Skelly reverses position on bullying policies

Palo Alto superintendent recommends against adopting 'optional' policies

After saying last month that he favored a single system for handling all school bullying complaints, Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly is now recommending that the district not adopt a bullying policy and instead only approve what is legally required for students who are part of a "protected class."

In recommendations to the school board's Policy Review Committee, which is scheduled to meet a 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 10, Skelly says the district should go ahead and adopt legally required changes to current policies for those students who are being discriminated against due to their race, disability, gender, sexual preference, or other protected characteristics, but not adopt any policies for all other students. The district and its lawyers have spent most of the last year developing draft policies for both sets of students.

Skelly said his change of mind came after discussions with teachers and principals, who persuaded him that a single complaint procedure for all students would be impractical.

"We want things to be simple; we want things to be solved at the lowest level," he said Thursday.

"Our principals and staff looked at this, and I'm just not yet comfortable that we have a policy that isn't going to hamstring our system," he added, referring to the idea of sending all complaints to the district office.

Skelly said his recommendations to the Policy Review Committee regarding "protected classes" of students, if adopted, will bring the district into legal compliance with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which found 13 months ago that the district had violated a disabled student's civil rights in its mishandling of a bullying case.

As part of a resolution of that case, the district agreed to revise its bullying policies, and has spent the past year working to do so.

Once the changes required by the Office for Civil Rights regarding protected classes are implemented, "then we can keep working on the optional policies," Skelly said.

At least for now, non-protected students with bullying complaints should seek resolution through teachers and principals and, if not happy with a decision, file a complaint with the district office, Skelly said.

On Dec. 3, at the last and only public meeting of the Policy Review Committee, Skelly recommended a uniform policy that would treat all students alike, using a new district-level "uniform complaint procedure." But two weeks later in a communication to board members Skelly said after "discussions with principals, district staff and others" he had changed his mind.

This is Skelly's third different recommendation in less than two months. In November, he recommended a two-tier system that created detailed but different procedures for handling bullying complaints depending on whether the student was in a protected class.

Then in December, after criticism of that approach -- and to follow the recommendations of the California School Board Association -- he urged the single, unified procedure.

Skelly's recommendations to the committee, laid out in a lengthy set of staff materials, offers no clear path for non-legally-protected students who have a bullying complaint.

The recommended policy move would bring the district into compliance with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which in December 2012 found that the district's mishandling of ongoing bullying of a disabled middle-school student violated the student's civil rights.

In a 2012 "resolution agreement" signed with the federal agency, Skelly agreed that the district would revise its policies and procedures on bullying, a process that has taken more than a year so far with much discussion but no resolution. But Office for Civil Rights' jurisdiction does not extend beyond cases of discriminatory harassment and bullying to all bullying cases.

The California School Boards Association (CSBA) recommends that districts use "uniform complaint procedures when investigating all bullying incidents" -- including those involving non-protected classes of students -- "to ensure consistent implementation by district staff."

In the Dec. 3 meeting, the two members of the committee differed on how to handle bullying complaints.

Committee member Melissa Baten Caswell said that for the sake of clarity and simplicity all complaints about bullying, whether run-of-the-mill or involving protected classes of students should be treated the same, using the uniform complaint procedure at the district office.

But committee member Camille Townsend worried that such an approach could lead to undue "formalization" or "criminalization" of minor playground squabbles that are better resolved at the school level.

"The farther away we get from solving disputes in the classroom the more formal and criminal it gets," Townsend said. "We've all seen cases where someone gets tripped on purpose, or someone gets called a name on purpose. Are we really sending those up to the district office to be handled? Not in my book."

But Caswell worried that a two-tiered complaint process, which elevates the initial level of scrutiny for children in protected classes, could put teachers, principals and playground supervisors in the position of having to make hasty calls, in ambiguous situations, as to why a child is being picked on.

"It's hard to ask those people to look at what's going on when there's a particular confrontation and make the judgment whether it's a protected-class issue," she said.

Friday's meeting of the Policy Review Committee will be held at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave., and is open to the public.


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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jan 9, 2014 at 10:38 am

Great, he spend our tax $$ only to say that he does not like this policy. I cannot wait for the board members to respond to Skelly's statement. I am sure they will cheer and cheer for him, and then they will say: let's move on." What kid of justice is this? I board members do not move a finger, they must leave the ir seats for people who is not afraid to speak up on behalf of our victims of bullying.

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Posted by Spectator at Large
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

Spectator at Large is a registered user.

Skelly is a disgrace and it is time that the board start doing the job that we the tax-payers elected them to perform. They, bottom line, are not protecting out children nor giving direction to the Supt. to do the will of the people. I am so disgusted with the way the board just goes along with whatever Skelly dishes out. His tenure as the Supt. has ended in my opinion.

Skelly has been wasting the taxpayers money on lawyers to try and take care of his messes and on PR people to spin the actions taken by the district.

Meanwhile, so many of the parents are blissfully ignorant of all the excrement that has hit the fan in the last couple of years. I talk with them and they say, "we just got an email from Dr. Skelly telling us that things are pretty perfect in the district".

Dear parents, please take a look at Edmund Burke's Blog in this same paper if you want to hear the facts regarding what is going on in the district with all of these cases that are eating up our tax dollars.

The most painful part of all of this is that our children are suffering greatly by all of these awful decisions that the Board and Skelly make. Our children need us to take care of them and we aren't doing this.

When will this end? I hope that we can get some good people to run for the board next time who will actually do something besides cheerleading for the constant missteps that Skelly takes.

[Portion removed.]

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Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:16 am

There are children of the protected classes, and children of the "protected classes." If the bully is a member of the latter, you may find that money trumps social responsibility.

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Posted by concerned about litigation cost
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:20 am

Watch out for more policy directed by California School Boards Association (CSBA).

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:52 am

So we have a PR who does not want to comment on the issue. Why was she hired for, so stay quiet. She should not be paid. Skelly should pay her salary out of her won packet, since he is telling her to be quiet.

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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm

In a word: boneheaded.

PAUSD is on the verge of turning into a tragicomedy.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:06 pm

It is my understanding that OCR asked for this policies, if I am right, by Skelly changing his mind, isn't he going against OCR recommendations? Could we get into more trouble than what we already are?

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Posted by PAUSD fan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Seems like the PA Weekly is out to get Superintendent Skelly. Why? As far as I can tell, we are lucky to have him as our superintendent. It is a thankless job, hampered by so much bureaucracy and a vindictive local paper that is trying to sell controversy. We should encourage and help facilitate strong leadership -- especially when challenges arise that are emotional and demand level-headed, common-sense solutions.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Skelly seems like someone who got promoted one too many times to me. Covering up a federal investigation and finding was a bridge too far, in my opinion. There are better managers out there. We don't have to settle for this.

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Posted by Grow a Pair Melissa
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Kevin Skelly is a terrible manager. Period. End of story. Blaming the press is just the last desperate gasp of a lousy manager grasping at straws. Until he departs and the board grows a pair the schools will lurch from self made mess to self made mess.

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Posted by jean
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 9, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I would assume all students are legally protected at all times. Wouldn't you think that when you send your kid to school? Any and all bullying needs to be stopped. All staff need to be aware all the time. Learning can't be achieved if there is an undercurrent of bullying.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 3:23 pm

While being bullied is not good, long term, it is the bully who is at higher risk for social problems and incarceration. A bullying policy needs to provide counseling for the bullies in a forum that does not involve the police, but rather an entity like the Children's Health Council.

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Posted by jerryl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm

As a 75 year old, I am very saddened about the society we seem to have become.
So often, due to fear of our legal system, probably, we hide behind blanket policies. Such one-size fits all solutions may protect the decision maker.
But they shortchange our kids in many cases. A locally and quickly applied corrective action used to be the norm. Sadly, we seem to have become a fear driven bunch, looking for policies and procedures to hide behind.

We parents and community members are also to blame to the extent that our actions drive administrators to such blanket solutions.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 9, 2014 at 4:31 pm

All of this is ridiculously lengthy and complicated. And by the way, a student who is not a "member of a protected class" can be bullied, too. How about equality under the law. The political correctness makes me sick. The bureaucracy does, too.

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Posted by parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I thought it was a rule of thumb regarding accommodations for the disabled that inclusive measures extended to everyone work best.

For example, one educator told me that some kids with certain learning disabilities need more time to take tests, for example. She told me that studies show that under most circumstances, giving the other students that much more time to take tests doesn't improve their performance, but it does for the kids with the learning disabilities. So, it doesn't give anyone an undue advantage, and it helps the kids who need more time, if the test is just administered with enough time for everyone (perhaps with other activities for the kids who finish early, as happens in many classrooms anyway).

I think Skelly's initial inclination was correct and it's been overthunk (probably inappropriately influenced by the horrible legal Council we have).

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 5:43 pm

I note in today's Post comment that Melissa Caswell stated that although PAUSD does not intend to adopt a bullying policy, PAUSD children who experience bullying but are not part of a protected classification will be fine because "the district still has a discipline policy that it follows."

Caswell is referring to the district's current conduct policy, 5131. This policy was adopted 1/12/10. It has several issues. I will focus on one of them here. This policy provides that:

"Students may submit a verbal or written complaint of conduct they consider to be bullying
to a teacher or administrator and may also request that their name be kept in confidence.
The Superintendent or designee may establish other processes for students to submit
anonymous reports of bullying. Complaints of bullying or harassment shall be investigated
and resolved in accordance with site-level grievance procedures specified in AR 5145.7 -
Sexual Harassment."

The above referenced AR5145.7 provided a procedure for the site-level investigation of complaints of bullying and it provided appeal rights, documentation, and other procedural protections for complainants such as confidentiality, not being interviewed together with the accused bully, and other protections.

This regulation is being recommended at this same meeting, tomorrow, for DELETION. It was the AR that pertained to sexual harassment however it did not comply with state law requirements that the Uniform Complaint Procedure (or a procedure consistent therewith) be utilized in cases of sexual harassment. As a result, the decision has correctly been made to delete that AR and handle sexual harassment under the UCP. Therefore AR5145.7 will be deleted.

The net result of that change and the unwise abandonment of the bullying policy is that this conduct policy no longer has any AR and therefore, the superintendent is recommending that there will be no procedure of any kind for "regular" bullying in PAUSD -- not site level, not district level, not at all.

I want to make sure that parents of PAUSD fully understand this. If the school board adopts the course that the Superintendent and his lawyers are recommending they are leaving PAUSD children with literally no procedure of any kind for bullying -- even very serious bullying including cyberbullying, and even physical bullying -- that does not involve a protected classification. Each school will be on its own to determine its own procedure. There will be no documentation, no recordkeeping, and no accountability. There will be no appeal.

I will repeat this to make sure that people are following me: the Superintendent is recommending that we repeal every single rule that currently exists for the conduct of investigations of so-called "regular" bullying in PAUSD. There will be no rules about putting the bully and the target together to "talk it out," no rules requiring any particular timeline for investigation, no rules protecting confidentiality, no appeals, no documentation.

Not. One. Single. Rule.

This is a prescription for an unending stream of complaints to OCR, CDE and the courts because people will inevitably feel that they have received arbitrary treatment with no appeal rights.

This isn't about the outcome of any one case. Some of the complaints that have been filed will be found to be mistakes by the district and some will not. This is about whether there will be a consistent policy for all children in the district in all future cases regardless of site.

The Superintendent is recommending that the board leave non-protected status children in the district with literally less protection and less procedure than they currently enjoy. And some protected status complaints will be mishandled as a result as well. And our school board appears to have already acquiesced, perhaps in a series of closed sessions. Heidi Emberling sent a newsletter to her fans telling them that this is what the board would be doing (which seems premature to say the least, as announcements go, given that there hasn't been a single public discussion to which Ms. Emberling has been a party of this question). Ms. Caswell indicated to the Post that was the direction the board was headed but that parents should feel consoled by the fact that the district still has a discipline policy -- she failed to mention that it has no procedural rules for that policy however.

This is a bad recommendation and it takes the district in the opposite direction of where it should be headed. Handling things at the site does not mean handling them in the absence of rules and procedures.

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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2014 at 7:21 pm

What about the old solutions where one was taught -- and encouraged -- to hit back at a bully oneself, either physically or verbally? I am concerned that we are raising a bunch of woosie kids whose parents and school officials fight their battles, instead of letting them figure things out for themselves. If a child cannot stand up for himself, how can he ever become a leader or innovator?

Adults should encourage standing up for oneself, even as they work to do away with bullying.

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Posted by maditalian_1492
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm

What gives? Here's another case of somebody who is "for" something before he was "against" it.

This is the same guy who didn't bother to tell any of the school board members about the original federal investigation.

Replace Skelly now.

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Posted by Rod
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 7:54 pm

It seems that lawyers are running the show at PAUSD these days. Skelly and his PR person cost the district something in the vicinity of $400,000 each year, maybe more. Can't that money be better spent?

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Posted by mom
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm

concerned retiree,

Punching a bully back, which I subscribe to works when the kids are younger.

In the digital era, mean girls and bad boys can get really out of control. Power games about nothing but the 'nothing" can be too much for a vulnerable young person.

Shocking that there will be nothing to address cyber bullying.

I would imagine that each school will be held accountable for publishing bullying policies?

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Posted by PAmom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Concerned Retiree,

According to the "let kids figure things out for themselves" mentality of your day, adults harassed, mugged, attacked, and raped on the streets should just be made to "figure things out for themselves" as well. Even adults can't always do that, and if they can't always do that and need to call the police or their boss for help, kids more often need help too. What people need to understand is that it isn't an all-or-nothing, black or white thing here. Sure, kids need to learn to be assertive and to use their words to resolve conflicts instead of their fists. But when there is a clear imbalance of power that creates a hostile educational environment, a child, like an adult deserves intervention, compassion and support.

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Posted by Former Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2014 at 9:33 am

It seems so hypocritical to only talk about bully in the context of students only .... It is not just Children who are victims of bullying , harassment.... There is bullying amongst teachers as well, making for a hostile work environment, let us add this to the discussion of bullying in our schools?

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Posted by mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 10:31 am

Former teacher,

"There is bullying amongst teachers as well, making for a hostile work environment, let us add this to the discussion of bullying in our schools?"

I would think teachers in a protected class have the same protections as a student. If the bullying does not fall in a protected class, I thought teachers worked with their Union representatives. Unions protect teachers from things which would otherwise be cause of dismissal in other work environments, maybe that protects bullying amongst each other, or by a school. If the accusation is about bully students against a teacher, bully parents, some say there is "bullying" of the Superintendent.

You could give some examples?

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Posted by common sense prevails
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:35 am

This seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise. Everyone has the option of using the UCP but for the 99.99% of cases that can be dealt with by simply talking to a teacher/parent/principal, it gets resolved immediately. If you're not happy with it, you still have the option of going to the district.
Clamor for every single case of "Johnny didn't want to sit next to me at lunch today" to go to the district was always a joke.

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Posted by Gunn Class of '67
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 11:57 am

The criminality predictors for juvenile justice are identical to ADHD. A Juenile hall probation officer disclosed an estimate of 80% of incarcerated kids are ADD/LD. These are the same kids in special ed - the most likely to be bullied and ostracized. As an advocate for this population, the dynamic is hideous. They begin school as anyone else - normal goals include friendships, team membership and acceptance - a primary human and evolutionary need. One second grader's IEP included goals of making one friend, being invited to one party.
When called 'emo' and jeered - by kids at recess, by teachers in the classroom One high school teacher, in front of the entire class (noe PAUSD) had the audacity to call him lazy - ignoring teacher reports he'd spent hours studying to succeed in mainstream math. This young man had epilepsy, gran mal seizures was quiet; had no oppositional behavior.
That entire class gave up - they didn't/couldn't belong with their peers. By the way, these kids were very creative, sensitive, eager students - voluntarily attended remedial summer school classes hoping to successfully mainstream.

Two protocols for bullying is absurd. Decency, respect for others isn't tiered. Our individualistic society, acceptance of political, corporate bullying, social exclusion (NIMBY) demonstrates acceptance of obnoxious, often cruel behavior.

Applying different standards of decorum by the label we give kids is folly. Skelly is a fool - read Zimbardo's infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Any person, disabled or not, has constitutional rights - no tiered rights as Skelly suggests.

Finally, once alienated from mainstream, humans find a tribe within which they are accepted. It is no surprise if the 'normals' reject, these groups are oppositional. They all started out as kids looking for a friend. Schools blessing schism are obscene.

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Posted by common sense prevails
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm

"Two protocols for bullying is absurd."
sigh... There aren't two protocols for bullying.

From the above text: "[if] non-protected students with bullying complaints [are] not happy with a decision, file a complaint with the district office"

EVERYONE can follow the district level approach. What is being proposed is that you don't have to follow the district level approach if you're not a member of a protected class. 99.99% of these issues get resolved by talking to the people involved at the site level. The idea of having everyone one of these filed with the district is absurd.

Your tirade is about a protected class. As stated at the Ohlone presentation, a student with a nut allergy is in a protected class and can file an OCR complaint. The bar is REALLY low.

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Posted by Gunn Class of '67
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

is there a problem with respect engendered in school culture? RE tirades: remember train suicides? Special ed, other 'differences' was common thread in each.
Sole qualification for protected class should be red blood.

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Posted by
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Did anyone here actually attend a public school.
We are not talking about fights or physical harm here, its all about basically name calling and rude behavior.
To my mind even using the term protective class constitutes the very bullying we are talking about. What happened to equality.
Yes calling someone stupid is not acceptable even when you are nine, but to make a federal case out of it. Please!!!!!
Our schools are trying valiantly to stop all kinds of harassment, all this does is cost us the taxpayer a huge amount of money to stop Johnny calling Mike a girl.

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Posted by
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 10, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Oh! as an afterthought, when I was a kid my parents taught me right from wrong,
Has that become a lost parenting skill, I guess it's now the schools job to get Johnny to stop being rude. Oops but this is Palo Alto, and Johnny's parents are lawyers, (Johnny is never rude, he is a perfect angel), lawsuit number two.

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Posted by Absurdity
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:18 pm

What is absurd is that Kevin Skelly still has a job here. He is such a liability that he has to have a PR person for damage control, then he tells her to keep quiet as she pulls down 150K per year to do nothing--another liability.

Why does the Bpard of Education allow this continue? Skelly should have lost his job when he lied to the Board and withheld information from them. What EVER possessed them to give him a raise, a bonus, and an extension of his contract? This only makes them look stupid after all of the lies he has told them!

Maybe Skelly, Young, and the whole BOE need to be replaced ASAP! Obviously, a clean sweep and fresh start are overdue.

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Posted by hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

"... file a complaint with the district office, Skelly said."

Really? Based on my experience with bullying and multiple assaults my daughter was subjected to, I'd call the police.

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Posted by common sense prevails
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm

@hulkamania, you have that right as well.

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Posted by mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Would filing a complaint with the district office on the Principal be a matter or public record?

Would you have to name all the bullies, detail the events, and how the school failed to solve the problem?

If it's not of public record, how would the public be informed about bullying problems in the district, and if it is of public record how do you avoid seeing everyone's name on a Google search?

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Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 11, 2014 at 6:59 am

Does anyone think filing a complaint against a principal ( when they fail to protect) will generate retaliation?

Of course it will !!

This is great - now the victim can be harmed twice. Once by the bully and once by the system.

Far better to just beat the living crap out of the bully. Violence will increase if we don't have a workable system.

What is lacking from this entire discussion is leadership - we are over a year since this problem broke: OCR, bullying, Paly Rape Culture... Yet I have not seen anyone march the kids into assembly, explain bullying, explain harassment, explain their rights and read them the riot act that we expect better behavior from them. Then repeat this every semester.
Why has there been no education on this issue? Where is the captain of this ship? Discipline and fear are the outcome of a leadership vacuum.

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Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:44 am

"Yes: hulkamania,
that is exactly what Skelly told us once: "you can call th police" and so we did. He did not wanted to deal with the bullying issues and wanted someone elses to do his job. However, I do not thing is the right thing to do. I does work when the police is called because no one wants their child to have bad record with the police.

Like this comment
Posted by angelo
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 22, 2014 at 3:46 pm

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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