Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 7:30 am
However, I disagree with the editor's call for a committee comprised entirely of school board members. Dana Tom and Barb Mitchell's editorial in this issue makes it abundantly clear that board members have decided to circle the wagons. Tom and Mitchell decided to attack OCR, misrepresent federal law, and point to confusion where there is none. Heidi Emberling is quoted elsewhere in this issue as saying that this whole situation is an "exciting opportunity" rather than the violation of a child's civil rights. Camille Townsend apparently believes that we already know enough.
A committee comprised entirely of board members cannot gain the community's confidence, given that the board has apparently already prejudged this issue. There should also be community members who can be trusted to be independent.
Posted by I agree , a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:00 am
I agree, good editorial
I also agree with above comment that there should be community members who can be trusted to be independent to be part of the committee. We can't leave these guys alone.
The roles of BOE members are made unnecessarily complicated by the way these officials interject their need to assert their "beliefs" and special flavor of thinking to each and every issue, at the expense of normal regular expected process when something is clearly wrong.
From Emberling -
"I work from a strengths-based perspective, and for me this is an exciting opportunity for how we can move forward," Web Link
"Strengths based perspective" -is this what they teach at board camp? To focus on what "they" are all about, and how "they" make decisions, and how "they" think, and how "they" see things - multiplied by 5 board members and the Superintendent? It's torture.
We need problem solvers, not philosophers of the day.
Posted by Legal Eagle, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:15 am
As Ed Burke keeps reminding us, this is a case about a little disabled girl who was tormented, punched, kicked, jeered, pushed down, hazed, and taunted. It is a case about teachers, principals, administrators, a superintendent, Charles Young the compliance officer, the director of special education and Dana Tom the school board president who knew these facts and did nothing effective to stop the harassment. They all broke the law.
To characterize this as an "exciting opportunity" is insulting to the child and family.
Here is what should have been said: "I am deeply shocked and saddened that our district failed to respond appropriately. I am determined to get to the bottom of what went wrong, and ensure that it never happens again. I support a full and impartial investigation and appropriate policy and personnel adjustments as needed from the results of that investigation. I will be making a motion for that at the next board meeting."
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:36 am
If the family of the bullied child hadn't released the documents to the Weekly, the Board would still be unaware that Skelly signed an agreement with the government without informing or consulting with the Board members.
This is the same Skelly who labels the case, even after signing the agreement "alleged bullying".
If this does not constitute grounds for dismissal without any compensation, based on gross incompetence, dishonesty and frankly, lack of even minimal human compassion, than no Superintendent should ever be fired.
Posted by Identifying-Bullying-When-You-See-It, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:55 am
The Weekly's list of suggestions should also include a review of the District's policy (or policies) on bullying. The District's policy should include some sort of working definition that is in compliance with State/Federal guidelines/definitions, and no so vague that every District employ can not say that they don't understand it, and/or that under the District's policy--that bullying can not be readily identified, and the bullies dealt with effective administrative (or legal) means.
Posted by Marlene Prendergast, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:04 am
I believe we should calm down the hysteria and let the Board work on this as they see appropriate. They are elected officials. They do not need constant comments from people who may not know all the facts of the situation. Certainly the Weekly has the right to do an editorial. But the rest of us could relax for a 24 hour period and see how it goes.
Posted by Identifying-Bullying-When-You-See-It, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:12 am
> They do not need constant comments from people who may not
> know all the facts of the situation.
Being elected only means that they got a majority of the votes cast, not that they are qualified to do the job.
And in this case, with the Superintendent purposefully keeping them in the dark, coupled with their own predalictions towards circling the wagons when there is a crisis, rather than being honest with the public--having as much public input on this matter is the only way that they are going to get any sense of what they should have done, or what needs to be done.
Comments like this one make us all wonder what this poster things a "democracy" is all about. Yes, this is a not a pure "direct democracy", but given how small Palo Alto is--there is no reason for the public not to express its opinions to the Board (particularly since this Board has declined to hold elections as frequently as it could have, or to be as open with the public as it should have).
We have seen at least two people without college degrees elected to the Board in the past decade--both of which have ended up as Board President. What does that say about their qualifications to run a school district with a budget of almost $200M a year?
Posted by better mousetrap, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:16 am
What more is there to say, other than he structural requirement in American K12 Districts require local Boards of Education is probably THE reason why American K12 education - including this problem, is so screwed up.
There is no other body of professionals (in this case, educators) whose jobs and policies are created and monitored largely by people who have no experience in education, administering education, etc. etc. It's a bad joke!
I have watched this dysfunction for YEARS, in Palo Alto - it's legion. Of course, there's nothing to be dome about it, because BoE's are the law, and that's EXACTLY why K12 education is going to be disrupted to kingdom-come in America, over the next 2 decades. It didn't have to be this way, but here we are.
Posted by Legal Eagle, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:24 am
Edmund Burke posted this on another thread and it seems appropriate for this one too:
Barbara Mitchell and Dana Tom want you to think that the law is unclear and that PAUSD is caught up by a federal definition of harassment that is overbroad and "differs significantly from current law, including California law, which defines bullying and school responsibilities very differently."
This is an abject falsehood.
They quote a 3 year old letter from National School Board Association complaining to OCR that it "is creating an expectation that school officials are to respond to each and every offensive incident as if it were a civil rights violation."
What they don't say is that three years ago Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali responded point by point to this letter showing that it was misguided and based on a misunderstanding and misreading of the law. You can read Assistant Secretary Ali's response here: Web Link
This is a little complicated for nonlawyers to understand, and that complexity is something that Mitchell and Tom are counting on. I will try to explain this in simple layman's terms.
The US Department of Education gives a lot of money to school districts including PAUSD.
Because the US Department of Education gives us that money they have the right in exchange for that money to place conditions on how we use it. One of those conditions is that we follow US Department of Education guidance on protecting student civil rights. This is not new. It is a federal law with a long and important history. It is how Lyndon Johnson desegregated southern schools. OCR is the agency that enforced desegregation. It is also the agency that enforces TItle IX and ensures that universities and colleges that receive federal funding treat female athletes fairly. Another law that OCR enforces is the law against harassment based on race, sex, disability or other protected classifications. That is the law PAUSD broke.
There are two ways that a student who has been unlawfully harassed can complain. One way is to OCR. In that case, OCR can order the school to stop discriminating and put it on a Resolution Agreement. That is what happened here. There are no money damages for that, only an agreement to stop discriminating. The other way is for the student to sue in federal district court for money damages. That has not yet happened in this case.
The standards in the two different kinds of enforcement (OCR and suits in federal court) are a little bit different but not in a way that matters for this case.
In 1999 the Supreme Court decided that school districts could be liable for peer-to-peer sexual harassment in a case called Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. In order to be liable a district has to have actual notice of the harassment. It is not enough that the district should have known, the Supreme Court said. It has to actually know and do nothing.
OCR issued a Dear Colleague Letter in 1999, then again in 2000 specifically addressing the standard for its enforcement under federal law (called "injunctive" relief) and comparing it to the standard for money damages decided in the Davis case. OCR decided that when a district is sued for money, the Court may hold the plaintiff to a higher standard of evidence of wrongdoing (actual notice) than when OCR seeks to merely ensure best practices. OCR determined that it would continue to expect schools to prevent harassment about which they knew or reasonably should have known. This has been the law consistently since 2000. Every school district has been on notice since 2000 about that and you can read all about that in Secretary Ali's letter above.
But it doesn't matter because PAUSD did know about the harassment in this case. This is not a case in which the NSBA complaint has any relevance at all. It is just a smokescreen trying to create an impression that PAUSD was treated unfairly by the big, bad federal government.
PAUSD would be liable under both standards. PAUSD had actual notice of the harassment in this case and did nothing.
The principal knew. She thought it wasn't harassment and that her staff was very "sophisticated" so she didn't need training.
The Assistant Principal knew but he told investigators from the government that he didn't know.
The Compliance Officer Charles Young knew.
The Director of Special Education knew.
The Superintedent knew.
These officials received upwards of two dozen emails, verbal, and written complaints about discrimination. In March the family notified the district in writing that if it did not address the harassment, including a physical assault in which the little disabled girl was punched in the face so hard she had to go to to doctor and the police were called -- the family notified Kevin Skelly that if he did not address this known harassment they would go to OCR.
Nothing was done and they went to OCR.
So there is no issue of complicated law, changing standards, or conflict with CA law. In fact, CA law is entirely consistent with federal law. However, even if it was not in our federal system federal law would preempt any conflict.
The law is not hard to follow, changing, or ambiguous. Our elected leaders are shading the truth to protect themselves and Kevin Skelly. Or perhaps they are just unable to understand what has happened. Either way, they are not competent to address this situation and have conflicts of interest.
Dana Tom personally had notice of the discriminatory harassment and did not refer the written complaint he received to the correct compliance officer. Instead he condescendingly told the family that it would get "better results" if they trusted the school and worked through the principal. The "very sophisticated" principal.
Dana Tom would like now to tell you that the law was complex. But the truth will come out, eventually, under oath. And the reason it will is that the district did have actual notice -- including Dana Tom. And the district did not take appropriate action. That meets the standard set by the Supreme Court under Davis.
One more issue bears mention. Barbara Mitchell implies in the news story that there are private facts about this child's case that she knows but you do not know that somehow exonerate the district. She says that "the whole story isn't public," Mitchell said. "I'd ask people to reserve judgment."
This isn't true. There are no facts that do anything other than cast Mitchell, Tom and everyone else in a very negative light. You can merely read the OCR report to see that.
By making this sideways attack on the family's credibility, Mitchell is simply provoking the lawsuit that she ought to be interested in preventing.
Finally, Mitchell and Tom state that they "are not disappointed" with the results of the OCR investigation. This statement is breathtaking in its hubris and also in its failure to comprehend the dire situation for governance and litigation risk created by the board and staff.
OCR received 1513 complaints of disability harassment in the past 4 years. Of those, only 14, fewer than 1% were school districts who ended up with letters of finding against them following full investigations. All others were either dismissed for lack of evidence or resolved prior to a finding. The other 13 districts are primarily poor and rural, such as Opelika City, Alabama and Catoosa County Georgia. These are places with a history of civil rights violations. They are not the school districts PAUSD should be keeping company with.
To say you are "not disappointed" in that is to say that you have no business serving the public. This guest opinion by Mitchell and Tom displays why a committee comprised solely of board members is insufficient to restore public trust.
We need a blue-ribbon panel comprised of independent citizens who are respected by all sides such as Susie Richardson, or Joe Simitian. Not another opportunity for sad dissembling like this editorial.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:02 pm
" believe we should calm down the hysteria and let the Board work on this as they see appropriate. They are elected officials. They do not need constant comments from people who may not know all the facts of the situation. Certainly the Weekly has the right to do an editorial. But the rest of us could relax for a 24 hour period and see how it goes. "
This board has proven itself to be singularly incompetent, misguided and weak. Just because they managed to get enough votes to get elected doesn't mean they are qualified to be on the board.
They seem to be the last ones to know about this scandal. It seems like the people commenting here are much more informed on this matter than the board. The board should be the last one to "work on it". We need an investigative independent panel who should also make recommendation about the board's competency. The board, not just the district administration, is on trial here, and they should not be allowed to work on anything related to this matter..
Posted by Legal Eagle, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm
@mole, OCR supervises 14,000 schools. They offered to do our training for free but Skelly decided to hire a private contractor (at public expense) instead of getting free government training. So that was your chance to hear directly from OCR. Hmm I wonder why Kevin didn't want OCR lawyers around town? Maybe because he was concealing the whole thing?
Posted by Eileen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm
This paragraph from today's Guest Opinion by Dana Tom and Barbara Mitchell is quite interesting:
“The school board was informed of the OCR investigation by district staff and given updates on the case during 2011 and 2012. Our staff worked collaboratively with the OCR and reached an agreement on ways we can improve our district procedures. The OCR staff described a district attitude of "cooperation and courtesy," with appreciation for "the steps taken to resolve this matter in a constructive manner." While we were disappointed that we did not receive the final documents as soon as we should have, we are not disappointed with the resulting agreement and plan.”
Here is acknowledgment from the president and vice president of the board of trustees of PAUSD that district staff informed them that the federal Office for Civil Rights was investigating our school district. Yet, we are supposed to believe that since mid-2012 no one on the board ever asked Dr. Skelly how that investigation was going? It has been said that Dana Tom heard directly from the family of the bullied student, but apparently it never crossed his mind to inquire how the bullied child, who was having her case investigated by OCR, was doing? To my mind this makes the entire board less than adequate at “protecting all of the children under our wings.”
Reading the above paragraph one could get the impression that the district called the OCR in as consultants on their little problem and they were “disappointed that they did not receive the final documents” as soon as they should have. Naughty OCR not getting them their report in a timely manner! Happily, our board is “not disappointed with the resulting agreement and plan.” Seriously? How lucky the OCR was to work with such a cooperative school district. If only the actual bullied child had been that lucky.
Not once did Tom and Mitchell mention that the district was found OUT OF COMPLIANCE with federal law. Even if I agreed with the board (which I don’t) that “bullying is a complicating and challenging issue with substantial disagreement at the police level,” the fact that district personnel from the school level up to the Superintendent failed to follow even their own guidelines and procedures is not mentioned anywhere in this opinion piece. Once again the board seems determined to characterize this situation as a small blip easily rectified in this best of all possible school districts.
I hope that on Tuesday parents and community members will come to the public School Board meeting and tell them that we see this as the colossal system failure that it is. No amount of spin put out by the district is going to change how this child and her family were actually treated when they tried to get help. No amount of disinformation is going to take away the fact that PAUSD has now joined a select group of 14 school districts in the United States who have a received a letter of finding AGAINST them over the past four years.
Posted by Tort retort, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm
Yes. As the Weekly reported last week, both the districts lawyer and Charles Young made false statements to the board and public on precisely the question of why the district refused OCR training. And Skelly sat silently while they did.
Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View, on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm the_punnisher is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I'll be blunt and to the point:
My comments on this issue in previous Online comment sections IS THE SAME ADVICE THAT PEOPLE WOULD PAY MANY THOUSAND OF DOLLARS TO GET!!!
I have told everyone what SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE TO HAVE THE PAUSD STAY IN COMPLIANCE WITH STATE AND FEDERAL LAW!
This advice I posted came from several hours of communication with that former ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR who SPECIALIZED IN THESE ISSUES!!
Their is a COUNTY COUNSEL that is one of the other resources available at the upper management levels; the obvious question is WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TRY TO USE THIS RESOURCE? I had also indicated what needs to be dne in those other comments, the professional qualification to stay in their jobs and to regain the public confidence in the PAUSD, INCLUDING CONFIDENCE AT THE STATE AND FEDERAL LEVELS, is at stake!
If these issues are not taken care of SOON, others from the State and Federal Authorities WILL. THAT just might make the national headlines the PAUSD doesn't want.
In military naval parlance, you have been given the " shot across the bow " by the OCR.
Skelly has already proved that he is incompetent for his job. The present BOE have proven they are also incompetent for the proper governing of the PAUSD. The BOE needs to step down and allow people that will GOVERN the PAUSD and not remain ignorant or unwilling to do their duties.
The final thing the TAXPAYER and this e-paper can do is to is to issue a no confidence statement and follow through with a recall of the entire BOE.
Without evidence of this type of gesture, to use the advice I was given ( " I wouldn't want to be in their shoes " ), things at the PAUSD will become much worse. Much, much worse in all areas.
Posted by Winds of War, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm
When my son was beaten to the point of needing medical care at Jordan, he was suspended for three days along with the bully. The bully had a long history of persecuting others, and eventually wound up in jail. The parents took no responsibility for their Son's behavior, insisting HE was being unfairly punished for winning fights he told them the other kids had started! His parents did not even know of half the bullying he was involved in.
When a bully is caught tormenting someone on the school grounds, the school officials need to take matters in hand and notify the parents of the tormented AND the tormentor. Parents of a bully need to know what their kid is up to, and how frequently he or she does it (yes, there are girl bullies), and make disciplinary recommendations or suggestions to put an end to such behavior. Most parents of bullies believe the cheesy excuses and lies their bully child gives them, and they need to be shaken out of their denial and complacency.
As it is, PAUSD does not take bullying seriously enough ( neither did Columbine HS), and they do not make a serious effort to make the bully and his parents liable. It often comes to a bad and violent end when ignored.
Posted by Samuel, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 2:25 pm
Does anyone know the actual facts of the case? What school, what principal? What details were provided to the principal? What, exactly, is bullying? If a kid doesn't want ot be another kid's friend, is that rejection bullying?
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Samuel, apparently you didn't bother reading any of the details of this case. The bullying victim, who is disabled, was physically assaulted. She was tormented, punched, kicked, jeered, pushed down, hazed, and taunted. It happened in [removed] middle school and all those details were provided to the principle. Does this qualify as bullying to you?
Posted by Samuel, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
This is fallout from the mainstreaming of disabled kids. My own son was harrassed by an emotionally disable kid, when he was in grade 5. His stalker simply would not relent, and followed him home each day from school. I went to the principal about it, and the principal wanted to have a "friendship" meeting between the two of them. I told him, "no way", my kid wants nothing to do with him. I told the principal that I would get my lawyer invovled if it doesn't stop, immediately. It stopped.
Posted by Carol, a member of the Jordan Middle School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:24 pm
@Winds of War: What year did your incident occur? It must have been before Michael Milliken or the current Greg Barnes, who have no tolerance for bullying.
Three of my children have had issues with bullying and we have been incredibly satisfied with the way Jordan administration addressed the issue and stopped the bullying immediately. The teachers were also concerned. We have also witnessed bullying and reported it and have seen immediate results.
There isn't rampant bullying in PAUSD - we are not an inner city school where we have to worry. There are squeaky wheels on this thread which lead to the illusion and promote unnecessary fear.
People need to understand that when it's physical violence, it's much easier for the school to control, whereas, verbal bullying can be more difficult, depending on what is said. Eye-rolling, snide remarks, stares, giggling, whispering - all can be considered bullying but how can they be stopped? Anyone have any good ideas you can suggest to the school instead of demanding a solution that you cannot offer?
Posted by Eileen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm
@ Edmund Burke
1. "What they don't say is that three years ago Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali responded point by point to this letter showing that it was misguided and based on a misunderstanding and misreading of the law. You can read Assistant Secretary Ali's response here: Web Link"
Could you supply the web link, please? It seems to have dropped out of your post.
2. In the OCR report, James M. Wood, team leader for the OCR in this case, states that "the evidence showed that the District failed to respond promptly and effectively to notice that the Student was being subjected to peer harassment based on disability." Do you happen to know what year the law was enacted that identified harassment based on disability as a civil rights violation? In your post this morning it looks like you are saying this was decided in 2000. I am reading your post correctly?
Posted by Eileen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 5:01 pm
I think it is important to remember that no one is stating that bullying is rampant in the Palo Alto Schools. What the Office for Civil Rights has investigated and found to be true is that the entire school district does not have a system in place to identify and deal with peer bullying/harassment "based on disability." They found through their investigation that the middle school personnel did not recognize that this child's civil rights were not being respected. That she was being discriminated (harassed) against BECAUSE of her disability. Furthermore, that the child and family had gone to the school staff and told them of the harassment, and even told them the names of the children that were harassing her - repeatedly. But despite the family's efforts to get the school to put an end to the harassment, the school never did.
I think it is worthwhile to quote the report once more: "Notably, none of the middle school handbooks, including the one used by the School, mentions disability based harassment as a prohibited type of harassment or a basis on which a discrimination complaint can be made." My understanding of the second paragraph of this report is that this ruling is backed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Despite what Dana Tom and Barbara Mitchell have written in their opinion piece today that doesn't seem either complicated or challenging to understand. Palo Alto School district and the school board have failed to understand that it is illegal to allow peer to peer harassment of a student based on disability.
I highly recommend reading the 10 page OCR report. www.PaloAltoOnline.com/pivot/?CivilRightsReport
Posted by It Makes Sense, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm
To Legal Eagle,
I think I figured out why PAUSD did not want OCR do the training for free, because they did not wanted to have them close to the teachers or students, show could, could talk about many other bullying incidents that are going on. I think PAUSD was smart to do that, otherwise OCR would know how bad is our school district. Good For the lawyer who advised Skelly not to accept the training for free. Even if we have to pay for it, it will be worth it in the end, because we will keep the incidents the way we are used to "a secret"
Posted by Kathy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 7:18 pm
Thank you very much for this thoughtful and well-researched editorial. I (for one) appreciate the objectivity and also for "the call to action" if the Board decides to be brave enough and strong enough to do so.
"When disability harassment limits or denies a student's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational institution's programs or activities, the institution must respond effectively. Where the institution learns that disability harassment may have occurred, the institution must investigate the incident(s) promptly and respond appropriately."
The idea that the law is confusing is just an effort at spin and misdirection by Tom and Mitchell. This highlights why we cannot have an investigation conducted by the School Board itself. While I generally agree with the Weekly here I think it is important to understand the extent to which the Board is conflicted by the conduct of its own members that violated the law. In particular Mitchell and Tom may run for re-election and therefore have a strong incentive not to have a full and fair investigation but to paint over their own responsibility for this failure.
They have also shown that they have prejudged the matter in their op-ed of today. They are not interested in conducting an investigation prior to determining what happened. They have pronounced themselves "not disappointed" in the results. They must be disqualified, along with the rest of the board, from investigating their own failures and illegality.
Instead we need to have a blue ribbon commission similar to the 9-11 or other commission that will report on the facts comprised of impartial individuals with clean hands.
Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of another community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 7:51 pm
Recently, I heard that a special needs child, age 5, 6 or 7, was pushed down and kicked by "his/her friends" in the school yard during recess. He/she tolerated it to be accepted and have "friends". This was at a PAUSD Elementary school-it broke my heart. When reported to the teacher,her response-not my job, I have too much work to do teaching, it is the yard duty person's job and responsibility. C'mon teacher, I am entrusting my child to your protection as an adult in this society/community. This is so wrong and part of the problem. This type of behavior and response for any child is unacceptable, special needs or not. Adults-please be accountable.
Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills, on Mar 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm
Regarding a reading of the OCR Report
Nothing in the report indicates the child was physically assaulted - yet a number of people responding to the report have stated that as a fact.
Legal Eagle wrote "As Ed Burke keeps reminding us, this is a case about a little disabled girl who was tormented, punched, kicked, jeered, pushed down, hazed, and taunted." If that is true then why do I not see it in the OCR report. I see actions like "avoid", name calling ("weird", "stupid", "Slow")and were annoyed if they were force to work with the student. There was no mention (zero) of hitting although the student in question apparently hit and kicked other students.
Please read the OCR report! [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:30 pm
Alphonso is engaging in the same disinformation campaign that the board and staff and district counsel are engaging in.
It won't work.
On page 4, the report states that a student kicked the little disabled girl, who was able on that occasion to get out of the way. On page 5-6, the report states that in March 2011 another student "punched the victim in the face."
The rest of the facts reported in the OCR report show that she was hazed, taunted, jeered and mistreated. Students played a "game" in which they made a public showing of avoiding any contact with the student and had a name for that game called the "[student's name] touch" in which it was sport to call out in front of the student that they were not getting the [her name] touch." If you think that these facts are fine, you should consider running for school board or perhaps applying to be the district's new PR officer.
As OCR concludes, the "district had ample notice, at least as early as November 2010, that the Student was being subjected to peer harassment and that the harassment was related to the student's disability." (8) As a direct result of the harassment, the student was denied the ability to participate in and benefit from the school's programs or activities. Indeed, before this matter became public the student was no longer attending school at all but was at home being virtually ignored by the district on a haphazard plan of "home tutoring" that in no way met her IEP or even her basic educational needs. She had been literally chased out of her educational program by the harassment and the effects of the harassment.
The school board must order an independent investigation into the facts of this matter. Board and staff and counsel must stop spreading misinformation and misstatements. There must be an earnest effort to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:23 pm
Melissa Baten Caswell said, "The board needs to direct staff on fact gathering to see how these things (in the OCR report) came to be, what processes didn't happen and why, and how we can change them so that they will."
I can save them the trouble. How these things came to be? There isn't the ethical standards of a potato between the lot of them. They weren't honest. They aren't honest. They didn't deal honestly with parents, and they continue to be self-serving and dishonest. The written record -- at least anything the district produced -- isn't where you will find the truth, it's where you will find their most practiced misinformation. It's why the OCR came here in person, something they almost never do.
Go talk to parents who went through the system. Locate the ones who moved away and left the school system because of how badly their families were abused and alienated just for trying to get the resources their kids needed and were entitled by law to have for their educations. Asking people who have proven themselves to be dishonest to figure out why they were dishonest -- none of the board sees a problem with that?
Posted by Heidi fan, a member of the Juana Briones School community, on Mar 8, 2013 at 11:41 pm
I think people are being too hard on Heidi Emberling. "I work from a strengths-based perspective, and for me this is an exciting opportunity for how we can move forward," said board member Heidi Emberling, who was elected in November.
People don't realize that a "strengths-based perspective" is something that Heidi learned in her work with toddlers. It turns out that children respond very well to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. Here's a quote from an article called "The Importance of Taking a Strength-Based Perspective" that shows what I mean: "Many times when I am doing a consultation, staff members can tell me everything that a child does wrong. “He NEVER sits still.” “She's ALWAYS talking.” “He NEVER does any work.” When I ask what the child does right, I am frequently met with blank stares. Along the same vein, adults can also tell me what the child does not like. He's not interested in reading, rewards, et cetera. However, when I inquire as to what he/she does like, the blank stares return." (from Web Link)
Heidi is just using the same perspective with Superintendent Skelly. If we give him negative attention, he will just keep acting out. But if we look for his strengths, and praise him for them, then he will look for our approval and over time he will grow up to be a great Superintendent! All of us have a responsibility in this, just as teachers and family have a responsibility for a toddler who is misbehaving. It would be counterproductive to condemn a toddler for writing on the wall, if you want better behavior, you have to use praise rather than blame. It's the same thing here.
"Posted by teach every child, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Sep 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm
........The last superintendent, Mary Francis Callan, was forced to retire after a hugely wasteful controversy involving a loss of trust in both the superintendent and the board. The board mismanaged that situation and Camille Townsend was the board President then and is the Board President now. As a result of that whole mess, our principals went into open rebellion and organized a union of their own, Palo Alto Management Association. That was a mess of mismanagement and chaos."
Apparently Townsend has been in messes for awhile now, and Callan was forced to retire, isn't' that like being fired?
Posted by just someone, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 2:19 am
Ed does seem to be embellishing the statements in the OCR report as far as what harassment actually took place. Perhaps he knows the family so he has their take on what has happened over time. Since there is so much redaction in the report, intended to protect the child's identity, the rest of us don't even know the gender, so the fact that Ed knows it's a "little disabled girl" leads me to conclude that he has a secondary source of information.
It seems to me from what I read in the report that according to the counselor's report, the student herself "hit and kicked" another student because the student and two peers were teasing her, so Alphonso did read that correctly. And in a separate incident, the student's family reported that "student v" tried to kick the student, but she was able to avoid it. This was not stated as a fact but as an allegation from the family. Then finally there is another reference to the student getting punched in the face during an argument with another student. The details about the game that Ed writes about is nowhere in the report for the rest of us to see, so he must know about this too from another source.
It is clear that something more should have been done sooner for this student, clearly she was not comfortable being mainstreamed with this group of horrible rotten kids from Palo Alto. But after reading the report, I did not get the sense that it was "scathing" as the Weekly termed it. I felt that all the OCR finding showed was that PAUSD did not have a specific procedure in place to protect disabled students from harassment that they might receive as a result of their disability. Had she not been disabled and just been harassed because she's "annoying", the OCR would have dropped the investigation. It might well be that in many of the claims presented to OCR that there was indeed harassment going on, but OCR was unable to establish that the individual was in a protected class, as this student is, so there was no finding.
The mistake was that district employees were just treating this case as they would for any mainstream student who was going through the same situation. But, because this student has a diagnosed disability, OCR got involved and was able to establish a deficiency in policy and procedure because the district did not have a written policy focused on harassment resulting from an individual's disability.
It's ironic to me that there was a complaint in the report about alleged harassment from a district employee and the student's aide herself seemed to have a disability that the family misinterpreted as being "mean".
Posted by Actually, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 7:49 am
As someone who was there, I can assure you Mary Frances Callan retired and was not forced to do so. Every superintendent faces controversies. My observation is not many superintendents survive more than five years in one location, especially in the pressure cooker of the Palo Alto community. That's not meant to be pejorative. It's just an observation of your expectation levels for students and your community leaders.
As to bullying, I strongly recommend seeing the movie "Bully." It's out on iTunes. It is difficult to watch; it will make you cry. The problem is bigger than anyone wants to admit considering there are at least three types of people involved, the one being bullied, the bully, and those who observe or are aware of the bullying and do nothing, which often includes the adults.
Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 8:48 am
The central issue here is that Superintendent Skelly and those under him were found to be systemstically flaunting laws that protect disabled students, to such an extent that they even seemed not to know they exist. Even though the district wrote its own procedures for following those laws. And employees were found to have openly lied to the government about how they handled violating the student's rights. Skelly was too heavily embroiled in these assame issues at Poway for ignorance fo be an excuse, and following those laws too central to a school administrator's job for anyone at any district to claim ignorance.
The OCR isn't a criminal agency, their job isn't to smack districts, just get them to follow the laws. but it's evidence of our district's arrogance and insularity that they regard what happened as "collaborative". OCR almost never ever gets to the point that they did with Palo Alto, particularly coming here in person. They still could smack us, though, and if I were the family and saw nothing change (except the PR) as is happening here, i'd be more inclined to sue.
The lying hasn't stopped, it's just gotten more expensive and slicker. As a parent, I have never been so disgusted and disappointed with district leadership. Districts are supposed to be autonomous for local control, which ultimately means parents. Parents, to whom those administrators should be answerable, deserve more recourse when things go this wrong.
Posted by Actually, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:09 am
I think the public face of this is likely much different than what is going on behind closed doors. If Dr. Skelly and his staff failed monumentally, there is likely to be fallout not yet seen. I agree that district staff must be responsive to all community members (and Palo Alto has been incredibly supportive), not just parents.
Please do see the movie. All administrators, at a minimum, must see it. If a "kids will be kids" attitude continues in our nation's schools, no student is really safe on campus.
Posted by Transparency , a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:24 am
The public and private need to be consistent. There should not be a behind closed doors process. The school in Bully and our schools are the same. Defensive, incompetent, ignorant. The difference is that we have a chance to be accountable before being made a national poster child for bullying. Mitchell and Tom are going to destroy the district.
Posted by Be nice to Heidi, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:38 am
I'm with "Heidi Fan".
We all come at our work from our own frames of reference and it's perfectly legitimate for each of us to apply those perspectives to new situations. Heidi has a background in early childhood development. Her approach to governing is actually well aligned with the rest of the board who have often spoken about the importance of paterning good behavior when faced with serious governing issues. This whole notion of applying critical thinking, decisive judgement, expertise, discourse and clear communication to governing is way over rated.
They should continue to encourage Dr Skelly and enphasize the positives. After all, he is the superintendent and they are just elected officials. I am not even really sure that a board of education plays any essential role in a district like ours. After all, Superintendent Skelly and both Charles Young both have PhD's. Our test scores are very high and we have been able to pull together more funding per student than just about any district in the state. People should not mess with success.
Posted by Actually, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:44 am
This is a personnel matter, and you aren't going to see the process, just the result (if any, I suppose). I sincerely doubt you have board members who are waiting for this to blow over. If you somehow are found to be wanting in your job, most likely you will have a private audience with your boss(es) and the chips will fall where they may. Everyone else will spend their time speculating.
Posted by paly parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:45 am
Regarding the fight at Jordan, I believe the policy is one of no tolerance for fighting. So if a bully picks a fight and you physically fight back (which is a natural response) you are suspended also.
As mentioned previously, one of the easiest solutions to some of these issues is more adults on the playground, fields etc. during recess, brunch and lunch. Kids are much less likely to misbehave in front of an adult.
Posted by Mother, a member of the Juana Briones School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 10:05 am
Leave Heidi alone, even with satire. We've seen the extent of her abilities with her "excited" response. She clearly has no idea what to do. The Weekly described the board pretty well in that they offer comments. Someone forgot to give them the memo that they were elected to lead.
I picture the board asking Kevin what to do because they simply don't know what to do. What is dangerous is that Kevin is the one who calls the attorney.
Kevin has the Ph.D. from Berkeley, Charles has the Ed.D. from La Verne.
For those of you who have bought into the Milliken-Barnes illusion that they handle bullying at Jordan somehow more effectively, that is just more of the smoke and mirrors practice that works in our district.
Bring back Callan. At least she could lead, even if the principals didn't want to be led.
By the way, PiE needs to stop hiding behind the golden goose and chime in on the competence of Kevin and Charles. It's not about bullying. Everyone is against it and employees are highly paid to educate and supervise children, which they failed to do in this now infamous case. This is about the leadership that was elected and paid for to educate and supervise those who educate and supervise our children.
I have zero confidence in Barbara, Camille, Dana, Melissa, Heidi!, Kevin, and Charles. It's time to bring in the Santa Clara County Office of Education to clean up the PAUSD. I'm sure Grace Mah and Joseph DiSalvo would be more than happy.
Posted by daniel, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:24 am
We can all rest assured that there won't be any fallout as a result of this debacle. This board is comically clueless and incompetent. It seems like its members ran for office as an ego trip. If this board had any substance, Skelly and Young would have already been dismissed as a result of signing an agreement with the federal government without bothering to inform the board, and that's even before getting to their extreme incompetence and hubris in dealing, or rather not dealing, with the bullying matter.
It's also doubtful that Dana Tom, who was informed by the parents of the abused girl of the problem a couple of years ago, but never bothered to follow up, will assume personal responsibility and resign. Yes, the same Dana Tom who suggested during his initial run for the board that "Intelligent Design" be taught at our schools alongside evolution.
Posted by more to say, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 11:44 am
If you read down a few posts in that thread you quoted from you will see a completely different light shown on Camille Townsend and the board:
"Camille was not the board president when a group of K-8 principals worked hard to push Dr. Callan out from late 2005 through Fall of 2006. Presidents: 2004- Cathy Kroymann, 2005 - John Barton, and 2006 - Mandy Lowell, as reported in the news stories you linked to. The board hired an independent company to investigate the veracity of those principals' allegations. After a detailed investigation was conducted and new formal protocols were adopted in June 2007 which addressed those principals’ concerns, they left the district anyway. Apparently, Dr. Callan and the board were not the problem."
The WCDB folks' involvement in the bullying case is the most recent of a series of complaints that they've capitalized on in order to publicly humiliate the district and Superintendent. Many of their issues have kernels of truth to them but the problem is that WCDB folks always escalate their issues to the top of the agenda by exerting pressure – mostly through public name calling in the media – so their issue du jour becomes the ONLY thing the board and district staff have time to tend to.
While I suspect they think that they are winning the hearts and minds of Palo Altans, WCDB's PR firestorms, that happen like clockwork every 4 months or so, have lessened their effectiveness and people normally concerned by their issues don’t want to be associated with them. So, sadly for kids, out of a fear of being marginalized as a WCDB proponent they are staying away from all advocacy of behalf of children, including the slower but most effective kind.
This - like all the other WCDB fires – boils down to ONE overarching issue as the poster in that thread you quoted from shared too:
"WCDB and Mr. Dauber probably feel a need to keep these claims alive because, since early 2011, he’s wanted Dr. Skelly fired."
Posted by Eileen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 12:41 pm
@ more to say
I know nothing about Supervisor Callan and her departure, and I know very little about We Can Do Better Palo Alto (WCDB).
This issue has caught my attention because I strongly believe in the work done by the federal Office for Civil Rights. The mark of a moral and ethical community is how we treat those who are weaker, older, younger, or different in any way from the "norm."
This is not a fantasy "firestorm." This is a case of one of the most economically advantaged school districts in the nation not understanding that they had a legal obligation to protect a child who was being bullied as a result of her disabilities. Disabilities that she had an IEP with school for and bullying that she and her family had reported to her school administrators. If the OCR had come into the district and found that our schools tolerated bullying based on race or sexual orientation would you still be minimizing this as a problem?
In addition, the handling of the OCR report itself has revealed a major problem with the way the district is managed. Superintendent Skelly signed the OCR agreement without informing the Board. If the Superintendent is able to to do that with no repercussions it suggests that we do not need a school board. What is the purpose of a school board if not to provide community oversight and direction to staff hired to manage the district? This board is neither providing oversight nor insisting on even being informed as to the legal issues facing the school district. I want a school board that is far more capable of providing governance than this one appears to be.
From reading various threads here I get it that there are people in the community who believe that WCDB is a problem for the school district. That's fine - we all deserve our points of view. But, please explain to me why it is ok for the district to fail to protect a student's civil rights? Why is it ok for our superintendent to make major decisions with federal departments and then hide it from the community? The "overarching issue" here is that the district did not fulfill their responsibility to protect the child's civil rights and then they tried to hide the problem from the school board and the community. That's the problem we need to stay focused on.
To everyone reading these articles, my advice is come to the next school board meeting. Stand up for what type of school district and school board management style that you want. If you are in favor of Dr. Skelly's type of management come and say so. We need an honest above board community conversation about this. But please stop criticizing groups or individuals for taking the time to stand up for their beliefs.
Posted by Eileen, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm
@Daniel and Wft?
Could we PLEASE try to stay on topic? There is plenty to criticize in
Dana Tom's reaction to the OCR report without distorting previous things he has said or done.
Here is a statement by Dana Tom regarding his thoughts on Intelligent Design. A quick web search took me to Tom's web site where I found his position.
Letter to the Editor of the Palo Alto Weekly on Dana Tom's position on intelligent design.
I am writing in response to recent queries about my remarks on intelligent design, as quoted in the October 5 (2012?) issue of the Weekly. I want to be very clear: Intelligent design is not science. I do not think that intelligent design is in any way a scientific substitute for the theory of evolution, nor should it be taught as scientific fact. As a Stanford-trained engineer, I know the importance of rigorous scientific method, and I stand by it. In addition, I stand by the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and I would never support using public schools to preach religious views.
Nonetheless, our students are hearing about intelligent design through the media. When I discussed inclusion of the topic in our classrooms, it was because I believe there is value in analyzing what is and isn’t scientific theory. Our teachers rightly include discussion of many controversial, value-laden topics–not to indoctrinate our students but to arm them to think critically and constructively about the social issues we all face. I consider such discussion fundamental to a free society. But that does not mean that I think that intelligent design should be presented as a scientific alternative for evolution.
I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my position. I do not support teaching intelligent design in our classrooms, but neither would I ban all mention of it. In the end, I believe our students gain a greater appreciation for science by understanding what isn’t science and why–and they become better informed citizens as well.
Posted by David Nolan, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 1:55 pm
I agree with Eileen that Dana's back and forth positions on whether Intelligent Design should be taught in PAUSD schools has little do with the current issues. On the other hand, the "site based autonomy" credo that is cited in the Weekly editorial has a great deal to do with the numerous systemic faults that the OCR found with us. More interesting, in response to her 2005 candidate's interview question about this same issue, Barb Mitchell artiulated her libertarian position that the decision about whether to teach Intelligent Design in the PAUSD school system should be made at the individual school site level. Barb has prevailed on the board. with this general educational philosophy and the communtiy has generally not recognized the political/philosophical foundation for it. It is a credit to her political skill that such a generally liberal community has not recognized the systematic transformation that has occured in the district.
Posted by daniel , a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 2:12 pm
I respectfully disagree with Dana Tom about his Intelligent Design comments. He backtracked on them only when then candidate Claude Ezran began to criticize him about introducing ID to the curriculum. and he was flooded with emails about his comments.
By mentioning ID and Evolution in the same context, Dana Tom, in my opinion. was creating a measure of equal footing for science and religious faith.
Intelligent design is nothing but a sleek repackaging of Creationism. If our schools had comparative religion studies, one could argue that ID could be mentioned in that context, otherwise, the suggestion of teaching or discussing it in science classes should never have been made. We don't live in Arkansas, Texas or Alabama.
Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 9, 2013 at 2:25 pm
This case is not about Ken Dauber or We Can Do Better Palo Alto. Ken Dauber and WCDB have literally nothing to do with the facts of this case.
This case is about the fact that a little disabled girl was discriminated against on the basis of her disability by PAUSD. She was punched, kicked, pushed, taunted, mocked, teased, called retarded and stupid, and tormented until she was finally too afraid to go to school.
District staff, and members of the Board knew what was happening. As the OCR found, each employee was left to their own devices to address the discrimination. The discrimination was unrecognized, and no effective measures were taken to stop the harassment. This created what appears to be a hostile educational environment that deprived her of an education.
Had this happened on the basis of race or sexual orientation we would already be on national TV. That is why the Student Equity Action Network has issued a statement supporting the victim and demanding that PAUSD implement appropriate policies to ensure that this cannot happen again.
Rather than helping the student, she was forgotten and abandoned and given no education to speak of (occasional and haphazard home tutoring) until finally the district was forced to act by the Weekly's brave decision to publish the facts of the case and by the Stanford Law faculty and students who represented her free of charge. If she did not have the media and pro bono representation she would still most likely be unhelped.
WCDB has played a very small role in this case. They have acted to request transparency after the fact.
The district staff would like you to focus on shooting the messenger, even if it is not the right messenger, rather than on the real problems of discrimination and lack of transparency and accountability. It is easy to see why they would prefer to blame others, even if they are not really involved, rather than take stock of the district's failures in this case.
They would rather not talk about the little disabled girl being punched in the face.
They would rather not talk about the Principal who told OCR that she and her staff did not need disability harassment training because they are "very sophisticated."
They would rather not talk about the assistant Principal who was not honest with the OCR investigators.
They would rather not talk about the superintendent who failed to even inform the board that he was entering into an agreement to settle the threat of litigation with the federal government.
They don't want to talk about any of that. They want to talk about irrelevant people who had nothing to do with this rather than the real facts of the case. That is because they think that Palo Alto parents are willing to believe anything in order to continue to hold to the belief that the schools are excellent and that we have no need for reform.
You have to prove them wrong. You have to decide that antidiscrimination is a basic value, that following the law is a basic value and that not lying, as the district lawyer did, is a basic value.
Posted by parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Mar 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm
Discrimination/harassment goes on every day in every community. It's too bad we haven't evolved from it, but... My children hear comments frequently, like "your so gay" to kids who may or may not but are perceived to be, "you're so sexy, I want to rub up against you", to girls who are so embarrassed and uncomfortable with it, etc. Believe it or not, racial slurs are used at schools. Kids are uncomfortable being around someone physical differences/disabilities with poor social skills and react either physically or emotionally with exclusion. They haven't been taught empathy and tolerance and given skills to deal kindly. Unfortunately, most kids who are targeted, deal with this with silence and don't tell adults. If adults are told, they often respond with "just get over it and ignore them," "boys will be boys" or "girls are just mean". [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
I hope that by this incident coming to light, the whole community, along with the schools, make every effort to teach children empathy, tolerance and respect. It really does start at home. What I am afraid will happen is that only the schools and administrators will be blamed and we will all think the problem will go away. For those of you calling for resignations and firing, I guess you have never screwed up, and yes, in a big way. Given the name calling and accusations going on over this issues and others in the district, I'm not surprised this was not publicized. District staff must be afraid to do anything at this point.
Posted by village fool, a resident of another community, on Mar 10, 2013 at 12:13 am village fool is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
@editor - here it goes, almost gone, so it seems - unique opportunity given to the community as gift by family sharing info about OCR investigation. I hope I'm wrong. I think the family shared with you the info about the OCR investigation in the hopes of spearing others the same experiences. Your editorial about systemic issues and related articles triggered many responses. Tip of iceberg was mentioned many times. Such are systemic issues. Then came what you named to be spin - Lawyer @board meeting. Now it seems that you are looking to the board to investigate, itself. Same board that most likely knew about the lawyer presentation.
No young medical Dr. would treat a patient based only on blood pressure measurement, for example. Other tests need to be done. Whole manifestations have to be recognized, including past. Details. The past is very relevant.
Same here, I think - past occurrences establish patterns. Closed doors were mentioned above, lack of transparency etc. etc. etc. Details.
Bullying - A parent commented in the board meeting that no legal education is needed to recognize bullying - a heart should be suffice. I totally agree, and think identifying may be even simpler. It is about the patterns, what is expected. Everything is possible when there is no transparency. I think that many are hoping now that the the tip of the iceberg - the OCR info brought to you - is not melting. Such melting will leave the iceberg totally below water, where it was prior.