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District submits responses in bullying case

Original post made on Feb 22, 2013

Palo Alto school district administrators last Friday submitted the first batch of required materials to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights relating to an investigation into the bullying of a middle school special-education student.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 22, 2013, 9:36 AM

Comments (17)

Posted by Hmm, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

Why does Holly Wade's memo say that the District is going to pay for training rather than the OCR training offered for free? Was that arranged when no one knew about the settlement, to avoid ackward questions about why OCR was doing training?


Posted by anecdote annie, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Shouldn't this settlement with the Dept of Education include the termination of Kevin Skelly? He is the biggest offender in this whole business.


Posted by Reform now, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm

School board: you need to resign or you need to take action. The action you need to take is to fire Skelly and Young. Wade should also begin her exit. Skelly's behavior has been unprofessional--hiding critical information from the board, transparency issues, and violating the civil rights of our students are unprofessional--and it has made liable we taxpayers. That you did not know about this information makes it seem that he did not want to negatively impact your re-election.

Heidi, you need to step up and show real leadership. We voted for you because you are a Juana Briones parent, but please do not attempt to shirk your duty. You need to lead the firing, clearly Camille, Dana, and Barbara have no intention of doing so, or they are simply incapable. There have been too many apologies from Skelly.

Young needs to be simply let go. This was a compliance issue and he was the compliance officer yet showed no competence during the past year and a half. March 15 is the deadline. Both of them need to be given a pink slip.


Posted by More to come, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm

We are not counting the investigations done by the Santa Clara Office of Education, where they found the district out of compliance. If we go deep into this more settlements will come out. Yes they do exist, but they were kept secret.


Posted by I Agree, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I agree this mess cannot be undone, it only keeps getting bigger. Time to let go all the people involved, no need to put names, you district employees know if you tried to help this child or not. Hope you have time to sit down and ask yourself: "Did I really earned the money I am getting paid for?" If you were one of those the student asked for help and you told her to go to the office and ask for help, you too need to leave and find a job that you can be better at. Yes this also includes the secretary at the middle school who would give the ugly look every time she saw the family coming to ask for help, and could not hide .


Posted by need more response , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 7:43 pm


This is not a full response to the community about how it got this ugly, and how this will be dealt with in terms of changing leadership and so forth.

Deafening silence from those who have insisted that the recent board election was a confidence vote for Skelly, or that those against Skelly are naysayers who don't care about our schools.

Where are you Skelly supporters?

This is somehow everyone else's fault?



Posted by anecdote Annie, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Kevin Skelly is guilty of the bullying problems in our schools by OMISSION--what he did NOT do--rather than by COMMISSION. It is also called neglect. he is too wi py and indecisive for the job, so he should be replaced ASAP.


Posted by anecdote annie, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

How do we start the process to remove Kevin Skelly from office. I mean, as long as he is here, my kids will not go to PAUSD schools.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 8:35 am

The district's submission is fatally defective because it still fails to clearly specify that the Uniform Complaint Policy is the district's complaint policy for discriminatory harassment claims. This violates state law (Cal Government Code 234.1, CDE Regulations, Title 5, Subchater 1, 4600 et seq; Title 5, Subchater 1, 4900 et seq ("It is the intent of the State Board of Education that the Superintendent of Public Instruction assist school districts and county offices of education to recognize and eliminate unlawful discrimination that may exist within their programs or activities and to meet the requirements of this Chapter. The Superintendent shall meet this responsibility through technical assistance and ensuring compliance pursuant to Chapter 5.1 (commencing with section 4600) of this Title relating to standard complaint procedures.").

The district committed to OCR that it would now utilize the Uniform Complaint Procedure but in its submission, the district tried yet again to make up a site-based policy that allows each school to have its own separate investigation, record keeping, etc. Parents only receive the legally mandated policy if they go out of their way to elect to use it. Even then it is not clear from this submission whether they will receive the mandated policy or just get bounced back to the site.

In addition the submission sends an unfortunate message to the government that PAUSD is not taking this process seriously. For example, the submission contains a typo in the first word of the title, in 14 point all caps ("DESCRIMINATION") and having multiple different dates for the same things just generally indicating a lack of seriousness of purpose, e.g., the policy says that complaints will be resolved in 15 days, the notice says 10, the guidance memo says complaints are written, the policy says oral or written, the uniform complaint procedure specified by law says written, who can tell what is really in force).

This same lack of seriousness is reflected in the Charles Young emails to the school board in which he informs them that the district is under investigation, which he does not seem to like because students and staff were "taken away from the classroom and their work" to respond to, and in which he (incorrectly) bragged that the 35 student interviews "shed
only a positive light on the school and our support of students." The embarrassingly wrong comment by Young echoes the similar braggadocio from the school Principal who rebuffed OCR's offer of disability harassment training by telling her that PAUSD's staff was very "sophisticated" and did not need such training. The unintentionally ironic emblem in the upper right hand corner of Young's memo to the board is, of course, a lighthouse.

When Young later informed the board that maybe PAUSD was not a beacon of light unto the world after all and that OCR had found us to be illegally discriminating, he expressed concern only for the feelings of staff, but not the child -- a little disabled girl who had been repeatedly told she was stupid, retarded, no one liked her, no one would be her friend, and punched in the face while the district did nothing to intervene to stop the harassment. Rather than express a whit of concern for her, Young told the board that "The staff at [the school] will be disappointed as they felt they did a great deal of good work to ameliorate the concerns outlined in the parent's initial complaint." A more appropriate sentence would have been "the district deeply regrets the fact that this child's rights were violated and we will be reaching out to the family in order to ensure the well-being of this child. Our hearts go out to her." That lack of feeling likely also explains the fact that the family was stonewalled for 10 more months until the district's lack of concern broke in the press.

In other words, it does not appear that PAUSD has taken this case seriously from the first day the parents reported the problem until today. They just do not get it. This submission is more evidence that the district is not taking its responsibility seriously. It could not even bother to proofread its submission to ensure that it appeared to be carefully done. It does not comply with either the letter or the spirit of the complaint procedure requirements.

One of the primary problems in the OCR case was a lack of clear complaint resolution procedures. This lack of clear policies and procedures left families in a procedural black hole in which their complaints were sent back to the sites for resolution in violation of state law and in violation of the civil rights of children. This new effort only serves to muddy the waters further. The district will now have fully seven policies and four sets of administrative regulations, each claiming to be the district's policy for resolving discrimination. Only one of these is the state-required Uniform Complaint Procedure BP1312.3). All the rest merely serve to confuse parents and staff and zero out any hope of accountability.

The reason for this is that the state and federal government consider the LEA as the district, while at PAUSD the ideology of site control is preventing Dr. Skelly and the board from understanding and implementing their responsibilities under the law. Even when faced with an order from the US Department of Education instructing them to do so, and a myriad of state laws mandating that they do so, they are still trying to fudge their answers.

Hopefully OCR will reject this as insufficient and tell the district to begin again this time in the spirit of compliance rather than enact a policy of massive resistance. By the way, PAUSD is not the first school district to resist federal civil rights law.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:13 am

We seem to have gotten into this mess because Skelly apparently learned the wrong lessons from what happened in Poway, where the district got into hot water for shuffling every special ed student into the black hole of a separate special ed program where the kids weren't getting an equal education or the services they needed. When parents balked, the district sued them to make them go into the program! The law requires districts to make accommodations so kids can get a fair education in the least restrictive environment possible.

It explains a lot about why the unspoken policy here seems to be to avoid documenting, acknowledging or realizing many kids' special needs, to the point of engaging in deception such as the assistant principal clearly did in the bullying case, in hopes that families will be deflected instead of coming under the umbrella of legal protections in these important laws. If you can't segregate special needs kids, it would seem the approach is to now simply fall all over themselves not to have them in the first place. Unfortunately, aside from being morally reprehensible and going against serving the best interests of students and schools, it's also illegal as the law requires districts to be proactive about identifying and extending protections to students who may benefit, and has them write their own procedures for complying with the law in a practical way.

How many kids in our district were denied services that would have cost less than the administrative and legal time to illegally deny them? We'll probably never know. In both of these cases, the OCR highlighted our district seeming to not know the laws, not following the laws, and certainly not apprising parents of the laws or their protections under the laws (as the law requires).

I don't see even a hint of remorse for this unspoken policy, which we now see, know is illegal, doesn't serve our kids, and leaves the district open to significant liability. These two cases are only the ones we know about. I haven't seen any evidence Skelly, Young, or the district has changed its tune.


Posted by need more response , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:54 am

parent,

"How many kids in our district were denied services that would have cost less than the administrative and legal time to illegally deny them?"

That would be the $$$$$million dollar question, and unfortunately possibly the answer as well.

I noticed an article on these threads about a program of inclusion (for special ed students) which PAUSD was working on, which now seems inconsistent with what happens behind the scenes.

The good intentions are there, but why then create this atmosphere of mistrust? Dubious answers will not be enough.

Barbara Klausner must be relieved to not be on this BOE now!


Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Inclusion is not always supported by special education advocates. Done well it can be great. Done poorly it is a way for districts to appear to be complying with the law but actually a warehouse/dumping ground for disabled children that increases social ostracism, bullying, and learning difficulties. Inclusion done on the cheap means that kids are mainstreamed without proper supports, teachers are not given proper training, and special needs children are simply plopped down for babysitting while the regular education room carries on. Perhaps there is an aide, perhaps not. The law requires that every child receive a Free Appropriate Public Education. In the case of inclusion the question is "appropriate." The districts that use inclusion as a ruse cite another provision of the law that requires that education to be delivered in the least restrictive environment. But for each child what that environment is will vary depending on the needs of the child. In every case the assessment must be individualized. I have long wondered whether or not inclusion as practiced in PAUSD will be merely a cost-cutting measure. After all, we're already paying the regular ed teachers, so it is much cheaper just to throw the special ed kids into a corner and be done with it as has happened in other districts. I don't know the answer but if the district's compliance with the disability civil rights law in these other cases is any indication, hold onto your hats.

Inclusion done well is "Sesame Street," and done badly is "Lord of the Flies." You can guess which kind we are likely to end up with.

The real problem is that we will never know whether this is really working or not because we have an administration and board more concerned with "shedding a positive light" on our wonderful schools and heaping empty praise on top of empty praise than on having good governance and accountability.


Posted by anecdote annie, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm

The damage has been done. But to start the healing and prevent any more damage, Kevin Skelly should be ousted. We need to discuss how that can be done....by petition, or what?


Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 25, 2013 at 6:24 pm

I can't believe that a lawyer is recommending that someone admit they were in the wrong and that they apologize. Talk about opening themselves up to liability. May be this is why they haven't done so. Justice is all a game, unfortunately, at the expense of the innocent.


Posted by Educator, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Kevin Skelly should not be ousted, the board is in charge of his mid-year evaluation tomorrow, which would set him up for a notification of March 15 that he will not be working in PAUSD as of July 1. It is proper and just that the board votes in closed session to end this professional relationship.

Oust will be what all of us will need to do to the board members should they not report out at 6:30pm tomorrow that Skelly and Young will be moving on. I am more than happy to attend his goodbye ceremony in June and honor him for the good work that he has done, and he has done some good work, unfortunately, these latest revelations are merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Dismissing Skelly and Young is easy to do, but they have a hard job in deciding what to do with Holly Wade and the middle school principal and assistant principal. Either way, concrete action is called for. If Camille, Melissa, Dana, and Barbara do not handle this, then it is they who should be ousted. Barbara Klausner had her chance in June, but despite giving the weekly a copy of her speech criticizing Skelly, governance, et al, she rewarded him with a contract extension. There should have been no reward. It will be most challenging for Heidi. Will she be able to perform in closed session or at 6:30PM or will she simply say a few words to position herself as not in agreement and yet just follow and allow the dysfunction, mediocrity, and lack of transparency to continue?


Posted by Doesn't Comply, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm

These documents were required by the OCR Resolution by Feb 15th. The first item on the guidance memo, which is due within 30 days of receiving the OCR's approval of the draft, refers to the new bullying policy, PP and AR 5131.2. It appears these items were due March 15, 2013. Wouldn't this cause the district to be out of compliance with their own resolution agreement with the OCR?


Posted by more to say, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Edmund Burke,

Elsewhere you said: "Ken Dauber and WCDB have literally nothing to do with the facts of this case."

Really?

Ken Dauber just stood in front of the board saying that he knows the child, that he knows private details about the child's case, that he knows its private resolution and then made demands of the district on the child's behalf. Michele Dauber effectively did the same online, not only saying that she was privy to private details, she shared some of them and gave legal advice that included next steps strategy:

+"aware that this child still lacks an appropriate placement and is not today obtaining a free, appropriate, public education"

+"the family should proceed with haste to obtain other legal remedies available to them [because] the requirements of the IDEA and the ADA are not being met."

+ "The school should face civil liability and it is my hope that the family will retain counsel and pursue their remedies in order to ensure that the student's needs are appropriately provided for as a result of the damage inflicted by the legal noncompliance (and almost willful negligence) in this case."

They are hardly uninvolved with the facts.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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