Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee is seeking to limit certain reporting and investigatory requirements outlined by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in a draft resolution agreement related to two yearslong sexual-harassment cases at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.
The school board will discuss the resolution agreement and McGee's recommended revisions for the first time publicly at Tuesday night's board meeting.
While McGee isn't objecting to several requirements and has even begun working on some of them, he is recommending the board seek to limit a new, independent investigation into reports of sexual harassment at Paly to only current students and staff (students who were freshmen in the 2013-14 school year and staff who have been employed since then). The draft resolution agreement directs the district to hire an independent investigator, to be approved by the Office for Civil Rights, to conduct proper Title IX investigations into allegations that former Paly principal Phil Winston sexually harassed students, allegations that then Paly teacher Kevin Sharp had an inappropriate consensual sexual relationship with a former student and reports of off-campus sexual violence in 2012-13 and another in 2014.
While the district "agree(s) with the principle of hiring an independent investigator and have that individual approved by" the Office for Civil Rights, "tracking down students who have graduated and staff who have left will be time-consuming, costly, and unlikely to produce any actionable results, since the individuals no longer have a relationship with PAUSD," a staff report from McGee states.
The Office for Civil Rights is also directing the district to review behavioral incident reports at both Gunn and Paly from 2012 through 2016 to determine whether they were handled appropriately under Title IX and to provide copies of written notices of outcomes to the federal agency. McGee proposed limiting any reports shared with the Office for Civil Rights to current students (students who were freshmen in the 2013-14 school year; freshmen and sophomores in the 2014-15 year; and freshmen, sophomores and juniors in the 2015-16 year).
"The rationale is that we would be able to promptly address any remedies for existing students," he wrote.
While he recommends the district comply with most of the requirements, McGee also seeks assurances that the Office for Civil Rights will communicate promptly with the district. The district will agree to provide case files from all oral and written complaints filed with the district's Title IX coordinator on an annual basis, but "need(s) assurance from OCR about a prompt turnaround time." The district could, for example, send the agency all case files for this school year by June 30, McGee wrote.
"If OCR determines there are issues raised and corrective actions are necessary, we would like to address them beginning in August 2017 and not have to wait for an indefinite period of time. If we had to wait several months or a year, any corrective action would likely not be impactful on the students and/or staff involved.
"Given that it took so long for OCR to conclude the Palo Alto High School (PAHS) and Gunn High School (GHS) cases and that potential changes to the agency might transpire under the next federal administration, we think it is reasonable to ask OCR to complete their review within 45 days and include this turnaround time in the agreement," he wrote.
McGee also suggests asking the federal agency to give 30-day notice before visiting the district to interview students and staff and that the notice include "the specific purpose for conducting the interviews, the specific students or staff they seek to interview, (e.g. seniors who were in the advisory class of a former teacher, teachers from a particular department, etc.) and the time frames in terms of both dates (e.g. between 4/15/17 and 5/1/17) and expected length of the individual interviews (e.g., 20 to 30 minutes)."
Another proposed change is to include specific parameters on reporting timelines for each requirement of the agreement.
The district has already begun or plans to soon begin work on other stipulations in the resolution agreement, including revising key policies relating to sexual harassment, distributing a "guidance memorandum" on sexual harassment to staff and developing an online system where students and parents can anonymously report sexual harassment and sexual violence.
The district has until March 7 to respond to the resolution agreement but would like to do so beforehand, McGee wrote.
The Office for Civil Rights will not issue an official letter of findings — which will identify where a district or school is legally out of compliance — until the resolution agreement has been signed.
The district's new law firm, Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo — the replacement for Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost, which represented the district in past Office for Civil Rights cases — is working with the district on any potential revisions.
The district aims to have a final draft prepared for board approval in February, according to McGee.
In other business Tuesday, the school board will hear a report on the district's negotiations processes with unions, with an eye toward revising or replacing the current bargaining model.
The board will also discuss a range of new high school course proposals, from Advanced Placement computer science principles and multimedia journalism and yoga and mindfulness.
The board will take action on a resolution to support immigrant students; the allocation of $60 million to fund elementary school capital improvements; a conceptual design for a remodel at Hoover Elementary School; and a board commitment to provide opportunity for public comment at all special board meetings. (The final agenda item is in response to the board's inadvertent violation of the state's open-meeting law, the Brown Act, in November when it voted to report weighted grade point averages this year without giving time for public comment.)
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the agenda here.