Town Square

Superintendent writes to parents about bullying

Original post made on Mar 7, 2013

Superintendent Kevin Skelly emailed district parents Wednesday afternoon to explain how the district intends to improve its handling of reports of bullying.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:52 AM


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:35 am

Not much in Supt. Skelly's memo.

Hard to sense he's taking this very seriously.

Posted by Larry, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:45 am

Skelly is not much of a superintendent either. He is the one who needs more training. How complicated can this bullying issue be? A student was reported being bullied. Instead of protecting the victim, Skelly turned a blind eye and allowed the bullying to continue. He chose not to communicate the resolution with school board on this important subject. He failed as a leader and a superintendent. Skelly needs to go.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

I wonder what email list he sent this out through ... I have two kids at Gunn, I receive all District emails, but I didn't get this one. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it?

Posted by The Saratogan, a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:55 am

Skelly--what about teachers who were bullied from parent of students who cheated?

Posted by Gunn parent of 3, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2013 at 11:10 am

i was very saddened to learn about the bullying of a child and heart broken that the child was special needs. while i agree it seems like the after-the fact situation could have been handled better, i don't pretend to know all the details of how such a tragic situation could be allowed to develop at one of our schools, despite best intentions of teachers, parents, and administrators, but i'm not going to be naive and conclude that one person could & should have prevented it. i also am going to guess a superintendent of a district our size has more than one important issue on his/her plate.

bullying is a personal, family, community, and cultural problem. it's everyone's problem which means no one person can solve it or fix it.

why don't we all resolve to change the culture in which bullying can happen, which is important point here, not who can we blame after the fact.

ps just b/c you didn't receive one email that everyone else seems to have received doesn't make that person incompetent. it probably makes your spam filter overactive.

Posted by Time For a Change, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Mar 7, 2013 at 11:27 am

It's so time to get Skelly out of our lives, and more importantly our kids' lives.

+ He's misled the board and the community and concealed vital information from them. Once on counseling and now with the OCR investigation. And that's just the stuff we know about.
+ He's shown disdain for the Board. At least twice.
+ He smugly appears to think that he's very smart, smarter than the board, the parents and the teachers as seen in PAUSD Board meetings.
+ He is not open to input. Not willing to other perspectives.
+ He will likely cost the district millions in damages due to mismanagement of the bullying incident alone.

He's obviously not an honest, upfront individual.
We can no longer trust him.

He should be shown the door, posthaste.

Posted by Star Teachout, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2013 at 11:39 am

It is always troubling to learn that kids are being extremely cruel to their peers, and it is apparent there were mistakes made on many levels, including Skelly by his own admission. The blame for this bullying situation, however, falls on many shoulders--the children involved, the peers, the parents, the teachers, the site administrator, counselors, and superintendent. By keeping our eyes open, and asking our kids about unkindness at school, we show our values and help keep these bad behaviors in line. To simply blame after the fact does little to help our community improve. I don't know how much Skelly cares, but I do know that he and his family personally financed and welcomed into their own home a special ed student to give him better choices (after approx. a year, he moved to be with a relative back east). That sounds like caring to me! [The district memo came out Wed. at 5:18 pm.]

Posted by Carrie, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

This happened back in the late 90's. After an allegation of not protecting an elementary school student, OCR required PAUSD to do much of the same. Apparently, with time PAUSD is back to its old tricks. Shame on you PAUSD. Will you ever learn?

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I agree with Gunn parent of 3--and Kevin Skelly--the situation could have been handled better. And that is just what he's doing! Kudos to him!

As for Time For a Change's argument that we can't trust Skelly--I trust Kevin Skelly to do the right thing far more than the people on this thread who are out to scapegoat someone for a problem that's been around way before Skelly and will be around way after he leaves. It's a societal problem and tough to work with. We need to do what we can to deal with the problem., and help, not try to destroy, the people in a position to make positive changes.

If scapegoating, insulting, and harassing aren't forms of bullying, I don't know what is. It truly is Time For a Change, and the change should be in our hearts, to be more compassionate toward every being involved in this situation. Let's show our kids and everyone who cares what it means to be positive, not destructive!

Posted by AnotherConcernedParent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:16 pm

There are various forms of abuse and many safety issues to be concerned about in our schools/community. Rather than spend a lot of time pointing fingers about a specific incident, let's focus on keeping our kids safe. We need to make them more aware of what bullying is, why not to do it, what to do if they see it or are a victim of it. We should also get them training on self-defense, both physical and verbal. Is self-defense already taught at all the local schools? I hope so but I doubt it. :-(

Posted by Stay-at-Home Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:20 pm

The blame of bullying falls upon parents and no one else. If children are nurtured, respected, loved, and their needs are met, they will not be cruel to others because there is love in their hearts. If you look at the bullies, look at their parents. Either the parents are too lenient, too strict, or are mean persons themselves. Children need boundaries but not too many that they feel no control of their lives. Somehow, the bullies have a void in their hearts that was not filled by their parents.

All the teenage rebellion? It's because children feel disrespected by their parents in some way. Spend more time with your children instead of counting the days for when they leave for college. Remember how happy you were to bring them into this world and take care of them. Praise them, SHOW them you love them by spending time with them (words are not enough). Things can turn around quickly - children always want love, respect, and attention from their parents, at any age.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 7, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I would like to assume that bullying and physical violence in our schools is reprehensible to teachers and educators. I would like to believe that adult educators have the power to address and to correct bullying perpetrated by child students. Don't adults have authority over children?

I do wonder if the bullying in this case was not stopped, because the educators were intimitated by the parents of the student bullies. I sincerely hope this is the reason that the educators did not act strongly enough. I sincerely hope that PAUSD was too scared to come up against the parents of the bullies. I would ove to believe in the integrity of the educators charged with the care of our children for 6 hours each day. I would love to believe the same about our school board and Supt. Skelly.

If this is true -- PAUSD please grow a spine and stand up to bullying parents of bullying children!!! Grow a spine and enforce discipline when indicated!! Grow a spine and protect students when their rights are violated!!! Grow a spine and eliminate your fear of "powerful" parents in the PAUSD community. You can do it, you have a community of "regular" PAUSD parents behind you.

Posted by No email, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I did not get Skelly's email, either, not even in spam! From all reports, he did not say much, so I guess I did not miss much.

When my oldest was at Jordan, he was bullied and beaten by the son of a prominent PA citizen. My son ( who did not fight back, because he knew if he did, he'd be in trouble with the principle) was suspended for three days, same as the bully. The powerful father said that he thought it unfair his son was suspended for " winning" the uncontested fight!!!

Five years later, the bully was jailed for selling heroin to minors. Such is the future of bullies who are. Ever corrected or disciplined.

Posted by Fairmeadow parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm

My husband and I didn't receive Skelley's letter either.

What a fiasco!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm

The email is below.

Mr. Skelly recognizes bullying is wrong, bullying is bad, bullying should not be overlooked in our schools. Someone or some people (and I mean parents of the bullies) are bullying PAUSD and Mr. Skelly.

OCR does not contest the bullying took place. The bullying happened, so why does Mr. Skelly use the words "allegations of bullying" in his letter? Who will be appeased by the use of the word "allegations"?? certainly not the victim. Who will be appeased by the use of the word "allegations"?? The perpetrators.

Mr. Skelly --- stand up, be stronger, there are many many many of us who believe -- as you do -- that bullying is intolerable.

Dear Parent/Guardian,

As you may know, the topic of bullying in public schools has, understandably, captured the attention of our school community. In fact, bullying is the subject of movies, media, legislative debates and policy discussions. Indeed, it is an issue of national importance, and also a priority concern in our District.

Our District addresses bullying through all types of lessons and conversations, throughout the year. Sometimes these lessons center on acceptance, compassion, inclusion and the power of personal choice. Other times, lessons specifically address unkind, hurtful or harassing behaviors and words, and how students can respond.

Recently, allegations of bullying at one of our middle schools became the focus of an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR found that there was more work we should have done to prevent discrimination related to a student-to-student bullying case. As a result, we worked cooperatively with the OCR to establish a process to review our policies, provide more training to staff, build student engagement messages and reach out to you.

I believe that every staff member is committed to creating the safest and most inclusive environment for all students, and finding the most effective ways to do this work better. While our surveys of students consistently reveal high feelings of safety and low rates of bullying, we plan to build on our practices that reinforce social kindness and encourage "upstander" behavior.

A next step will be a comprehensive training and outreach program to be implemented throughout the District. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be updating the community about these and other proactive efforts. We are confident that though partnering with parents, students and the larger community, we will be able to enhance our efforts around this complex issue.

This is important work that we do best when we work together. As we collectively challenge ourselves to address next steps, I invite your involvement at the Board level, the school level, and even over the kitchen table as you share with your child(ren) how you expect them to treat others.


Kevin Skelly, Ph.D,

Posted by Whatadope!, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm

The superintendent has suggested we "work together", but has not offered any specific steps by which he and the other administrators will learn, for the first time, how you actually work with families, particularly of special needs kids. (Starting with not treating them like the enemy.) "Working together" here seems like code for, "move along, there's nothing to see here..."

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm

To the above comments:

The OCR investigation was not because of bullying, it was because the district failed to follow or acknowledge central laws regarding discrimination against disabled students, laws which it WRITES the processes by which it follows those laws. And when the government investigated, administrators appeared to have lied about what they knew and failed to act on. The 2nd OCR settlement was because the district also appeared not to be following laws in regards to 504 protections. Despite the other case. Our district administration has been caught systematically ignoring central education and civil rights laws pertaining to schools.

If we have an administrator who thinks he's do busy for such essential part of his job, he shouldn't be working for school districts.

The superintendent's letter said nothing at all about coming clean, following the law, making things right with parents who were dealt with so shamefully.

Posted by He may be BOOK smart, but......, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm

The district should have done and should do be doing much more with addressing this issue. Apparently everyone forgot about Columbine.

Posted by Accountability now, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Bullying is a problem, but school administrators, teachers, and staff must handle it at the school site. That's what they are paid for. Leaders are paid to supervise the staff and the process. What happened here is basic poor performance by Kevin Skelly and Charles Young, for which they must be let go. This is but the latest in a series of doing nothing or performing ineffectively in overseeing the most basic of policies. Please, no more excuses, no more apologies. Skelly's performance is not up to that of the fifth-highest salary for superintendent.

As for those who apologize for him, I respect your viewpoint, but when you start labeling all posts as scapegoating and insulting, you lose me. Skelly's continued lack of transparency is insulting to many of us in the community. That the board does nothing demonstrates that two of them should not have been re-elected in November, and two others should definitely not run in 2014.

Posted by daniel , a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm

It's pretty obvious that Skelly doesn't take bullying serious;y, and/or doesn't believe it even exists in the district, or that he needs to do anything meaningful about it.
He has had the same attitude toward student suicide-at a meeting with parents a couple of years ago his response to a parent's question about his vies regarding academic stress as a potential trigger that exacerbates existing mental health problems with some students, his response was to pretend the question had never been asked and that the parent didn't exist. He hasn't changed his ways.

Posted by Ohlone Mom, a resident of Ohlone School
on Mar 7, 2013 at 5:44 pm

I am a lawyer by training though I haven't worked for a few years. By retaining Skelly but failing to clear him though an investigation the board is inviting a lawsuit. I don't know who is advising them but there is a right way and a wrong way to handle crises like this. Either you have to clear your guy through a report to shareholders (public in this case) or you have to let him go. You can't retain him with a cloud over him -- if people can't get information or dislodge a wrongdoer any other way they will sue. I don't relish the idea of paying damages instead of paying teachers a higher wage.

Posted by Incident at Gunn Yesterday, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Hello Readers, my kid who goes to Gunn, told me that yesterday as he was leaving school grounds he saw that the Fire Engines were at Gunn, they parked close to the Gym. He was curious and stop along with many other students, and he said that her English teacher was passing by, and Asked my kid and the other students who were around him, if they have seen when the kids tried to commit suicide. It happened almost at the end of the day. They did not sent any e-mail to parents. For sure something happened related to suicide, but we do not know more than that. Anybody knows anything about ti. Perhaps the school officials could let us know what happened at Gunn yesterday. My kid was scared when he came home, but we got no letter notifying parents of the incident. I am wonder if the kid or kids were involved in the incident are ok. I am wonder if he/she/they were bullied or under stressed.

Posted by daniel , a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm

The fact that the bullying of the student had occurred is recognized and accepted by almost everybody, including OCR. The 'almost' belongs to Mr. Skelly who refers to it as "allegations of bullying at one of our middle schools."
The man obviously doesn't really believe that bullying takes place in the district and has no intention of doing anything about it beyond lip service to save his job.

Posted by Deja vu, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Another in a long line of Skelly missives that boil done to "all is well despite what you might be hearing." I'd rather not be paying for Skelly to lobby for his job.

Posted by Bully 4 U, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 7:04 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by support, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2013 at 8:37 pm

I support Dr. Skelly and feel bad he himself is getting bullied by these PA Parents.

Posted by Accountability now, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 8:41 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2013 at 8:42 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by too little, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Last night someone leaked a version of this letter, and apparently, comments on the thread where it was posted were taken into account because the letter changed. For example, "The good news is that we enter this work from a position of strength" was removed. A new paragraph was also added about next steps.

the version of the letter leaked last night can be found at

Web Link

Posted by Skellytons in the Closet, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

How many more Skellytons will emerge before we get rid of this guy? Can we afford Skelly? Lawyers, PR, future settlements as a result of litigation(s) and the list goes on. It's time to give him his walking papers along with his sidekick Young. Enough is enough. I am ashamed of what is going on in this community and fear that if it continues we may wind up on a national TV news magazine story. Hey, it is hard to believe that this prestigious school district has sunk so low as a result of such poor leadership. This goes for the Board as well. Skelly keeps dishing it out and they accept his oopses. Hey Board, get a spine. You should have higher expectations for our administrators. Our kids deserve better!

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:35 pm

It's clear where bullying starts: at home. Some of these parents should just cool out and get a clue.

Bullied kids and teachers, for what it's worth you have my sympathy.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Peggy Duncan wrote this in a previous thread on this subject, and it says it so well, I'd rather quote her:

"I don't like it when people equate voicing an opinion about adult political leaders and highly paid executives to "bullying". I always think it is a way of trying to silence people, and it's just silly. Getting punched in the face or verbally taunted as a middle school child is very different. I am sure that it feels bad as an adult to be held accountable, but feeling bad isn't the same as being bullied."

Web Link

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Bullying happens everywhere. The OCR doesn't come in just because there is bullying. They also aren't some kind of education cops, they do everything they can to shepherd districts to do the right thing, using a stick if necessary. They had to pull out that stick twice with PAUSD recently, even though out of 1500 or 1600 complaints, they might only have to do that about 20 times. They only waved the stick around and nudged us, they didn't hit us with it, but they could if we don't straighten up.

The OCR came in because parent complaints unearthed evidence that PAUSD was systematically and seriously violating laws they are not only charged to follow, but that districts even get to write their own processes by which they follow them. Those laws are supposed to protect kids like the disabled kid who was bullied, if they are followed. PAUSD administrators were caught acting like they didn't even know if those laws existed, didn't follow the laws, hadn't trained staff, and lied to federal investigators when they stepped in.

Given Skelly's experience as an administrator and his previous embroilment in lawsuits with special needs families in Poway, it's not even remotely credible that he just didn't know. That would be incompetence enough for a highly paid superintendent like him. But his agenda for the district seems to have been to deliberately ignore and disobey these laws, to avoid extending the protections of these laws to our students, and to have staff implement this agenda. The law requires districts to be proactive about identifying and extending those protections to students who need them, and inform parents of their rights, not act like they have no idea what those laws are and treat parents like enemies when they ask for those protections.

This is shameful. I am really insulted by this letter and want the board to stop being apologists for this.

Posted by more than one way to skin a cat, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:09 am

"I don't like it when people equate voicing an opinion about adult political leaders and highly paid executives to "bullying". I always think it is a way of trying to silence people, and it's just silly. Getting punched in the face or verbally taunted as a middle school child is very different. I am sure that it feels bad as an adult to be held accountable, but feeling bad isn't the same as being bullied."

Amazing how Peggy has never heard of cyber bullying.

Posted by Grandma, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2013 at 9:08 am

Unfortunately Skelly displayed during his first five years as Superintendent he was the worst leaders of the PAUSD that I can remember and I go back to the late, great Dr. Newman Walker.

After five years the School Board voted to continue his tenure, perhaps because they were too lazy to go out and find someone else. A weak School Board begets a weak Superintendent.

If it wasn't for Bob Golton's firm hand the PAUSD would be in trouble.

Posted by Obi Wan Kenobi, a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2013 at 10:26 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Correct the mistake, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm

PAUSD made a big mistake when they hired Kevin Skelly. The were obviously blinded by that Harvard PhD, and did not look into his background to see what a troublemaker he really is.

Having seen him in person, I cannot imagine that such a personality as his would interview well, either. Did they hire him sight unseen? The evasiveness, the misreading of common social cues, ignoring questions directed to him....he makes a really poor employee and casts a bad light on those who hired him.

PAUSD should make up for the poor judgment used in hiring Kevin Skelly and fire him.

Posted by Obi Wan Kenobi, a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

@correct the mistake, that is why they won't fire him. The same gang that can't shoot straight that hired him isn't about to admit it made an error in judgment. Even Melissa Caswell bragged during the election that as PTAC president she was the only non-staff and non-board member who was allowed to interview Kevin Skelly and select him for the job. Whoopie! Wow, you might want to slide that line off your resume now. If you had paid half the attention to Kevin Skelly's checkered past with bullying, litigation, and disabled students in Poway that you did to the width of seats in the Paly performing arts center we might not be about to be a national bullet point on the Anderson Cooper slideshow about bullying. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2013 at 7:55 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 PTA Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2013 at 9:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Doesn't Comply, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm

If this email was intended to meet the OCR Resolution requirement Section IV. A, due by March 15th, it doesn't. I expect another note to parents will be coming. The resolution says:

IV. Notice to Parents and Students

A. The District will issue to all District students, parents and staff a notice will be also be printed in the Schools newsletter, posted in prominent locations at the School, and published on the School's website. The notice will:

1. state that the district does not tolerate discrimination, including acts of harassment based on disability, and that the District is committed to conducting a prompt investigation of complaints of disability – based discrimination;

2. encourage any student who believes he or she has been subjected to harassment based on disability to report it to a teacher or administrator, and include contact information for the designated school administrator to whom students and parents may report allegations of harassment;

3. advised that students found to have engaged in acts of harassment based on disability may be disciplined and that such discipline may include suspension or expulsion.

Posted by Change now, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Mar 9, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I would not say that Kevin Skelly is a joke, but Charles Young is. He was the compliance officer and he failed miserably in this one. Skelly's M.O. of doing nothing and deflecting responsibility has not worked. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by sandrawyt, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 10, 2013 at 1:35 am

sandrawyt is a registered user.

Bullying has gone beyond this physical fighting. Now, technology has played a great role. I once was a problematic mother with bullied children because of these social networking sites. But I searched for solutions or programs that could help me monitor them while they are online. I want to know who are harassing them so that I can make my own move. I can't tell them to stop using these sites because it's the trend. But at least I can speak to those people bullying them and can advise them to stop. I just want to let other mothers know that we can now monitor them using this program, pgguard. You can google it so that you will know more about it. It helped me a lot; I hope it can help other parents too.