he has dreamed up. We need a turn over in leadership (maybe even some of the Board members) because the district will continue to be getting into deeper doo doo if the same old same old continues. Please wake up and do your jobs PAUSD Board members!"
"I think we should keep the conversation focused on Dr. Skelly and bullying. Let's focus on the situation at hand and not fight last year's (or 2011's) battles. That is all water under the bridge at this point and we have very serious problems to address."
Sorry to have been responding to the Dauber Derangement Syndrome trolls, I think your questions are important and hope the BOE will respond.
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 4:50 pm
More questions for Dr. Skelly's Performance Evaluation:
23. In April 2012, Charles Young informed the Board, including Melissa Caswell and Camille Townsend, that the district had been found to have created a hostile educational environment for disabled students due to harassment and that the district's attorney was" working with the OCR regarding the corrective actions, which
are quite lengthy." (See: Web Link) During the official briefing for school board candidates did you or Dr. Young brief the candidates Dauber and Emberling on this information which the other candidates already possessed? Why not? Did you at any other time brief either of the school board candidates on the information that you had briefed the Board members on in Charles Young's April email?
24. If the answer to 23 is no, why did you selectively omit briefing the candidates on certain information about the OCR findings and resolution agreement? Please elaborate.
25. What in your view is the proper role of the Superintendent in local school board elections? Please elaborate.
26. Turning your attention now to the district's Resolution Agreement with OCR, dated December 14, 2012, (see: Web Link) page 3, item A.4 states that the Guidance Memorandum will contain a statement that the Uniform Complaint Procedure required by the CDE regs referenced in question 25 above "is the district's procedure for resolving disability discrimination complaints." Please tell us what you think that means? Does your answer depend on what the definition of "is" is?
27. Please look further at the sentence in the Resolution Agreement that states that the Guidance Memorandum will contain a statement that "the Uniform Complaint Procedure is the district's procedure for resolving disability discrimination complaints." Comparing that agreement you made to the description in the Guidance Memorandum submitted to OCR (see:Web Link) please find that required sentence in your submission. If it is not there, explain why not.
28. Please explain why you have submitted to OCR a Guidance Memorandum that clearly fails to comply with the plain language of the Resolution Agreement because it does not contain a clear statement that the Uniform Complaint Procedure is the district's procedure for resolving disability discrimination complaints.
29. Please explain why you have substituted a "site-level" complaint procedure for the agreed upon Uniform Complaint Procedure required by law and the OCR Resolution Agreement. Please explain why the filing of a written complaint under 5131.2 does not automatically trigger AR1312.3 Uniform Complaint Procedures as required by law but instead triggers a site-level policy that does not comply with the CDE Regulations or the OCR Resolution Agreement.
30. Please explain why you misspelled the word "discrimination" as "DESCRIMINATION" in the heading of this memorandum. Do you think that this reflects your best effort?
31. Did you show this Guidance Memorandum to any member of the School Board prior to submitting it to OCR? Did you explain to such members of the Board the consequences, including potential enforcement action by the Department of Education and/or the Department of Justice against the district, for failing to comply with the Resolution Agreement?
32. Are you aware that the following internally contradictory board policies and regulations establish different procedures for discrimination complaints in PAUSD: BP 1312.1, BP1312.3 [the uniform complaint procedure required by law), BP5145.3, BP5145.7, BP5145.9, and AR 1312.1, 1312.2, 5145.7). You are now adding BP5131.2 and AR5131.2. Which of these policies comply with California Ed Code and Regulations?
33. Why does BP5131.2 not require staff to report incidents of discriminatory harassment up the chain of command in every case? Please explain how this complies with Title IX, Title IV, the ADA, the RA, or the IDEA, or Title 220 of the Ed Code?
34. Do you think it is advisable to have a different policy for sexual harassment (BP5145.7 and AR5145.7) and for disability harassment and both are different still from the uniform complaint policy? Do you think this is confusing to staff, parents, and students?
35. Why do you think that CDE has prescribed one uniform complaint procedure for complaints of discrimination?
36. Why aren't you ensuring that PAUSD utilizes the legally required uniform complaint procedure even after we have been cited for the OCRfor failing to do so and have agreed to do so in the future?
37. Do you take your responsibility for ensuring legally compliant policies seriously? If so, why are so many of them not legally compliant?
38. Why wasn't the Uniform Complaint Policy BP1312.3 initiated at any point during the OCR incident?
39. Why wasn't the Nondiscrimination/Harassment Policy 5145.3 and AR5145.7 initiated at any point during the OCR incident?
40. Turning your attention now to your email to the Board of February 14, 2013 in which you stated that you did not inform the Board about the Letter of Finding or the Resolution Agreement because you "did not see the significance of the resolution agreement being signed." Please explain what you mean by this. Was it the agreement that was not significant? Was it the violation that was not significant?
41. Maintaining your attention on this email, you also stated that "we did not develop a regular routine for informing the Board about them." Do you have a procedure in place for informing the Board of lawsuits? If yes, what is it? Do you have a procedure in place for informing the Board of CDE findings of discrimination? If yes, what is it? Do you believe that a district being found to have engaged in unlawful discrimination is a negative event? Do you believe it is a serious negative event?
42. Do you believe that serious negative events like discrimination should reflect on your performance?
43. Have you ever informed the board of a serious negative event without a specific procedure for doing so? If a teacher was arrested would you inform the board? If a building burned down would you inform the Board? If there was a serious epidemic disease outbreak such as meningitis would you inform the board? Do you have a specific procedure for doing so? If you did not, would you simply not inform them?
44. Do you believe that the district unlawfully discriminated against the Student who complained in the OCR incident? Do you believe that the antidiscrimination law of the United States was fairly applied to PAUSD in that case and if not, why not?
Posted by Another Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Stanford, on Feb 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm
@Edmund Burke: Unfortunately you won't be able to personally ask these questions at Skelly's performance review but thanks for supplying the Board with so many questions thus giving Skelly a chance to reveal all to them. He may want to look at these questions in advance of the closed performance review session on Tuesday. You have given Skelly a head start on boning up on answers. I hope that these answers make more sense than the reasons he has been previously offering for his actions. He's a Harvard guy, he should be able to take on this assignment and excel! Let's see if he can convince the board that there is a good reason to conceal such serious issues from them.
The public can come to the evening meeting to hear more about the OCR debacle. We, unfortunately won't be able to hear the answers to any of these questions unless the Board decides to address some of them at the evening meeting. That might be appropriate.
Posted by I regret voting for Townsend, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm
You can say discrimination does not reflect PAUSD by getting the forensics on what happened (meticulously), and say never again. Write a new policy of how relationships with families need to be handled when they involve serious stuff like this, appoint a very visible Anti-Bullying Czar.
Institutionally, you need to point to the Superintendent for allowing this situation to get as legally ugly as it did, including the Superintendent hiding it. Get a new Superintendent, and new counsel for PAUSD.
When a new Superintendent is being considered, let them know that this is not a political office. It's the opposite. No deliberations, decisions can be made or actions taken just to preserve political power. No alliances with power parents, no getting blinded by all the money in town (there is always someone richer, smarter, or louder), no need to courtesy to the big donors. Just treat everyone right, and don't f up. It's actually a lot easier than Dr. Skelly has made it to be.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:47 pm
If you really want to be helpful in relation to bullying, which occurs every day at every campus, please take the time to watch the following program with Anderson Cooper. His quote: "Bullying can have devastating consequences for children, parents and educators, and I’m very proud of our continuing work to focus attention on it,” said Cooper. “Families, schools, and organizations across the country are wrestling with how best to address the often complex issues surrounding bullying, and we want to do all we can to help them in those efforts,” he added.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:59 pm
you wrote "I doubt any of us have much idea of the demands parents expect the district fulfills on a daily basis. And every single one feels their demands are reasonable, within the law, and of great priority. Some of these parents have the means to bring a lawyer with them to meetings."
Apparently, according to the US government OCR, our highly paid administration doesn't have much idea of what is expected of them by the laws that apply to schools. They would have it a lot easier if they just weren't too arrogant or unreasonable to follow the procedures the district itself wrote to follow those laws! Given what Skelly did in Poway, it defies any credibility that he doesn't know these laws or was just too much of a rube to know what he was doing. There's no ethos of service to families among this group. As a parent volunteer, sure, I realize you get a few of THOSE parents, they're everywhere, but by and large, this is as intelligent, caring, interested, and reasonable a bunch of people as I've ever had the good fortune to associate with.
If dealing with the different needs of families, especially special needs families, in such a softball district as this is too much, then I'm sure we could find other talented people willing to take perks and salary on the order of what the President of the United States makes to do it. Reading the settlement in the bullying case, the family tried to work with district and administrators for an inordinately long period of time, all the while their child suffered. It was the administrators who were being unreasonable, even lying, and didn't seem to have any idea of what families with special needs children deal with. Most special needs families can't afford lawyers, though the word is that if you don't have one with our district, they will run right over you. Based on how far things got before the government stepped in in these cases, we are surely seeing only the tip of the iceberg. Given how the district seems to have repeatedly violated the law in such serious ways that just these two cases we know about demonstrate, the district could face enormous liability by continuing with this "leadership".
Skelly apologizing but excusing himself by saying he just didn't know better is not credible. Absolutely no regret about what the district did to the families or about how the spirit of the law was violated. Pay him off if you feel you must, but Board, it's time to find someone honest who WANTS to work for the families of this district who pay his/her exorbitant salary.
Posted by Walter Hays dad, a member of the Walter Hays School community, on Feb 23, 2013 at 8:25 pm
For the next superintendent, I recommend that the school board members look only at men or women who have already been superintendents somewhere else. If I'm not mistaken, Palo Alto is Skelly's first superintendent post. The fact is that performance as a #2 isn't a strong predictor of performance in the top job. PAUSD is a top job statewide. We can attract the best, and find someone who has proven his ability to lead elsewhere.
Posted by Ken Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 10:32 pm Ken Dauber is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
@I regret: There are many definitions of bullying. One common one is: "Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time."
Bullying becomes unlawful discrimination when it is motivated by a factor such as race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or disability, [often referred to as protected characteristics] and when school officials fail to intervene to stop it. The most succinct statement that I've seen is in the "Dear Colleague" letter from Russlynn Ali, formerly Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights and head of OCR, sent to every school district in the country in 2010 (see Web Link):
"The statutes that OCR enforces include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). Section 504 and Title II prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. School districts may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees."
In order to create a hostile environment, peer harassment must be severe and pervasive. Most often it will be repetitive. However, even one incident can meet this standard if it is sufficiently severe. Therefore, school officials must be vigilant and respond to every such incident in order to ensure that it does not rise to the level of illegal discrimination. School officials who become aware of complaints but do not intervene to stop the harassment may be liable if they show deliberate indifference to the harassment by failing to have policies, enforce them, or intervene sufficiently to stop the harassment. Regrettably, that appears to be what the OCR finding concluded about PAUSD in this case.
@village fool: We Can Do Better Palo Alto has called for an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation in order to find out what happened in this case, and what is happening currently in other schools with other children. That's the right method, I think, to find out what teachers and other staff members may have to share on this subject.
@Really confused: I'm sorry too that We Can Do Better Palo Alto missed the ball on this one. I didn't know about the OCR complaint, finding, and resolution until the press reported it. Dr. Skelly and Dr. Young didn't mention it during the briefing of candidates that Heidi and I attended, and those Board members who were candidates didn't mention it in any of the campaign forums we all attended.
The real missed opportunity in that regard was the CAC candidate forum that focused on Special Education. That forum was attended by many parents who would have benefited from knowing about OCR's conclusions. In a CAC survey of special education parents after the disclosure of the OCR findings, 95% of respondents reported that their children had experienced bullying at school. Melissa Caswell and Camille Townsend missed an opportunity to tell those parents and the rest of the community about this important fact affecting disabled students in the district.
Looking ahead, the right response to all of this lack of transparency is full and honest disclosure, coupled with accountability, and improved management practices that ensure that district nondiscrimination and uniform complaint policies are consistently and fully implemented at all schools in PAUSD.
This is clear to me now. I can't help getting very annoyed that the violation was entirely avoidable.
For anyone with an opinion on this topic, read the Dear Colleague letter.
Among the questions I would ask is how Dr. Skelly is addressing the 95% of disabled kids reporting they are bullied.
and what about the potential for retaliating against families with bullying complaints - the Dear Colleague letter specifically addresses this. Has the culture of retaliation in Poway made its way to Palo Alto? (article on Poway's Special Ed program dumping ground for kids?Web Link)
How big is the problem in Palo Alto, is it like an epidemic of situations related to bullying children with disabilities, or was this case an exception?
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm
Mr. Skelly seems to have learned the wrong lessons from his experience in Poway, where the district shuffled all special ed students regardless of the issue into the black hole of an apparently poor program and sued special ed families who didn't want to put their children in that program. (The law says districts need to accommodate students in the least restrictive environment possible.)
They seem to have reacted to it by hoping if they ignored parents and their children's special needs, and didn't tell them of their rights, they would eventually go away and probably not complain to the federal government if they didn't know they had rights to begin with or it was clear the district was going to fight to the point of deception to avoid acknowledging it. (The law says districts need to have processes to recognize and be proactive about extending such rights to kids.)
It's not looking good that an apology is going to solve the problem. As the late Steve Jobs said, "motivations matter".
Posted by Who hired Dr. Skelly?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Excuse me but I am totally in the dark about the hiring processes for superintendents in PAUSD and am wondering who was in charge of making the decision to hire Dr. Skelly. In the age of the information highway, I think this information about Dr. Skelly's history in Poway would have been looked at. I can't imagine why he would be considered acceptable with news stories such as the one linked above. I found these two quotes to be most telling. Did Dr. Skelly clear the district of all accusations made about special ed students? Are there any follow ups that clear the Poway district? Does anyone know? Please post if you can shed a more positive light on Dr. Skelly and his former district. I can't find any indication online that these accusations are false.
"To have 25 unhappy parents out of 3,000 -- that we have not been able to resolve with -- I think is very good," Skelly said.
Parents and students said more people are afraid to come forward because the district has a record of retaliation."
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm
Excuse me, what I just said in my second paragraph just now was unclear - I meant he, Mr. Skelly seems to have reacted to his experience at Poway by hoping if they (our district) ignores or otherwise discounts as many families whose circumstances fall under those legal protections as possible and doesn't apprise them of their rights, those families would eventually give up.
The result of such behavior, while giving the superintendent the desired political result, hurts families in our district, destroys trust in a large segment of the parenting community, and opens the district to significant liability down the line.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm
@Who hired Dr. Skelly?
Dr. Skelly's own quote there is pretty damning (of his honesty or his intelligence, and I see no reason to question his intelligence). Typically when there is a problem, only a very small fraction of people will complain, and lawsuits even among those who do are usually rare. Plus, the Palo Alto CAC, a volunteer group of parents who spoke at the board meeting after the bullying civil rights case came to light, pointed out that the 25 families who sued is not out of 3,000, because there weren't 3,000 special needs families in the district, 25 families was an unprecedented, large segment of the special needs community, which is a much smaller subset of the school population.
Now we know how he could have interpreted the OCR on-site investigation to the board as shedding only "positive light" on our district.
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 3:44 pm
Perhaps Dr. Skelly viewed that light as positive compared with Poway. Please remember that the special education lawsuit was not the only problem Poway had during Dr. Skelly's tenure. Another, similar, problem arose with gay students who were severely harassed and bullied. The facts of Donovan v. Poway are eerily similar to the facts in the current disability bullying case and resulted in a landmark trial verdict against the district for nearly a million dollars in damages and fees. We are well down the same road. If Dr. Skelly was not aware of the rules barring harassment on the basis of protected classifications he was the only soul in Poway, California who didn't know as this case was famous and riveted the community. It was this case, in part, that inspired the 2010 Dear Colleague letter that we have now violated.
The pattern that I see is one of stiff-arming parents who are least able to defend themselves -- disabled, gay, poor, black, brown [don't forget the Paly Math Letter], depressed, mentally ill, struggling academically -- these families are told if you don't like it sue us. Then nobody does because everyone fears retaliation against their children.
This kind of conduct cannot exist in an atmosphere of transparency. Had Melissa and Camille and Dana and Barbara Mitchell treated the disclosure of the OCR findings in April 2012 as public information [which it was] then we would not be in this boat now. Instead, they kept this matter from the public, never disclosed it during a contested election. and insisted to the Weekly during their videotaped interviews that all was well and they liked the direction things were going. Watching those videos now is just other-wordly.
Sometimes organizations are so broken and their leadership so rigid that they only way that they can change is through litigation. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by More to come, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm
Knowing the kind of job Skelly did at his former job answers many questions that I had, such as why we had so many Latino and African American students in Special Educations. At a board meeting in September 11th, someone addressed the board and said that their child was put into a special day class against their will, even though many e-mails were send to school officials letting them know that parents did not agree. They ignored it and put the student in the special day class. An investigation was done by Santa Clara Department of Education and were found guilty. The board knew about it, the lady spoke at the board meeting. I am wonder what did they do about it. . Now it makes sense why they put the student in that special ed. class when parents did not agree to the placement. Here is the link Board meeting. Here is the linkWeb Link
It is almost at the very end of discussion Item, B. Disproportionality Plan:
Staff will present information on the implementation plan to address disproportionality.
Posted by Educator, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 24, 2013 at 4:19 pm
You have to remember that Skelly was hired to calm down the principals and administrators after they had risen up and successfully ousted Mary Frances Callan, the former superintendent, which actually has resulted in almost a complete turnover of principals due to firing, reassignment, retirement, or resignation. After a few years, Skelly became bolder and bolder after successfully apologizing a number of times to make problems he created go away, such as the anti-Latino comment he made, the lack of effectiveness in his response to the suicides, and then the Brown Act alleged violations. In his boldness, he successfully kept the teacher's union, PAEA, off his back and even got them to accept a paltry 1% one-time bump retroactively for the 11-12 school year. But let's get back to his apologies. The Brown Act alleged violations happened in April and May and he apologized, but without admitting responsibility. At the same time, he was undergoing an attack from PAEA and a few members of the Board to get rid of a few principals, and apparently, thanks to the Weekly, he was under pressure from the Office of the Civil Rights. To top it off, he was up for a contract extension in late May or June, which he got. Worse yet, an important election was taking place in the fall, and he and Charles Young failed to disclose virtually any of the OCR cases. He had a multi-year head start in the OCR case, but because he had successful diverted or deflected or dismissed that family for four years, why would he change that winning strategy. His own "apology" even claimed ignorance of how to handle such a case in his six years (though he was actually in his fifth year last spring and in the middle of his sixth year). This second case he knew about the family for at least three years and the middle school principal had months of warning to make things right, but this time Young was the one who got involved as the compliance officer and frankly didn't really know what to do. Either way, Skelly's apology to the board, reported here in the Weekly, is a non-apology. He said he is sorry that some on the board may have been surprised by the latest revelation, not that he was sorry for causing the situation. He has never apologized by taking responsibility. The old-fashioned "buck-stops-here" is not in his repertoire. His leadership skills rely on you, the community, being impressed with his Harvard undergraduate degree and his ability to deflect any blame, responsibility, or accountability, despite the healthy salary he receives, which is the very reason why he is paid so much (just talk to a custodian about the verbal abuse he or she may receive from an insensitive teacher or parent or principal, while making almost a tenth of what Skelly is paid).
The bottom line: [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Skelly needs no more sympathy. The board needs to do its job. They need to release Skelly, Young needs to go, he never belonged here, he just does not possess the requisite skills if he cannot handle compliance issues, which are basically by the book, and it would say a lot about how we put kids first, or at least how we should put kids first, if Holly Wade was demoted or let go. Camille, Melissa, Dana, and Barbara, you four need to somehow demonstrate that you are not as culpable (you are responsible for it, but Skelly's latest apology implies that you should have known and you should not have been surprised) as Skelly and Young. Our community has violated the civil rights of a child in 2012 and apparently that is not the norm, but a rarity. This comes two years after the feds cited our district for disproportionately putting Latino and African American boys in special education after failing to address their needs in the regular education classroom. Heidi, you claim to be an advocate for special needs children, but can you actually do what you were elected to do and make the hard decision? Or will you sit there Tuesday night and say a few sentences of outrage and then move on?
This thread is over 100 entries. Each of the previous ones two weeks ago were over a 100. That is an extraordinary number because this latest fiasco is extraordinary. Though there are a variety of opinions expressed, one cannot deny that many of us are not out for blood, but we do want the governance system to work and the superintendent and the associate superintendent need to be out of their offices at 25 Churchill by June.
Remember that Kevin Skelly was the assistant superintendent at Poway during part of the time of the harassment and during the trial. He came to PAUSD before the appeal but after the verdict.
Some of the most relevant similarities are that the students who were bullied reported it repeatedly, the district claimed that they did not intervene to stop it because they did not know the names of the accused bullies but that was proved to be false because the students/parents kept logs and made frequent reports. Another similarity is that the students were placed on "home tutoring" and not in school for an entire year rather than the district stopping the harassment. The claims are under state rather than federal law because during the Bush Administration there was no federal right to be free of anti-gay harassment. That was one of the central purposes of the Dear Colleague Letter -- to inform districts that Title IX would now be interpreted by the Obama Administration to include harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. What happened in Palo Alto was always illegal even before 2010.
"Plaintiffs Joseph Ramelli and Megan Donovan started as freshmen in 2000 at Poway High School (PHS). Each endured "severe, pervasive and offensive" peer sexual orientation harassment while attending PHS. This harassment, which peaked during their junior year, included, for example, death 580*580 threats; being spit on; physical violence and threats of physical violence; vandalism to personal property; and being subject to antigay epithets such as "fag," "faggot," "fudge packer," "dyke" and "fucking dyke." Both students completed their senior year at PHS through an independent study program offered by the Poway Unified School District (District).
Before filing a lawsuit, plaintiffs and their parents met with defendant Scott Fisher, the PHS principal. Plaintiffs each gave Fisher a log chronicling the harassment they had experienced and/or witnessed during their junior year at PHS. Plaintiffs also complained to defendant Donald Phillips, the superintendent of the District, and to defendant Ed Giles, an assistant principal at PHS, among many other administrators and teachers, about the peer sexual orientation harassment they were enduring at PHS.
The District claims it adequately responded to the harassment experienced by plaintiffs, that plaintiffs provided insufficient information for the District to determine which students on campus were responsible for the harassment, and that plaintiffs rejected various options suggested by the District in response to the harassment. Plaintiffs claim the District's response to the peer sexual orientation harassment was legally insufficient and that despite their complaints they continued to experience severe peer harassment when on campus. Plaintiffs thus sued, alleging both state and federal causes of action.
After a six-week trial, the jury returned a verdict finding (1) the District violated section 220, (2) Fisher and Giles violated Ramelli's rights under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, (3) Fisher alone violated Donovan's rights under the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution."