Town Square

Homework, bullying top school-board agenda

Original post made on Feb 26, 2013

Homework and anti-bullying policies are among the topics on the agenda for the Palo Alto Board of Education tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 26. Superintendent Kevin Skelly will report to the board on a timeline and "next steps" in the wake of a federal finding that the district violated the civil rights of a student in its mishandling of a middle-school bullying case.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 9:08 AM


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2013 at 10:03 am

> "From a transparency issue, I blew it."

According to this morning's Daily Post, Kevin Skelly is costing the taxpayers at least $350,000/year. How much does the District have to pay in order to expect, and get, professional management behavior out of this guy?

Posted by dave, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

Skelly is again a day late and a dollar short. Watch him when questioned at a meeting. He is often caught off guard and can't make a coherent reply that answers the question.

We elected the school board and deserve its inability to recognize his or their own ineptitude when they extended his contract for another 5 years.

Posted by Technical Writer, a resident of Woodside
on Feb 26, 2013 at 11:40 am

This is so poorly written that I can't understand what you are saying:
"Among the proposed changes is the removal of requirements that students be able to make up missed work after an unexcused absence and the elimination of a prohibition on punishment for late homework. Also, teachers may be allowed to assign a "reasonable" number of long-term assignments, rather than a "limited" number, and group work on class projects outside of school would no longer be prohibited."

Are you trying to say that the board is considering whether students should be able to make up missed work after an unexcused absence and whether punishment for late homework should be allowed? And are you saying that the board is considering whether teachers should be able to assign more long-term assignments and whether group work on class projects should be allowed outside of school? The way your article is written, these statements could be interpreted the opposite way. I'm just trying to figure this out...

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2013 at 11:56 am

I am extremely disappointed in Kevin Skelly. First he undermined the Board's directive relative to counseling. Perhaps sabotage is a more appropriate term. Now he failed to keep the board informed about the Office of Civil Rights investigation. It's time to replace him with someone who isn't so enamored of himself that he sees fit to cuckold the board and be so political and antisocial.

Our kids and tax dollars deserve better than that.

Posted by Annie, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 11:58 am


They serve no useful purpose. If you need to call home you can go to the office.


PAUSD is being bullied by influential tech families into continuing this policy of allowing kids to have the in their pockets "off" when in fact they are "on" and checked every few minutes.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Annie - banning smart phones (and other internet technology) is exactly the opposite direction of where education is heading. Use of smart phones, computers and tablets to "flip" the classroom is where we are headed. Kids can view the "lecture" portion of class online, allowing more in-class interaction with the teacher and fellow students. From Forbes: Web Link

Living in the land of tech, I am always surprised at how little technology is used in the PAUSD schools.

Posted by WTF, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Just read today that Kevin Skelly makes nearly $300,000 dollars per year, not including his $750/mo car allowance!!! WTF does he do to deserve that? The man is incapable of leading, incapable of making a decision, incapable of being truthful, and incapable of interacting with adults, to say nothing of not being able to answer a direct question.

His employment here was a bad mistake. What must we do now to get rid of the guy?

(oh, yeah, he is also incapable of compassion)

Posted by last minute, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm

"In addition to the timeline, Skelly tonight will present plans for an anti-bullying notice to parents and students, training of staff and students and updates to handbooks."


The district will now finally inform everyone how bullying turns into unlawful discrimination. After PAUSD has been found guilty of violating a student's civil rights?

YEARS ago our Principal at Addison Elementary made it clear to the parents and students that any bullying which involved attacking a student based on race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or disability would not be tolerated at the school and that he would take the consequences of any such bullying to the full extent of the law (something along those lines).

This was way before Skelly . Fast forward to 2013, and Skelly is letting us know now, all he can do to correct the problems?

Same time, PIE will hand him a nearly $5 million check, as a political statement of support and reward?

Posted by Carol, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm

"seven to 10 hours per week for non-Advanced Placement high school students."

This is way off base! A little over an hour a day of homework for regular lane classes? Not quite, not even for middle school students. This needs to be revised to 14 to 30 hours per week.

@Annie: There is no way smartphones will ever be banned in schools, especially in Silicon Valley. There is already a rule that smartphones need to be off in class and the majority of students follow the rule. The ones who don't follow it are the poor students.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm

@Carol -- are you advocating for 30 hours of homework per week == 6 hours per day 5 days a week. Or are you just saying that is what kids are currently being assigned? The national PTA standard is 10 minutes per day per grade, which in 10th grade would be 100 minutes per day, or nearly 2 hours per day (10 hours per week). I have no idea who thinks that 30 hours per week for a regular lane courseload is reasonable but when you add that 30 hours to the 40 hours they are in class, you get a 70 hour workweek for children. I think that makes it clear why we need real limits rather than just leaving it up to everyone to determine what is reasonable.

Posted by Do your job, a resident of Juana Briones School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm

To the school board:

Do your job, fire the superintendent. We pay a high salary for a high quality of work. Would you call the last 12 months high quality?

Now apply that metric to Charles Young, the compliance officer directly in charge of the complaint process. He's been in the district just over one year and a half. Has his work been at a level of high quality?

You are no doubt discussing these matters in closed session right now and we will know at 6:30pm if you discussed doing the right thing--or merely strategies with the lawyer for Skelly and Young to keep their jobs while allowing the board members to appear outraged yet supportive.

Notice that none of them are demonstrating real effort for children, just protecting the adults.

Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Why when talking about HW at the high school do people only count 5 days? In High School the expectation is that HW is done on the weekend. HW hours should be divided by 7 not 5. High School students should count on doing at least 4 (more like 6) hours of HW over the weekend. It is up to them how they divided that time up. Many of the high school students that I know take Friday and Sat off and dedicate Sunday to HW.

Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Of course bullying is bad and needs to be controlled, but it is part of growing up and it will always be there.
There needs to be more of an effort to reduce the bullying done by parents against the school district - to the detriment of all of kids. There is too much of this BS litigation and it is hurting the school district. It is happening all of the time even by Stanford education professors (parents of students) who know how to play the system.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

There are two problems with high school homework as I see it.

First, the division of homework tends to be dependent on how many classes a student has the following day. Monday is a non block day and all periods may have homework due. For some students it suits them to do homework over the weekend, but not all students are able to devote all weekend for homework due to jobs (yes Palo Alto students do have weekend jobs), sports, religious commitments and family commitments. Other days with block schedules mean that there is less homework due on block days. Regardless of how a student does homework it is better to assess the number of hours per week rather than the number of hours per day since it is irrelevant to the discussion on when the homework is done.

Secondly, the policy of homework when a student is sick is a big problem. Many kids go to school sick or return before they are fully recovered because they do not want to fall further behind. The first day back after being sick is hard on a student that has not been eating due to being sick, before taking into account that they end up with double the amount of homework to make up. My kids have been absent with stomach flu, taking nothing but clear fluids for 48 hours and then back to school before they are completely recovered and then expected to do catch up work. If they take another day, they get even further behind. Not the way to recover from a bad bout of uploading and downloading. I don't know how this problem should be solved, but it is not a healthy way to live.

Posted by Carol, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2013 at 5:18 pm

@Michelle: My statement is for 7 days per week and is what we've experienced for regular classes. Students aren't home-free on the weekends - there's always homework in both middle school and high school. In no way do I advocate so much homework. The national PTA standard of 10 minutes per day per grade is probably not so easy for PAUSD to follow, based upon it being a college prep school district. But there is defnitely too much homework. Each of my older children had tough teams of teachers where they had a minimum of 3 hours of homework in middle school. One year, my child had 3 quizzes every week, plus tests and projects thrown in occasionally; the poor child was burnt out by the next year and grades fell. However, there are other teachers who assign very little homework. The goal should be to align all the teachers so there isn't such a huge discrepancy. But PAUSD administration doesn't prefer to tell teachers how to teach so I doubt this issue will ever be resolved.

Throw in Honors or AP classes in high school, and add an 30-60 minutes to each class.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I do not think it is reasonable for a kid to have 4-6 hours of homework (2-3 hours per day) on the weekends. How did it happen that there are federal laws limiting the hours and days of work to 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week, 5 day week and banning child labor in 1936 but suddenly in 2013 we think that it is reasonable for children to work a 70 hour, 7 day week. Under the calculations above, children either work a 10 hour day 7 days per week, or a 12 hour day 6 days per week. How did we get this world gone mad? Any historians of education out there?

Posted by Palo Verde parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm

I am not advocating for or against the hours of HW given just stating that kids do a fair bit of HW on the weekend. Maybe it is work they should have done during the week? Often it is spent studying for tests. I am not sure where you get the 70 hour week from.

Kids are in school for 7 hours (although class time is really just 90 minutes times 4 or 3 depending on the day - for Paly and very few kids have 7 academic classes). But say 7 a day or 35 per week add in 14 hours of HW that is 2 hour a day including Fri and Sat. Student may choose to do more on a different day of the week and take Fri and Sat off - but say a 2 hour average. This is a total of 49 hours. Maybe it is too much but it is not 70 hours a week.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I was using Carol's number of 30 hours, or 4-6 hours per day. Let's say the guideline is 2 hours per day, 7 days per week (I think a 7 day week is not reasonable but OK). Then that would be you are right, about a 50 hour week, though I think it i s more like 54, but why quibble. I guess that would be OK, though not great. I think 10 hours per week for regular lane 10th grade is more reasonable. But I wouldn't myself go to war over a 50-55 hour week.

What I was responding to is that the guideline never happens even in middle school, kids have some multiple of this number, even up to 30 hours per week which would be double the guideline. And I do believe that the HW committee heard from many parents and some teachers that it is really that high. So assuming that is correct, then you would have a 35-40 hour week, plus 30 hours HW == 65-70 hour week, either over 6 or 7 days. That's the math of it. I have no idea what the real story is, though I can tell you that my daughter definitely did more than that even when she was at Gunn and she wasn't even in AP classes in 10th grade like a lot of her friends.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I read the info about the superintendent's salary, benefits, perks. I believe the position is overpaid, but then this is typical of local government, according to the for the most part eye-popping salaries disclosed in the lists in the PA Daily Post.
Why should the supe get housing perks and etc. compared to those of us in the private sector who live here? With that salary, the supe should buy in like the rest of us, or live where he/she prefers, but sweetheart deals are so over for me. We can't afford these overpaid government positions.

Posted by Wildcrat, a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm

I'm watching this meeting right now. The lawyer, who is part of the group who has been advising them and helped them arrive to this point. Basically, she said this violation of civil rights is no big deal. Good to know.

Looks like the board spent their time figuring out how to save themselves. The platitudes now begin. Camille noted that the OCR process is not adversarial, Heidi, who is reading from her notes, sees this as an opportunity, and the love fest begins.

Posted by Wildcrat, a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2013 at 7:36 pm

"There are a lot of positives that went on . . . and I'm happy about that." -- from Melissa on the OCR.

She also called parents alarmists, panicked, confused.

When you get 18,000 votes, I guess you can be arrogant.

Thank you Melissa for clearing up my confusion, I thought the district's lack of transparency was a problem.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I also have taken a look and listen at the BoE meeting on tv. I find them in very silled CYA mode.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 26, 2013 at 8:01 pm

oops, make that "skilled"

Posted by Wildcrat, a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Have we elected the best to run the school board?

Would you vote to renew the superintendent's contract tonight if you had the chance or would you send him on his way and get a better one.

Speaking of better, We Can Do Better Palo Alto makes a very modest proposal in doing better. A potted plant could do better.

Posted by Carol, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm

@Michelle: I never thought to add the time they spend in class, which is about 33 hours. Adding about 20 hours of homework time (including weekends), and our regular lane students are working at least 50 hours per week, which is more than clock-punchers, and they aren't even earning a paycheck. And 20 hours of homework is a lower-end number. AP and Honors students are working longer hours. Add an extracurricular for college apps, and maybe a tutor or tutors, and our children have little time to relax. . . until they reach college and take 3-4 classes. How backwards it is. I never thought I would chant "We Can Do Better."

Posted by Do your job, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2013 at 9:01 pm

So shameful. You blew it, board. You did nothing but put on your blinders. This is Palo Alto and you are making us look like a foolish district. Your reasoning was that many districts violate the civil rights of students, therefore no big deal. Tonight was the worst dog and pony show because even on TV you could sense the shame thick in the air. Way to keep our district's low point positive.

Posted by Obvious, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm

The district lawyer spoke instead of staff because the district is in hot water legally. No way are you going to be hearing anything other than happy talk.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Obvious is right, as are the other posters who have observed that the fact that the district's lawyer is talking but staff are not is a sign that she has instructed them not to speak. They are all subject to discovery and cross-examination and can make damaging admissions while she is not. Lawyers will understand immediately that this signals litigation posture -- in fact, the lawyers for the complaining witness/victim were in the audience and the district's lawyer was aware of that fact. There were many incorrect assertions and shadings of the truth made by the lawyer -- this was not transparency, it was the opposite of transparency. I am very glad to see that so many people see through this charade.

Under the circumstances, that the Board should have done was to state that on the advice of counsel the Board has made the decision to have no public session on the matter. That would have been the honest and honorable solution given that they are not courageous enough to simply tell the truth and let the chips fall where they do, or to hold staff accountable and state that it is a personnel matter and thus confidential. This choice, to present spin as transparency was the worst of all possible choices and presents the district governance as irredeemably broken.

There were many shadings and half-truths in the lawyer's recitation: the OCR Dear Colleague bullying letter came out in 2000, not 2010. The 2010 letter (from my dear friend Russlynn Ali, the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights and head of OCR at the time) was about changing the interpretation of Title IX to include sexual orientation -- that was the big change. There was no big change in bullying and certainly not in disability bullying which was done by the Clinton administration in 2000. She artfully munged those two Dear Colleague letters together in order to create the misimpression that the district had been doing things right but was caught in conflicting definitions. She falsely stated that many of our "neighbors" have OCR letters of finding against them for disability harassment. No. Only 14 districts in the United States in the past 4 years have had that experience -- a fact the board knows because I presented that data to them in tabular form after obtaining it from OCR today at the closed session. There were many more omissions, elisions and outright misstatements.

The worst was when she implied that the district would have done early resolution but the victim's family didn't want it. That is just false and they have to know it.

The whole thing made me incredibly sad to watch. Board you should have just said no comment rather than actively misleading the public. Heidi, shame on you for participating in that ridiculous dog and pony show. I thought you were better than that.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm

They did a great job in working to protect themselves from a legal standpoint. And all their planning for how to improve the situation going forward center around ways of covering themselves legally, as opposed to addressing the much more important issue of the bullying problem itself. We need to address the bullying issue and other related issues in our schools. The board proudly announced that they were dealing with training staff and students on bullying issues by planning to enlist (for a heft fee, I am sure) the help of bullying specialist Dora Dome. What kind of "bullying specialist," you ask? A lawyer. Another lawyer being hired to help protect administrators. For reference: Web Link Why aren't they telling us that they are thinking of ways to reduce bullying, rather than just ways to reduce their legal risks? Are the WeCanDoBetter people working on a solution, since it seems like our school administrators may not be? How are we going to make the bullying situation better in our schools? I really do not think that hiring more lawyers is the answer...

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Re: Previous comment by M.D.

Paragraph 1: "incorrect assertions and shadings the truth", "opposite of transparency", "charade"

Paragraph 2: "not courageous enough to simply tell the truth", "present spin as transparency"

Paragraph 3: "shadings and half-truths", "more omissions, elisions (sic) and outright misstatements"

Paragraph 4: "just false and they have to know it"

Paragraph 5: "shame on you" "dog and pony show"

Any wonder this group's comments are sidelined, when any disagreements are obviously a character flaw or moral failing and their spokespeople are so injudicious?

Posted by Messenger, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 27, 2013 at 7:03 am

Old Palo Alto Paly Parent,

Could you get someone to post a point of view that shows these comments, as applied in the sense and context of the posting, are not fair and accurate? That balance may help many of us struggling to understand the situation.

Paragraph 1: "incorrect assertions and shadings the truth", "opposite of transparency", "charade"

Paragraph 2: "not courageous enough to simply tell the truth", "present spin as transparency"

Paragraph 3: "shadings and half-truths", "more omissions, elisions (sic) and outright misstatements"

Paragraph 4: "just false and they have to know it"

Paragraph 5: "shame on you" "dog and pony show"

Report Objectionable Content

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2013 at 7:32 am

Wow. Michelle's dear friend is head of OCR?

Michelle, your constant chastising of board members, calling them silly, etc, on a public forum because they won't say what you want them to, is bullying. Please stop and limit yourself to constructive comments.

Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2013 at 10:13 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2013 at 10:31 am

I am not a member of WCDB and have been both a supporter and critic of our school district.

I am APPALLED at the mishandling of these cases. I am APPALLED at the lack of courage to simply face the situation at hand and do the right thing. All these attempts at smoothing over to not offend teachers, staff, parents, students, etc, has only made the whole situation worse.

I am APPALLED at how, over and over, the students and families are expected to suck it up because life is unfair... and told to remember just how lucky we are to live in Palo Alto and go to our amazing schools.

Our schools have a great reputation due to the tireless efforts of many, many individuals - students, parents, and teachers - that, combined together over a long time, make for a great system. BUT Our schools also have a terrible reputation as meat grinders when, as witnessed here, someone doesn't get the "memo" on how to navigate through/conform to the system.... these nonconformists become the flies in the ointment. They become victims again by daring to challenge the image of picture perfect Palo Alto. It's appalling to be told to focus on the picture perfect image and to ignore the sharp edges of the shattered pieces.

It takes 10x as many "good acts" to undo just 1 screw up. The way this is being managed reminds me of the Catholic Church scandals that have been dragging on for years. It reminds me of what the definition of "is" is. For once, just once, I would love to see some courage and leadership out of the school board.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 27, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Parent, Well said. I'm also not affiliated with WCDB, and have been a supporter of the district. I agree we need the leadership we have elected to stand up and take responsibility for this and show the initiative needed to solve the problem. What has emerged here is the reality that all the students in this district are overshadowed by the giant ego the entire organization has developed because of the context here, a context defined by economic growth in the area, Stanford's sense of its own importance, and the surrounding educational wasteland created by Prop 13. The real estate industry has pumped up our schools so much that the district believes in itself absolutely. Any student with a problem of any kind is brushed off like an insect. This is the opposite of what a school district is supposed to do. But bullying the school board and superintendent is not going to help. Bullying is not a solution to anything. Leadership is.