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About this blog: There are few issues more controversial and emotionally charged than education in Palo Alto. For this reason, I have chosen to write under the pseudonym Edmund Burke. Burke was an 18th century philosopher, statesman, and political...  (More)

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The Incredible Shrinking Bullying Policy

Uploaded: Mar 11, 2014
Palo Alto parents who review the district's long-awaited new bullying policy are in for quite a surprise. Rather than the clear, consistent framework for handling bullying complaints that they have been repeatedly promised, the new draft of this policy that Superintendent Kevin Skelly has recommended for adoption has been stripped down until there is little left in the way of procedure or protection.

All deadlines and timelines have been deleted, documentation requirements have been minimized, and appeals to the district level have been eliminated. What's left is the outer husk of a policy, but without the kinds of steps and processes that would make it meaningful.

The good news is that thanks to the intervention of the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights this new bullying policy will not apply to students who are bullied based on a factor like race, disability, sexual orientation, or sexual harassment. The bad news is that it applies to everyone else.

Two-Tiered Policy. I have written here and here about PAUSD's decision to use a "two-tiered" bullying policy. Under this two-tiered approach, bullying that is based on discrimination -- factors like race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability -- will be handled under a state-mandated process called the Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP).

First Tier. The UCP provides parents and students with a standardized, district-level process for complaints. When a written complaint of discriminatory bullying is filed with a school official, it must sent to the district office within 2 days (a complaint can also be filed directly with the district office). Once received, it must be documented. Within five days the district compliance officer must begin a thorough investigation. Within 60 days, the compliance officer must issue a written decision that includes specific elements such as findings of fact and conclusions of law, and inform complaining parents that the decision is appealable to the California Department of Education.

If an oral report or complaint of discriminatory bullying or harassment is made to any employee they have to report it to the principal within one school day. The principal must then, within one school day, inform the person making the report of his or her right to file a written complaint under the UCP.

The California School Board Association strongly recommends that districts use these procedures for all bullying investigations in order to ensure consistent implementation of bullying complaint procedures. Similarly, the California State Auditor concluded after a study of the way districts handle bullying complaints that site-based resolution processes resulted in a lack of documentation and poor compliance with procedures, timelines, and appeal rights.

According to the Auditor, it is a "best practice" to use the Uniform Complaint Procedure for all complaints of bullying, regardless of whether it is based on a protected status. But PAUSD rejected this recommendation in favor of a two-tier system.

Second Tier. Complaints of "ordinary" bullying -- that is, bullying that is not based on a protected status -- are handled under the new proposed site-level bullying complaint policy. This policy offers far less protection than the UCP. First, it applies only to the most serious bullying, conduct so damaging that it would justify suspension or expulsion. In order to be considered "bullying" under the new policy, the conduct must be so objectively severe and pervasive that it causes very substantial detrimental effects to the target.

This is an unnecessarily restrictive definition. Parents, students, and staff should have access to an orderly process for receiving and handling complaints of bullying behavior before the situation becomes serious. The goal should be prevention, not merely reacting to those incidents that are already severe enough to warrant expulsion.

When the policy was first proposed it included a definition that was drawn from the leading evidence-based bullying prevention program, designed by Swedish psychology professor Dan Olweus. This definition is "aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power. Most often, it is repeated over time."

The Olweus definition is sensible. It is restrictive enough that it would not result in teachers and administrators being overrun with paperwork or sending every instance of ordinary childhood misbehavior to the district office. However, it would encompass more than just those few cases that are already out of control.

Unfortunately, the Olweus definition was deleted from the PAUSD draft policy in February in favor of the very narrow definition drawn from the disciplinary code. Unless it meets that new, much higher threshold, a complaint would not even receive the minimal process provided by this proposed site-level process. If not, then according to this flowchart accompanying the new draft, that's the end of the complaint procedure.

An Illusory "Process." But even in those few, extremely serious cases that are able to meet the district's new, stringent definition of bullying, the process is surprisingly minimal. There are no timelines for filing a complaint, documenting a complaint, conducting an investigation, reaching a decision, communicating that decision, offering aid to the targeted student, or anything else.

As a letter sent to the school board this week from a group of concerned community members notes, when the two-tier process was first proposed, it contained a host of requirements which have now been deleted, including:

1. Immediate notification of the parents of both students when an oral or written report of bullying is received (page 12);
2. Documentation of all reports or complaints within 5 school days (page 11);
3. Written decision including any corrective actions taken provided by the principal to both parties and district office within 15 days (page 13);
4. Both parties notified of a right to appeal the decision to the district office within 15 days (page 14)

Over the past two months as the district has worked on its draft bullying policy, it has removed many of these elements of basic procedural justice such as a transparent, orderly process; understandable rules; and the ability to appeal to a neutral decisionmaker. Thus, the gap has widened considerably between the "first-tier" protection provided to children who are bullied based on factors such as sexual orientation or disability, and the "second-tier" protection provided to children who are bullied because they have brown hair, or freckles, or for no reason at all.

The lack of timelines and procedural requirements means that each site is free to decide when and how to respond to complaints. The fact that there is no appeal means that parents are unable to turn to the district for review of those site-level decisions, and there will be no way for the district to assure consistency across sites.

This is not what the community was promised.

Broken Promises. District leadership repeatedly assured the community that the finished bullying policy, while not as robust as the UCP, would at least provide a floor of procedural protection across all sites for all bullying complaints, including a 15-day timeline and a "right of appeal" to the district office. Kevin Skelly said that the two-tier policy would be an advantage, because it would have a "much quicker timeline" than the UCP. On January 28, Skelly identified a "timeline for responsiveness," and a clear grievance process for appeal to the district level as core elements that would be included in the bullying policy.

The district has had a number of task forces and climate committees working over the past year on the goal of developing tools to help clarify reporting of bullying, specifically including timelines. Last summer, the "Stepping Up Task Force" was assigned to "develop tools that will help clarify for students, staff and parents how bullying can be reported, action that must be taken and timelines." Meanwhile the similarly-named "Stepping Up for Safe and Welcoming Schools Task Force" also conclude that there was a need for a clear complaint process that included timelines. PTAC participated in these committees, and PTAC President Sigrid Pinsky stated that that the goal of this process was a comprehensive policy with a common definition and set of procedures that would produce "consistent responses" across sites.

Student Services Coordinator Brenda Carillo, who has headed up the drafting of the two-tier policy assured the board and the community over a year ago that the goal would be to have a "standard reporting and complaint procedure." Board member Heidi Emberling, who is just joining the Board Policy Review Committee this week, likewise stressed the need for "consistency across school sites" with respect to complaint procedures. This was recently echoed by Board member Melissa Caswell, who said at the December 3, 2013 Board Policy Review Committee Meeting that the new policies should be "clear, fair, and consistent" in every site.

What happened? Why after making all of these promises did PAUSD suddenly change course? In December 2013, the district had a draft bullying policy that met all of the above criteria -- timeline, appeal, clear consistent process -- ready to go.

This draft was in the making for more than year and had been thoroughly vetted and approved by the district's lawyers, federal and state governments and by the California School Board Association. Yet it was abandoned before it was even brought to the board for a full public discussion. This about-face is confusing and disappointing.

The community has never received a satisfactory explanation for the decision by the district to throw out a year's worth of work. On January 28, Skelly told the board that teachers objected to escalating bullying concerns to the district office, while principals did not want to add a new procedure for bullying. This evidently drove the deletion of timelines, notification and documentation requirements, and an appeal process.

So, despite the repeated promises that the district would have a bullying complaint process that reflected the core community "value" of a consistent, comprehensive approach to bullying that includes timelines and and an appeal mechanism, that draft was discarded. In its place, we will have a "process" that provides none of the promised values.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by still a question?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm


"What happened? Why after making all of these promises did PAUSD suddenly change course? In December 2013, the district had a draft bullying policy that met all of the above criteria -- timeline, appeal, clear consistent process -- ready to go."

Wasn't it PAEA that had a hand in the sudden change of course in December? Today's weekly article says Teri Baldwin sees no problems now.

Posted by Reverse discrimination, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Mar 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm

I think this is terrible. What kind of policy has no deadline? Why even have a policy? It seems like they are just having a "policy" so they can say they have one. It seems to be reverse discrimination that "protected" get timelines and the rest do not. Unfair! And what message does that send? I think this board is dreadful. Thank you Mr. Burke.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Mar 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm

@Edmund Burke - Thank you for not giving up on fools! Way back I took the huge liberty to comment that given the lack of transparency and lack of accountability, analyzing these policies was a waste of your time. Later, I stood corrected, realizing that your incredible research can, hopefully, be a milestone on the way to transparency, accountability and best practices.

I think it is important to note, again, that many of the most engaged and committed supporters of bullying policies for "all", regardless of predefined protected subgroup, are those whose personal kids belong to a protected subgroup.
I noted before - while this may seem to be a trivial observation, I think that it points to the detrimental results of bullying. Those who experienced bullying know that one can never know when bullying will present it\'s ugly face.

It so happened that I posted last night my take on the Bullying Policies\' long and windy and very costly road. Here is a link - Web Link

My post includes also my suggested Bullying Polices. Obviously, my very uneducated suggestion.

LaToya Baldwin Clark words about bullying after the (first) OCR case became public knowledge were in my mind (and heart) when I wrote my post last night.
I related to her words, and noted where she can be watched here - Web Link

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Mar 11, 2014 at 9:14 pm

I posted on the news thread on the similar topic. This paragraph from Lobdell\'s story is relevant to the question about the role of PAEA:

"Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educator\'s Association (the teachers\' union), said she has reviewed several drafts of the bullying policy, including the December 2013 policy and more recent versions, and told the Weekly she had no specific concerns based on the language in any of these drafts. Baldwin said that her only concern was a general one, focused on making sure that "little day-to-day learning experiences" would not trigger or require a major process. She said this concern arose "more from conversations she was having with parents and others" than from any policy language she had seen proposed."

In other words, Baldwin at least is saying now that she didn\'t really have an issue with the December draft, except a general concern that didn\'t even arise from the policy language. So that isn\'t the reason for the change.

My money is on Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom, who have been resisting both OCR authority and district-wide bullying policy since the OCR civil rights finding first appeared in the media over a year ago. Tom and Mitchell have held numerous closed meetings of the school board to try to mount a legal challenge to federal authority (a quixotic and ultimately failed effort), and have also steadfastly opposed any robust district response to bullying for students who don\'t fall under the federal government\'s protection.

Thanks to Burke and the Weekly for keeping the public informed, and to OCR to enforcing civil rights laws in Palo Alto. Not all of us buy Mitchell and Tom\'s every-kid-for-herself philosophy that seems more about protecting principals than protecting children. Please, keep reporting on what\'s happening as this thing moves through committee and the board.

Posted by Time for a Recall, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 12, 2014 at 8:57 am

They are just giving us the run around. They pretend to do something to keep us calm and not to worry and then: BACK TO THE BEGINNING. This is exactly what they do to the OCR investigators. When do we have new board members. Can this be called a crisis, and recall the members who are failing our children. Pretty much everybody.

Posted by It's hopeless, a resident of College Terrace,
on Mar 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

At the BPRC meeting. This can't be fixed. Camille Townsend is not capable of linear thought. And she's filibustering over Heidi. District lawyer is not good. So garbage in, garbage out. It is what it is and you all voted for Camille Townsend.

Posted by Time for a Recall, a resident of Barron Park,
on Mar 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I agree with It's hopeless,
Camille is the first board member that comes to my mind, when I think about a recall. Today, she wasted precious time at this meeting by trying tell something when she could just not stay with one line of thought and she was all over the place. I think some other board member should sit with her and one-on-one explained to her what is going on, this way she will not come up with the same question as she has done in past meetings. I was a little impressed that she told Skelly to shut his mouth, but for the wrong reason. That is the way she should treat him when we bring complains to PAUSD administrators and they just ignore. She overpower Skelly, but only because she does not want him to talk because poor Skelly every time he opens his mouth, he gets into more deep trouble. I think someone needs to recall Camile, how do we do it. For now, at least she should be removed from the Board Policy Review Committee Board Policy Review Committee(BPRC). We are not doing much progress with her in this task This is a circus with no agenda.

Posted by still a question?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Do I detect puppets in these meetings?

A person (Townsend) who is rambling and still asking questions must be trying to figure out what she needs to report back to whoever is pulling the strings.

Otherwise she would be sharper. Isn't she a lawyer?

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 7:38 am

@Edmund Burke - Thanks again. I cannot start to imagine the time and thought put into your post and additional resources.
You refereed the readers to a letter addressing the board. You provided the following link, above: Web Link

I am wondering if this letter was part of the last board packet? I could not find it, I may have overlooked.

I am asking since letters to the board were discussed in the April thread noting Ms. Sandra Pearson's letter to the board. Link - Web Link

Ms. Pearson is a past acclaimed PAUSD administrator. Her letter addressing the board was part of the board packet.

I am wondering if all letters addressing the board are public information? (if this is the case, a letter which was kept out of the public eye for long time comes to mind).

Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 10:25 am

@still a question?

I do not think that that the teachers' union was the problem. Based on the reporting in Terri Lobdell's story this week, it appears that the union president had no issue with any of the drafts (as Wow points out). Based on the comments of Kevin Skelly and Brenda Carillo at yesterday's BPRC meeting it is evident that the principals did not wish to be responsible for following a process that required them to (1) write a decision; (2) adhere to any timeline; or (3) be subject to any review at the district office.

Kevin Skelly's perspective was that he felt that parents should trust the principal. He stated "at some point people just have to trust us." This neglects the fact that in cases in which a parent is going to make a formal complaint, trust has already been damaged. It may be difficult to restore it. One thing that would help in that endeavor is to have a process that is in place so that people feel that they have been heard, treated with respect, and given a set of rules and procedures they can understand. When those features of decisionmaking are present, people are more likely to accept a result, even if it is not the result they want. This point was made by Heidi Emberling at the BPRC meeting.

The best argument Dr. Skelly made against the site based procedure is that principals are already working very hard and having them spend time resolving complaints will take time away from other things that are also valuable. That, however, is an argument not against having any process but against having a site-level process. It is an argument for using the UCP for all complaints of bullying -- and certainly for complaints of bullying that are serious enough to warrant suspension or expulsion. It is an argument for following the CSBA recommendation to use the UCP for all complaints of bullying, not to have no process for any complaints of bullying.

The district's current proposal, described in my post above, is that even if the bullying your child has experienced is so severe and debilitating that they are profoundly affected by it and the perpetrator can be suspended or expelled for it, you are entitled to no process at all. No timeline, no written decision, no appeal. That is absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately this process has taken so long, been so convoluted, and been so complicated that most people have issue fatigue.

That is a shame because this is an issue that has cost this district a lot of blood and treasure. It is led to management changes and multiple federal investigations. Now is when the public should be paying more attention not less, because the final versions of these various policies are being crafted and without public oversight, it is possible that this fiasco can end without a satisfactory resolution.

One thing that was apparent at the meeting yesterday is that the district's lawyer, Dora Dome is spending quite a bit of time arguing with OCR about changes to these policies that OCR is requesting. She repeatedly mentioned "back and forth" that she is having with the agency. The district should accept all of OCR's recommendations without argument and there is no need to pay Dome to "go back and forth." There should be a solid commitment to the public that PAUSD will willingly follow the direction of the federal agency and will stop expending public money in an effort to resist that direction.

As OCR head Catherine Lhamon recently told a group of University Presidents whose schools, like Paly, are under OCR investigation for their handling of sexual assault under Title IX: "it is not complicated, it is not hard, and the law is clear."

PAUSD needs to hear the same message: It's not hard, it's not complicated, and the law is clear.

Posted by In the dark, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 12:20 pm

It's astonishing to me that the school district is still conducting an effort to resist OCR guidance with absolutely no public discussion. Dora Dome is not off conducting her own plan for responding to civil rights requirements. She is obviously following instructions she is getting in closed meetings, from Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom. Why are Tom and Mitchell excluding the public? How do elected officials get to evade the public? Their lack of transparency and accountability is driving the district into an expensive losing battle.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 4:27 pm

@In the dark - The Board has spoken, clearly. It's astonishing to me that anyone will expect any other path. The Board stated clearly way back that transparency, accountability etc. are of no real interest. No Cristal ball was needed, just listening.

The following is part of my post on Jan 27th, a day before "cut the mike" night here - Web Link :

".. I think that the secret meetings were the clearest statement made by PAUSD board.
About a year ago the (first) OCR settlement became public knowledge. The info triggered vigils, numerous community members addressing the board etc. etc. etc. The board witnessed all, and still went for those secret meetings. We cannot know what else we do not know.

I also think that the way the board responded to Ms. Gaona-Mendoza on Oct 8, 2013 was a clear statement. I felt compelled to address her and express my respect and shame (link #3).
Edmund Burke?s blog (the 4 postings available until now ? link #4) also exposes the way the board considers the well being of ALL the children and the tax payer?s $. (or rather, how the board does not actually do this).
It seems to me that unfortunately the samples I listed above add up to a situation where the current board is irrelevant to those who find the above concerning. I mentioned several times that I think of the (first) OCR settlement as an alarming lab test result. The disease is not fully understood.
The board ignored numerous calls to form an independent investigation committee to check what went wrong. If they were a team of medical doctors, or maybe even hospital management, responsible for your children?s health, would you trust the same doctors again? ..."

Posted by still a question?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 5:43 pm


Has anyone asked Baton Caswell why she really changed her mind then? She said it was after talking with the teachers.

If there is no resolution, I think the best thing is to publish very clearly how to file complaints against the site Administrators, principals, etc. Skip the district and have each case go directly to the Board.

Or call the police.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 9:29 pm

@Edmund Burke - The following is part of my post- Web Link

Thinking about the Hippocratic Oath that medical doctors take, I wondered if there was something similar for educators. I found the California Teacher Association Code of Ethics (link #3). Within this, I believe we have the fundamental basis for bullying polices and best practices.
?The educator, believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of democratic principles. Essential to these goals is the protection of freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal educational opportunity for all. The educator accepts the responsibility to adhere to the highest ethical standards. The educator recognizes the magnitude of the responsibility inherent in the teaching process?.?
It seems to me that this code says it all. Covers it all.
I think it would make sense to expect all school and district officials and PAUSD board members to conform to this code.
What say you?
While I do realize that this ethical code may not be sufficient, legally, I am very curious to know your insight as to where, if at all, any of the code of ethics was violated in the cases the OCR checked (the cases that have been made available to the public).
I want to think that all would support conforming to this code. Back to basics.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 11, 2014 at 7:44 pm

I have nothing to say about the allegations against Phil Winston. There is obviously a lot being said about this and many of us are keeping quiet. It is apparent that Phil has a lot of supporters as well as those who are ready to crucify him publicly. I am shocked that the Weekly has made such a public spectacle of him this week, with not just one article but several as well as the front page. Unfortunately they have decided to keep comments to those who are registered users only. From what I can see, since there have been many deletions, this has not prevented people from being disrespectful to the Weekly's guidelines. Also, there are many of us who do not want to register as we do not want the repercussions to ourselves or our children so still wish to remain anonymous. (Brendan Eich story shows exactly why) But it is clear he has as many supporters if not more, than he has those who are critical of him.

But as a parent who had a student in class with him at JLS as well as knowing him as principal at Paly, I always found him very approachable, very understanding and someone who seemed genuinely concerned about students and respectful of his position.

He even looked like a professional, dressed appropriately with impeccable manners. I wish more of the Paly teachers dressed in a manner that taught students what professional attire was, rather than some of the cargo pants with more pockets than a farmer would need and shirts that badly needed to be ironed which so many of the male teachers appear to favor.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Apr 12, 2014 at 9:49 am

Thank you Village Fool.

The editing is a valid criticism. The registered users comment is a tool that gives the Weekly information that could be used against its readers at some stage in the future.

As I said above, Brendan Eich has shown that it is now possible to have your opinion be a reason for losing your job at some time in the future. The Weekly, but requiring registration of an email address and possibly a "real" name, means that your opinion can be identified by the media at some time they feel fit. Phil Winston is having all his professional (and possibly private life) scrutinized by the Weekly at present. It could be any one of us in the future.

Even the anonymous poster, Edmund Burke, gets censored and the fact that the Weekly presumably knows exactly who he is gives them the power to unload that information at some later date if the tide turns.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community,
on Apr 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm

off topic comment -

@Paly Parent - I have posted the following comment almost two days ago here -Web Link
This comment is a 'rehash', variation, of many comments I posted before.
My comment was removed sometime in the past few hours. I cannot see how this comment violates the terms of use.

@Edmund Burke - I am sorry for "dragging" this thread this way. Here's another short 'rehash" - I happen to think addressing bullying is tightly connected to the atmosphere etc.

My removed comment:

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

@Evaluate this! -
I am taking this opportunity to let you know that I used your "old pesky First Amendment", above, on Feb 22nd in my post relating to the atmosphere/culture of silence and few unfortunate derivatives. - Web Link

I wrote many times my belief that anything and everything is possible where there is no accountability, no transparency etc. Fear of retaliation is just one of the very reasonable results of such culture. It is a very slippery road.

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