Palo Alto superintendent seeks revisions on federal agreement

Trustees to discuss response to Office for Civil Rights

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.


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18 people like this
Posted by Truth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2017 at 2:06 am

I think McGee knows the worst cases are the ones that were so bad, people left the district, and doesn't want any sunshine where it is most needed. That attitude toward truth is why we keep having these sexual predators in our schools, why special ed has so many problems that don't get fixed, and retaliation goes completely unchecked. I hope people who want this agreement to do some good will stick with their guns and ensure that we learn from those who gave up and left to protect their children, too. Not all would have moved away - some simply took their kids out of local schools.

9 people like this
Posted by Truth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2017 at 2:17 am

McGee should be careful what he wishes for with this administration. I was never a fan of school vouchers until PAUSD. If they lost funding for every student who chose to school elsewhere, they'd learn to start listening. Rightwingers are funny about regulations. McGee seems to forget that to the new administration, he's a bloated government bureaucrat making more money than the governor. Or perhaps McGee is hinting that the new administration will turn a blind eye toward child molesters? Hardly.

12 people like this
Posted by ThePoint
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2017 at 7:20 am

Isn't the whole point of an independent investigator that they "are independent "?

If McGee decides the boundaries and constraints on this, then it's not really an independent investigation, and it will fail to answer the questions the community has.

I, for one, want clean closure on this. True independence, transparency and effectiveness can only be achieved by the investigator deciding when he is done. Not Max. Not the board.

Really, what are they hiding?

The request for limits just look like someone with a long history knew something, and failed to act on it, or covered it up. It is these senior figures we want exposed.

Limiting the investigation does not uncover the truth, but rather reveals this board as still hiding something...

5 people like this
Posted by Gunn
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 10, 2017 at 8:23 am

Web Link

It's time.

Like this comment
Posted by caroline V
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jan 10, 2017 at 11:56 am

Thank you for this excellent reporting.

This PDF warnings by John Adkisson and Doroth Korber warned the Senate Rules Committee that the Governor might exempt public entities and public employees; 
Web Link (2 pages)
Web Link (99 pages).

That is exactly what happens. Despite my 46 page complaint at SJSU campus police SG 1301140, many certified complaints with CSU Board of Trustees, CSY Chancellors, SJSU Presidents, Governor Brown, Attorney Kamala Harris and several other elected and appointed officials describing the details of the repeated harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination, the details of the academic and workplace mobbing (group bullying), as well as other allegations and despite the confirmation by the US department of Justice Civil Rights, which won its lawsuit (OCAHO Case No. 11B00136 ) against St Francis Heights and its operator Lifetime Generations Healthcare finding them guilty of violating the Nationality and Immigration Act and using discriminatory labor practices, the Civil Rights office immediately dismissed my allegations without any hearing, without testimony of my witnesses and not knowing what evidence they used for their decision. After several appeals telling me I can file a lawsuit in federal court see Case ## 13-000140, 09-13-2014 and #09-15-2348.
The Civil Rights Office gives immunity to our public education system and will dismiss student allegations so that our education system receive the funding. We can only hope that the new administration will review how California automatically dismisses civil rights issues, will review the facts that caused our broken education system, broken healthcare system, broken justice system, and will review federal funding.

4 people like this
Posted by Secretive
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Secretive is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Unprecedented?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm

The Point,

Lots will be outsourced to an independent investigator in this OCR resolution agreement.

He/she will be investigating sexual harassment claims, known and unknown, as far back as 2007 [portion removed due to factual inaccuracies.]

OCR experts out there - is there any precedent for the OCR requiring this independent investigator? None pop up in Google or the OCR website. I even looked at the famous OCR Title IX case that the Rolling Stone covered. The OCR said there that the university's Title IX coordinator is to investigate, adjudicate, and ID remedies and that was a Title IX coordinator who, according to the OCR, had "not adequately oversee[n] and coordinate[d]" Title IX complaints for 4 years. Web Link

And BTW who are these independent investigators? Lawyers? Given the amount of work that the OCR is requiring and the hourly fees they probably charge, my guess is that it will come in at at least 6 months and $250,000.

Like this comment
Posted by Unprecedented?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 10, 2017 at 6:38 pm

[Portion removed due to factual inaccuracy.]

The investigation will:

1. "reach a written determination regarding whether sexual harassment occurred," and

2. "determine and document what remedial actions will be taken and services provided...and if any additional actions need to be taken at the school-site to address any ongoing problems."

This includes:

1. "actions and services provided for former students," and

2. "actions to address any failure to report by responsible employees" and whether staff "should be disciplined...for enabling or failing to report the behavior."

The OCR is requiring that:

1. Board policies state that an "employee will be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal" if it is determined that he/she is a risk to students, and

2. The District provide OCR with the investigation's "proposed corrective action plan, including but not limited to...remedies for the complainant, any actions necessary to address the harm to the school community, and any actions necessary to prevent further recurrence of harassment."

Web Link

24 people like this
Posted by Malarkey
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Malarkey is a registered user.

I think we are seeing the real Max McGee, and he is not the nice, egalitarian person he tried to convince us he was! He has no problem with hiding evidence of past transgressions, some of which occurred before his watch, even.

I think the district goofed by using the same head hunters that gave us the infamous Kevin Skelly.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 13, 2017 at 2:16 pm

I think one of the above posters is correct: Educational vouchers will allow the disgruntled parents to go elsewhere. I also think the Trump administration will radically restructure the Dept. of Education (and its OCR), which will mean that our public schools will no longer have to face the assaults on them by special interest complaint groups. There is a new day dawning, and our school board should not give in to the complainers.

Like this comment
Posted by Nobody special
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2017 at 4:32 pm

@Sally - "our public schools will no longer have to face the assaults on them by special interest complaint groups."

Those special interest complaint groups - are you think like, umm, women generally? Or maybe victims of sexual assault?

9 people like this
Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 14, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Kevin Skelly was a newbie superintendent who left a wake of confusion and destruction in his path, Glenn McGee is actually worse because of his salesmanship. Either way, only suckers accept these old boys from the Leadership Associates club. Next hire: stop being hypnotized by shiny objects.

3 people like this
Posted by Truth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2017 at 11:02 am

No, I think Sally is referring to that horrible special interest complaint group of parents who are trying to fix problems with their schools.

I think Sally is also delusional about the rightwing take on public schools. Facilitating parents using federal government to put overpaid government workers abusing their power in their place is more their style. Deregulation is a party principle only to benefit private and party abuses and concentration of power -- entrenching governmental power for the wealthy elite -- it's not for protecting government employees paid $300,000 for less than a year's work and a free car and a free house, who actively undermine parent control. Maybe the OCR will change, but it will be in the context of radically ending cushy life for assistants in a school district making a quarter million annually with no performance accountability to parents paying the bill. True rightwingers want to destroy public schools and think they are bad and inefficient because they are public.

I actually support making formation of charters easier, and allowing people to take their tax dollars to private schools as was once the case in California, because of my experience in PAUSD. I think supporting family power and parent rights and choice in education is one way the right could help our nation. Unfortunately, as a group they are too prone to themselves to do the job credibly and well, and the topic will probably be hurt by the taint of partisanship and the inevitable ballooning hypocrisy of the right.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2017 at 8:18 pm


If you want to send your kid to a private school, pay for it yourself. Don't take money away from the public schools!

Also... do not simplify what is a complex issue, with reactionary responses.

2 people like this
Posted by Truth
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2017 at 11:39 am

It so happens that I have no interest in sending my child to private school. However, I couldn't pay for it myself because my property taxes are paying the cost of two children fully through PAUSD so that I have nothing left for my own child's needs. If you look at all taxes told, I'm putting multiple children through PAUSD, a district which is so insular, I can't send my own or solve problems that should be shooting-fish-in-a-barrel-easy to solve so we could. The kids I'm paying for have great resources while mine doesn't have access to anything like the same resources. I am giving lots of money to the public schools and STILL WOULD BE even if I also had the option to use an equivalent amount to meet my child's educational needs, too.

People need the ability to educate their children according to their needs. I'm guessing I have put far more effort into trying to improve the schools than you have. I still strongly support public education, but I no longer see choice as a threat, but an important check and balance in a system that has too few.

People forget that California did allow that kind of choice a few decades ago, and it not only didn't hurt public education,the schools were considered better then. (Not because of it, it just didn't hurt anyone.) The people I know who remember that all continued to go to public school. If you add choice, it gives schools more of a reason to actually meet their stated goals, helping each child meet their creative potential. McGee has already spoken of looking to innovate because of competition - and yet, what have they really done? It's really not fair to children who grow up and leave without ever getting the support or educational program they need to thrive. Saying that is not a threat to the majority of students for whom the system IS working.

I am not ideologically on the right, my advocacy of choices comes from hard-won experience. Pragmatism is more of a trait of the left these days anyway. To me, this is about what works to meet the needs of kids in the real world. I believe you are the one who just posted a reactionary oversimplification of the issue. Giving kids who need it choices can make our public schools better; we've already done so in California, and it did not take down public education. But it did give kids who needed it the freedom to do what they needed.

Do you realize that kids can already choose county charters which allow them some money for independently choosing classes? I think around $2500. It hasn't brought down public schools. Well, technically, the county charters are also public education.

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

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