News

Palo Alto school board members disagree on path forward with Office for Civil Rights

Board continues to revise draft agreement on sexual harassment investigations

The Palo Alto school board struggled to agree Tuesday night on its approach to negotiating a draft agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, often split over whether to move forward as quickly and cooperatively as possible and whether to be wary of the agency's proposed requirements.

The four trustees, with their board president still absent due to a car-accident injury, wrangled through nine amendments and a series of 3-1 or split votes to ultimately agree to direct senior staff and the district's attorney to work to finalize the resolution agreement in upcoming meetings with the federal agency, while seeking some clarifications that were approved by a majority of the board.

The board's longest-serving member, Melissa Baten Caswell, pushed back throughout the evening with questions and concerns about the resolution agreement, which proposes a set of steps to bring the district into legal compliance following investigations into sexual harassment and sexual violence at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools.

Baten Caswell repeatedly requested that the district's law firm go through the language of the draft agreement "point by point" to "tighten" it further and to make sure it does not leave the school district open to liability in any way. She was concerned about language she said seems vague, such as a reference to a policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment by "third parties."

"I'm not thinking the Office for Civil Rights is trying to go after us but I think we're talking about a very large organization that may have different staff in the future and same with us ... and I think the language needs to be really tight so there's no question about what things mean," she said.

Attorney Elizabeth Estes of the law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, who is working with the district on the resolution agreement, responded via speakerphone that she has been engaged in exactly that process over the last few weeks since the Office for Civil Rights provided the proposed resolution agreement to the district. She said the language in Palo Alto Unified's agreement is "substantially similar" to ones she has negotiated in the past for other school districts. Most do not include additional legal language, she said.

"My experience with OCR has been positive," Estes said in response to a question from trustee Todd Collins about the history of the federal agency as a counterparty in negotiations. "I believe that their intent is to work with the district and improve process for all and not create a situation that would result in additional liabilities, actually but one that would protect everyone's interests."

Baten Caswell also again asked to request a concrete end date from the Office for Civil Rights on their monitoring of the district. As proposed, the agency would monitor Palo Alto Unified for a minimum of three years, or until the district is in compliance with federal law.

Baten Caswell made a successful amendment, supported by Collins and trustee Jennifer DiBrienza but opposed by acting president Ken Dauber, to direct the superintendent to request a meeting with the federal agency at the end of the three-year monitoring period to "review next steps." Dauber noted that the Office for Civil Rights told the district previously that it does not provide districts with annual updates on their progress on resolution agreements, but at the end of monitoring periods issues correspondence either informing them they are in compliance or that they have more work to do.

Baten Caswell also successfully made an amendment to request the Office for Civil Rights add language to the agreement to clarify that the district "voluntarily" enter into the resolution.

She also expressed concern that the board would not see a "red-lined" version of the agreement this week after Estes worked with Superintendent Max McGee and Chief Student Services Officer Holly Wade to address board-requested clarifications. McGee said they planned to take the board's feedback to a meeting with Office for Civil Rights staff this Thursday and to continue to work on the language before the next board meeting on Feb. 14.

Dauber, who at the beginning of the discussion proposed a motion specifically directing staff to "make every effort to finalize" the agreement for approval on Feb. 14, urged his colleagues to avoid micromanaging the process, noting they would have further opportunity to discuss and change the agreement if they wanted to before voting to accept it.

"I think the board's role here is to give direction as to our desire to reach agreement, to give guidance that we want them to proceed with the clarifications but not to try to micromanage the clarification process," he said. "I think we need to rely on our staff and attorney to engage in a clarification process that's consistent with the agreement, which is what I think our interest is."

Baten Caswell and DiBrienza also asked staff to bring back an estimate of the cost -- in terms of both money and staff time -- of fulfilling the resolution agreement, wanting to avoid "signing something that's setting us up for failure," DiBrienza said.

As acting president, Dauber sought to give staff clear direction by asking his colleagues to make formal amendments to capture any suggestions they had and to vote on each of them to see whether they had majority support. After several amendments, some successful and some not, over the course of a two-plus hour discussion, Baten Caswell called the process "silly," "crazy" and "not how we should be working."

Dauber, a consistent and vocal critic of the board's handling of past Office for Civil Rights cases, also made an amendment to repeal a 2014 board resolution that criticizes the Office for Civil Rights' investigative procedures and authorizes the district to lobby elected officials. He said he hoped a repeal would send a message to the agency that the current board has "adopted a different stance" and no longer stands by the resolution.

McGee told the board that in response to district complaints about the length of the investigations, Office for Civil Rights staff said it was in part due to the district's refusal to cooperate and provide access to information.

Collins supported Dauber's amendment, calling it a "gesture of goodwill and of our desire to comply with the agency's advice and the law of the land" that could improve their standing in negotiations and monitoring with the agency.

Baten Caswell and DiBrienza, however, opposed the repeal. Baten Caswell suggested that instead of repealing the entire resolution, they highlight specific action in it that they no longer intend to pursue and have not for several years. DiBrienza said she was reluctant to "undo something that was done by a different board" without having more information about it.

With the board split on the issue, Dauber eventually withdrew his amendment and said he would bring it up at a future board meeting.

The board ultimately voted 3-1, with Baten Caswell dissenting, to direct the superintendent to work the Office for Civil Rights and bring back the next version of the agreement for discussion, but not yet approval. The district has until March 7 to respond to the draft resolution agreement.

While the federal agency has verbally communicated its legal findings to McGee, Wade and Estes in meetings, it has yet to issue a letter of findings, which will detail where the district failed to properly comply with the law.

McGee said Tuesday that Office for Civil Rights staff would issue a "formal letter" regarding the timing of releasing the findings, in response to Baten Caswell's concern at the last board meeting about signing an agreement before seeing the official findings in writing. While the resolution agreement is subject to negotiation and could change, the findings are not, according to the agency's procedures.

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Comments

37 people like this
Posted by retired guy who follows the schools
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2017 at 12:40 pm

retired guy who follows the schools is a registered user.

Melissa Baten Caswell got the lowest number of votes of anyone up there, was rightly rebuked along with the rest of the old board in the Weekly's editorial, and shouldn't even have run for an unprecedented third term.

She could show a little humility instead of taking up so much time.


34 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 25, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Good to see the school board cooperating rather than fighting with OCR. The last board wasted huge amounts of time and money on fighting. Probably led to this latest round. Too bad Dibrienza didn't vote for repealing the old board's resolution and putting the district solidly on the right side. I hope she'll figure it out and come around.

Caswell calling voting on motions and amendments "silly" and "crazy" has to be one of the more bizarre comments made by an elected official in PA for a while. I'll have to try to catch the meeting on YT.


12 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 25, 2017 at 3:21 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I mentioned this earlier, however it bears repeating. My parent dealt with these issues as a Special Ed. Teacher and as an assistant administrator. YOUR SPECIAL EDUCATION STAFF SHOULD BE AWARE OF HOW TO GAIN COMPLIANCE WITH THIS OCR MANDATE! If they are NOT, you need to FIRE THE CHIEF OF STAFF AND HIRE SOMEONE WHO KNOWS ABOUT THE OCR SPECIAL EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS!!!
There is a COUNTY OMBUDSMAN that should have been in the loop to reach an OCR and a school district agreement. THAT may be why the PAUSD doesn't see the documents in regards to the OCR decisions: YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES LIKE EVERY OTHER SCHOOL DISTRICT IN SANTA CLARA COUNTY!!!! I'll assume that the PAUSD is ignorant of these facts and not be sarcastic in my remarks. Please check this out. Special Ed Administrators should know this, that is how they get paid well...


28 people like this
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2017 at 4:55 pm

"Baten Caswell repeatedly requested that the district's law firm go through the language of the draft agreement "point by point" to "tighten" it further and to make sure it does not leave the school district open to liability in any way."


Melissa has been nothing but consistent, sadly always on the side of protecting the institution and against the interests of the students. What is she fighting for? Certainly not to ensure the protection of the rights and well-being of the students.

I am very sorry to see her continue to be an obstacle in the path towards doing right and better by the children of this community. They deserve better.

I hope that the new trustees will not be influenced by her seeming proper but really obstinate approach. Keep your eyes on the prize - the students, our children.


3 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

I suspect that all these Dept. of Education OCR mandates are about to be diminished or eliminated under the new Trump administration, so what's the rush to comply? Just sit it out, and see what happens.


22 people like this
Posted by Parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2017 at 8:01 pm

@John,
The rush to comply, as the district's own lawfirm just pointed out, is that following the rules protects students,and their experience with OCR has been positive and clear that OCRs efforts are just go protect students.

Students are why this district exists, remember them? I wish Caswell would.


28 people like this
Posted by disappointed
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2017 at 9:11 pm

-DiBrienza said she was reluctant to "undo something that was done by a different board" without having more information about it.

This is disappointing. First of all, many Palo Altans voted her in specifically because we wanted new blood, not someone to just rubber stamp what the previous members did. Second, there's no reason that she shouldn't have more information by now. Time to come up to speed and stop giving excuses.


10 people like this
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 25, 2017 at 10:59 pm

May I remind you that the new to be appointed head of the Civil Rights division will be from No. Carolina, is against LGBTQ rights andi is from a state with racial gerrymandering. Settle and hold your breath.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2017 at 11:07 pm

And the new administration is anti public school, and probably anti public school government workers making $300,000/year plus a $750/month car allowance.

Put the kids first, and there will be no more argument (Melissa).


18 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 25, 2017 at 11:23 pm

[Portion removed.] The citizens want a cooperative, not combative relationship with the OCR. Does [Baten Caswell] not get that?

Do we need a recall?


31 people like this
Posted by Board Watcher
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 25, 2017 at 11:39 pm

Jennifer DiBrienza should read the Weekly's outstanding coverage of the PAUSD OCR resolution. She can read these articles below for a backgrounder.

Web Link

Web Link

paonline would not let me post all the weblinks in one post so I am posting more in subsequent links.

The short version of this is that if you support the Obama administration's efforts to protect student civil rights, particularly protection from harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity, race, and national origin - then you support the repeal of this resolution. This resolution was created in a string of closed sessions that violated the Brown Act, with the help of the district's discredited law firm, Fagan Friedman and Fulfrost at the time -- since fired for making inaccurate statements to the board and public, and for mishandling the OCR matters (and for charging the district nearly $1 million along the way).

The Resolution itself contains a lot of disturbing and false allegations against OCR and against the complainant in the 2012 Terman bullying matter. It accused OCR attorneys of impropriety and falsely accused the complainant in the Terman matter of "document tampering" (a libelous and false accusation that the district has never apologized for or retracted although it should have). There was never any evidence for any of the allegations in the "Whereas" clauses of the OCR resolution. They were based on the political strategy of the far right Republicans who were anti-OCR because they are for "state's rights" and "local control" (i.e., against transgender bathrooms) including Sen. James Inhofe of OK who had the self-described agenda of "curb[ing] overreach by the Department of Education."

Right-wing lobbying groups urged the passage of the resolution (those are the "affiliate organizations" that are in the "action" of the Resolution that PAUSD pledged itself to work with. PAUSD's resolution then became an important talking point by these same organizations who hailed it as a sign that the Obama administration went too far in civil rights. The conservative National School Board Association, which was itself an organization founded to stop desegregation in the south after Brown, hailed PAUSD as a district that was working to block "federal intrusion" in local districts. They then proposed numerous bills that would strip the Obama administration of much of its enforcement authority.

One of their key arguments was that OCR's enforcement, against for example districts that have racial harassment or gender identity harassment as in Illinois, were imposing an "unfunded mandate" on those district -- a claim that was repeated frequently in PAUSD at that time and was of course repeated again by Ms. Caswell last night. The NSBA legislation argued that "federal actions often place a significant financial and manpower responsibility on local school boards" and should be curbed.

It has never clear whether PAUSD board members were actually aligned against the Obama administration or were the unwitting dupes of right-wing opponents of civil rights (the same groups and legislators who are now emboldened to take away those protections from our students). There truth is that there were probably some that fell into each camp. Heidi for example never seemed to understand what was going on. That cannot be said for Ms. Caswell who actively resisted OCR's authority to investigate sexual harassment and rape culture at Paly and who personally actively failed to provide any assistance to the parent of the complainant in the Gunn dating violence matter (and was confronted about that failure at the board meeting by that parent).

A short summary is that a disabled student at Terman was severely beaten and bullied for years. Despite the parent's pleas for help the district failed to properly respond and this violated the student's rights. After years of pleas, including personal pleas to the board at open forum, the parent filed an OCR complaint. OCR investigated and found the district out of compliance exactly as occured here and the district entered into a Resolution agreement due to those findings, exactly as has occurred here. That was in late 2012. However, this fact was concealed from the board and public for months. Kevin Skelly was the superintendent at that time and he stated that he was "embarrassed" and so he failed to disclose it. When the public discovered it it was only because the district was failing to follow through on the resolution agreement for the student, and in desperation she released it to the Weekly which wrote an award winning story. This was a shameful episode.

The district reacted to this with defensiveness. It accused OCR of being unethical. It tried to block OCR from interviewing students when other complaints were made later. The board, lawyers, and super went into closed session and concocted the Resolution and decided to dig in and fight. The district's reputation was sullied and it made parents and students who are disabled, LGBTQ, racial minorities and female students feel unwelcome and mistreated. It was absolutely ridiculous.

Then, it got worse. The students at Paly Verde wrote a story about rampant rape culture at their school including two sexual assaults that resulted in bullying and harassment of the victims on campus. The students appeared in numerous press contexts. OCR offered technical assistance which the district lawyers spurned. OCR then decided to investigate. At that point the district took the position that somehow OCR did not have the authority to investigate unless there was a complaint even though the law is very clearly to the contrary. The district, according to OCR as you heard at last night's meeting, failed to cooperate and made it difficult for OCR to gather evidence -- refusing to allow OCR to conduct focus groups or meet with students without district lawyers present and recording the interviews. The district blocked OCR access to student interviews.

Then it came out that in fact, the principal of Paly at that time had been investigated and found responsible for sexual harassment. At the very same time that PAUSD was passing a resolution against OCR, blocking its collection of evidence, and trying to get OCR to shut down the investigation, it turned out that the PRINCIPAL of the school under investigation was found responsible for sexual harassment and that he had been quietly placed as a special ed teacher with our most vulnerable middle school students by Melissa Caswell and her fellow board members. One only imagines how that piece of news went over at OCR when it came out in the Weekly months later. Web Link

Later of course, it came out that there were several PAUSD teachers who were investigated and found responsible for some form of sexual impropriety and that only drove the point further home that this is a district that had no business whatsoever thumbing its nose at OCR. This is a troubled district that needs help and the resolution made matters worse because it sends the message that at the very same time that Kevin Sharp was found by a district investigation to have groomed a student for sex and left in a classroom for entire year by Max McGee and Scott Bowers after parents and the principal complained, our board was telling OCR that it was exceeding its authority for trying to protect our students from sexual misconduct.

The why of this is pretty straightforward. PAUSD has for many years been governed by board members [portion removed] who prided themselves on having the finest schools. The reputation of these schools drive real estate prices and are a point of civic pride. Any suggestion that our schools are not perfect has been met with harsh backlash and treated as a form of civil treason.

That has recently changed with your election, Ms. DiBrienza, and the election of Dauber and Collins. We now understand that admitting shortcomings and seeking to improve is not a weakness its a strength.

The first step is admitting there is a problem. Repealing the OCR resolution would move PAUSD in the direction of improvement and away from the kinds of ego and pride that dominated it in the past.

[Portion removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Board Watcher
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 25, 2017 at 11:40 pm

More weblinks on the OCR resolution:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2017 at 12:48 am

Seriously, someone used PAUSD as some kind of example against the OCR because of some murky funding mandate? Seriously?

Typical member of Congress makes about $174,000/year. The Speaker of the House makes maybe $223,000.

Guess how many PAUSD school district bureaucrats whose function you couldn't even guess from their title, make more than that? For only part of a year? Our HR guy who gave himself a raise every time he was negotiating on behalf of the district but went easy on the teachers union - he made more than the Speaker of the House. Yeah, fine example to use, there.


10 people like this
Posted by observer
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2017 at 9:32 am

@disappointed and @board watcher -
While I also voted for DiBrienza in the hopes of changing the direction of the board, I was pleased with what she said (I was watching). While I do hope she eventually votes to repeal that resolution, she was the only trustee who was representing us in a thoughtful, deliberate way. The idea of repealing the resolution was not on the agenda, had not been discussed, the public didn't know it was going to be discussed, and who knows if she has "all" of the information. God knows, the board went into closed session on this issue enough.
And I hope she isn't going to make a decision based on Palo Alto online articles alone. I appreciate the work of this paper (especially through that time) but hopefully if it comes up again, all of the information will be provided and they all can make informed, thoughtful decisions.
Dauber (who has done wonders for that board) brought it up unexpectedly and I was rather surprised given his commitment to transparency, and Collins went right along with it. I was grateful DiBrienza didn't just jump on the bandwagon and do something without having had time to deliberate on it.
It's not this issue specifically that I am thinking about - it's all issues. Enough with the "you're with us or you're against us" mentality. This board is off to a fantastic start with a clean, fresh slate, a reset, and they've been talking to each other with respect and actually DELIBERATING. I find it very refreshing and I look forward to continuing to watch them move in the right direction.


10 people like this
Posted by anne
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2017 at 9:36 am

It will be nice to have Terry Godfrey back. Get well soon, Ms. Godfrey. What a difficult thing to go through.


12 people like this
Posted by disappointed
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 10:46 am

@observer
I'm not saying that Dibrienza should vote against the previous board just for the sake of voting against the previous board. I agree that no one should vote until they have all the facts. BUT.... this has been a hot topic for years now, and anyone running for school board should know the big issues. There's been plenty of time to come up to speed. Maybe repealing the resolution was not on that agenda, but it has been discussed repeatedly over many meetings. And when she was a candidate, she said she did not agree with the resolution at one of her coffees. So it seems she had enough information back then to make that statement.


15 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2017 at 11:36 am

Obviously it would help the current negotiations with OCR to repeal a resolution that called them illegal and irresponsible. Dauber made perfect sense. If DiBrienza said during the campaign that she opposed the resolution but then refused to repeal it, I don't know what the value of the campaign statement was. I hope she is not going to be a Caswell crony.


11 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2017 at 11:40 am

One more thing. The fact that the former board had numerous illegal closed sessions to discuss OCR: that doesn't mean there is some secret justification to slag OCR. It just means trustees wanted to do their dirty work in secret.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 26, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Here is Dibrienza, at her PA Weekly candidate interview, saying she "would have opposed" the OCR resolution. No ambiguity, no "I'd have to get more familiar with those issues" (or the context, or the resolution itself). Just Q: "Would you have opposed the OCR resolution of June 2013?" A: "Correct."

Here is the link, see for yourself: Web Link

Disappointing to say the least. She gave an unequivocal answer on the record. Then when given the chance to actually do something by appealing the resolution, she simply declined to do so, siding with Caswell.


7 people like this
Posted by transparency back-tracking
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2017 at 1:45 pm

And Ken Dauber never back-tracked on any of his campaign promises? Remember transparency?

Ken Dauber set Tuesday night's agenda and it said nothing about repealing the Board's 2014 resolution.

It's not like it just came up. Dauber had printed handouts at the ready and read off something someone wrote before the meeting when making this motion.

What happened to the "we unconditionally and without hesitation promise" to do better next time on Brown Act compliance or, for that matter, the board's two meeting rule?

If Ken Dauber wanted it to be considered, he should have put it in the board packet the Friday before along with everything else. Not only to not surprise Jennifer DiBrienza and Melissa Caswell but so that the public could be in the know ahead of time too.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 26, 2017 at 1:51 pm

"And Ken Dauber never back-tracked on any of his campaign promises"

So you are saying this was in fact Dibrienza back-tracking on a campaign promise? That's a big promise to back-track on. If she had told PAW the truth at the time, they almost certainly would not have endorsed her

I didn't hear Dibrienza say anything about the two meeting rule or "I'd be happy to repeal it if properly agendized." (Nor did Caswell.) According to the article, she said "she was reluctant to "undo something that was done by a different board" without having more information about it." That's definitely not what she told the Weekly.


4 people like this
Posted by transparency back-tracking
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2017 at 2:45 pm

Resident,

Sounds like you have a bit of a double standard - one for Jennifer DiBrienza and a different, less judgmental one for Ken Dauber.

DiBrienza has lots of priorities. I don't see any that call for undoing the prior board's work. Web Link

And if repealing an old board resolution is the only lens the Weekly used for its endorsements, it would only have endorsed Todd Collins. The two candidates that the Weekly did not endorse both voted for that resolution.


Taxpayer,

I just found the resolution that Ken Dauber wants repealed: "BE IT RESOLVED that the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education will expand its pursuit of a just review and remedy of substantial OCR errors in case no. 09-11-1337 and of fair, prompt, and reviewable investigation practices through correspondence and meetings with elected representatives and education coalition affiliates."

The prior board did not say that the OCR did anything illegal.

I don't see how he can change past actions without rewriting history. What happened in the past happened. And, from what Caswell said, the board stopped work on the 09-11-1337 case years ago.

What is in that resolution that he wants to change going forward? The new board to promise not to review OCR's new investigations? To not express frustration if the OCR isn't able to turn things around promptly? To stay mum if it thinks something is unfair? Or not to talk about the OCR with elected officials or others in education?


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 26, 2017 at 3:16 pm

I'm not applying any standard to Dauber at all, I'm just talking about Dibrienza. It sounds like we agree that she back-tracked on a big campaign commitment, that she would have opposed the OCR resolution. You seem to think it is ok ("everybody breaks their promises" argument); I had higher expectations, and many others did too.

If you are now saying "she said she wouldn't have voted for it, not that she would vote against it" - well, that is too clever by half. She seemed to know enough about it to tell the Weekly, without hesitation or qualification, that she would not have supported it. But given the opportunity to vote to repeal, she said she needed more information about it. That's just sad.


5 people like this
Posted by transparency back-tracking
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Please don't put words in my post. I did not hear Ms. DiBrienza say anything about OCR or the question she was asked. No negative value judgement coming from me on how she handled that.

She did an excellent job Tuesday night by not being a willing participant in Ken Dauber trying to slip this through without notice.

The optics for Ken Dauber are not so great so far: trying to rush things through Tuesday [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Board Watcher
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:15 pm

The full text of the OCR Resolution is here: Web Link

The resolution most certainly does contain scurrilous allegations of wrongdoing against OCR: it states that "OCR has not followed guidelines in law and in its Case Processing Manual for conducting investigations."

It would be hard to miss that allegation unless you were doing so deliberately.

The Resolution further contains the right-wing Republican Tea Party (what Melissa Caswell called "education coalition affiliates" at the board meeting) talking points that I described yesterday, alleging that the agency "causes public confusion, and excessively burdens the District’s staff and educational programs."

In terms of "transparency," this Resolution was adopted as part of the old board (including Melissa Caswell) to stop OCR from investigating Title IX issues at Paly. It was part and parcel of trying to stop that investigation so that OCR, very likely so that OCR would not discover the Phil Winston sexual harassment issues. These allegations against OCR of illegality are part of the outstanding matters between PAUSD and OCR. That puts it within the ambit of the agenda item. The item on the agenda was called "update on OCR resolution agreement." This is certainly broad enough to alert the public that matters in furtherance of resolving the ongoing conflict with OCR would be discussed.

Jennifer Dibrienza should read the materials I posted, most especially the resolution itself and the report of that board meeting on June 14, 2014, and draw her own conclusions.

[Portion removed.]
Web Link

Here's the entire ridiculous document that Fagan Friedman charged the district more than $50K to prepare that accompanied that resolution and amounted to a Trumpian bill of particulars full of falsehoods and grievances of fake issues and things that never happened including a fake incident of "document tampering" that never occurred but turned out to be a copy/paste error according to OCR and the complainant. This is the PAUSD equivalent to Trump's dishonest and false insistence on massive vote fraud with no evidence: Web Link

This is the document that our lawyers at the time [portion removed] used in a political lobbying campaign by right-wing anti-Obama, anti-transgender rights organizations to attack OCR. It is a blot on the reputation of our schools and our community that this happened and it should be repealed and repudiated.

"Following a Public Records Act request made by the Weekly, the district also released a 12-page document in its board packet for Tuesday's school board meeting restating its grievances against OCR that was prepared in July by attorneys, district staff, board president Barb Mitchell and vice-president Melissa Baten Caswell.

The document, titled "Recommendations: Suggestions to Improve Collaboration between School Districts and the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights," summarizes in 20 sections the board's complaints against OCR, which "have disrupted rather than facilitated" the two groups' "shared mission to safeguard the civil rights of all students," the document reads. It contains recommendations for how OCR should change its procedures.

"According to the district, the document has been sent with cover letters to a range of elected officials and organizations, from the local to the national level: Arthur Zeidman, regional director of OCR at the Department of Education in San Francisco; Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary and head of OCR at the Department of Education in Washington, DC; U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo; California Assemblyman Rich Gordon; California Senator Jerry Hill; and officials at the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

The district released one of the letters, dated July 29, from Mitchell and Baten Caswell to Eshoo, asking the congresswoman to "examine OCR's investigative processes carefully and to request active participation in discussions and review of ways those processes might be improved for all." The letter references an August 2013 meeting with Eshoo, which was not known publicly until now, and requests a second meeting with her."

The district paid more than $200,000 in lobbying just in the first 7 months of 2014 including hiring a communications consultant, and paying Fagan Friedman to engage in lobbying to attack OCR and the Obama Administration, all meticulously documented here: Web Link

As this reporting makes clear, Melissa Caswell was involved in this up to her eyeballs. [Portion removed.]

Ms. Dibrienza: The Community needs you to be part of the solution. Please vote to repeal this monstrosity.


22 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Wondering is a registered user.

I for one would like to know why this district is SO extremely hard on Caucasian girls!

It appears to start in 5th or 6th grade, worsening every year through high school.

Has PAUSD not heard of Title IX?????

I am not the first nor the only parent to notice the not-so-subtle discrimination!


6 people like this
Posted by Board Watcher
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:37 pm

I forgot this one. This is a memo, authored in part by Melissa Caswell that is so bellicose that it is almost unbelievable. This is the memorandum that accompanied the resolution when it was presented to the board:

Web Link

In it, Caswell and Mitchell and Skelly accused President Obama's OCR of being "purposefully confrontational
and disruptive and without regard for classroom instruction (teacher time) and learning (student
time)." They also allege that OCR's intention is "to promote confusion and concern." That is outrageous, it is scurrilous, and it is fake.

PAUSD's campaign against OCR is no different than HB2 in North Carolina. It is the same attack, by the same people, doing the same thing, for the same reason which is to undermine federal enforcement of civil rights in the public schools. [Portion removed.]

It references a bill sponsored by a Republican tea partier from Illinois Aaron Schock (who was indicted in 2016 on 24 felony counts of fraud and every kind of corruption [portion removed]), HR 1386 (the Senate version of which was sponsored by [portion removed] Sen. James Inhofe of OK) that would have prohibited OCR from issuing any further guidance documents or regulations if it would cost any money to the local district to fulfill the requirements and also placing other limits and burdens on OCR and ED.

Here is what community members had to say about this resolution when it was passed: Web Link

In testimony before the board Tuesday, three current or former Palo Alto district parents criticized the strategy of challenging the OCR.

"It shocks the conscience that we would consider aligning our community with Alabama and other places of ignominy that have resisted the vindication of our civil rights by the federal government," said Cathy Kirkman, a 1980 Paly graduate and parent of two Palo Alto students. (View her full statement here.)

"Palo Alto has always been an open and welcoming community, and it's just shameful that we would even consider this course of action."

Marielena Gaona Mendoza, whose family has sought redress from the district and OCR due to the ongoing bullying of a child, told board members, "You can be hiring lawyers, blaming OCR, blaming the parents, but if you don't take the issues seriously they grow bigger and bigger, and the more you get tangled in this big web."

Ken Dauber, a likely candidate for school board in this November's election, said the board's failure to publicly examine why its practices had drawn OCR scrutiny in the first place amounted to "a great missed opportunity on the part of the district."

"The reinvigoration of the OCR by the Obama administration under Russlyn Ali and now Catherine Lhamon – Ms. Lhamon is a Paly graduate, in fact – is one of the signal achievements of the Obama administration," Dauber said. "To see our school district setting itself against this work ... puts us on the wrong side of that issue and probably on the wrong side of history."






9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:01 pm

@transparency - I don't understand your post, honestly, so I won't respond.

I will say this - Dibrienza said, on tape here (Web Link), that she would not have voted for the OCR resolution. Unequivocal, no qualification. But when presented the chance to repeal it, she declined. She didn't raise procedural objections; she said she needed "more information" before "overturning a prior board's action."

It might be breaking a campaign commitment; it might be cowardice; it might just be rookie inexperience. But it wasn't "an excellent job" - no way, no how. I hope she turns it around.


2 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:21 pm

There appears to be a few intense activists on this issue [portion removed.] The Obama administration OCR will not be the Trump OCR. I get the feeling that Dauber is not a Trump supporter, so he is in a hurry to get his position carved in stone, before Trump's team changes the rules. I see no reason to comply with his rush. If there is something serious going on here, the Trump team will consider it.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:27 pm

Wow, John's advice is "rely on the Trump civil rights team to sort it out." Wow.


1 person likes this
Posted by transparency back-tracking
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Board Watcher,

[Portion removed] I find it really hard to believe that that PAUSD Board resolution passed by most (all?) Democrats was "based on the political strategy of the far right Republicans who were anti-OCR ...(i.e., against transgender bathrooms) including Sen. James Inhofe of OK."

How do you explain that the same board was one of the first in the US to embrace transgender bathrooms? Web Link Or the member you malign repeatedly in your posts also supported Sanctuary schools? Web Link

You can disagree with the resolution. That does NOT make it OK to defame and call people names.

[Portion removed.]

Another thing: you said that the public should have been aware that this was going to be brought up Tuesday.

Come on. If it was out of the blue for the two female board members it is safe to say that the public was surprised too.

[Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by observer
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Well, I'm not going to assume what is going on in her head. She said she wasn't prepared to vote on it in the moment without all of the information. The truth is, it wasn't agendized. Dauber clearly knew he was going to bring it up because he came with copies of it. I find it strange he didn't put it on the agenda and have the discussion.
DiBrienza said she didn't support it and she likely doesn't. But I appreciate the attempt to rebuild trust by not cutting corners. Dauber ran on stopping that and then he pulled this. Presumably because he thought the two newbies would get in line.
He said he would bring it back on agenda in the future. I look forward to that, I'll be there to speak against it, I hope much of the community is there to participate - as appropriate - and I look forward to seeing what action DiBrienza takes then.


10 people like this
Posted by PTA Member
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 26, 2017 at 5:57 pm

A few comments

Repealing the 2014 anti-OCR resolution as a measure to build trust with OCR during negotiations seems entirely reasonable and appropriate during an item about negotiations with OCR. I don't understand the issue. Both Dauber and Caswell had ideas about how to proceed they didn't share ahead of time


DiBrienza should think about whether she really wants to defer to Caswell and whether it's consistent with her campaign statement.

Caswell may not be a right wing ideologue in general but she was certainly sounding like one on OCR. I don't know if it was an isolated case.


1 person likes this
Posted by transparency back-tracking
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 26, 2017 at 7:15 pm

PTA Member,

Nice to try to tie Ken Dauber's "surprise motion" to this OCR negotiation, but even Todd Collins said that the district's relationship and negotiations with OCR are going along swimmingly this time. So what happened years ago, with a different board, different lawyers, different Superintendent, and probably a different OCR team, had "no bearing on future performance" as they say.

[Portion removed.]

Is this what he's upset about? "Incoming Trump administration heightens anxiety about reversal in Title IX progress" which mentions the OCR and the work of his wife in the Stanford Turner case? Web Link

I share that anxiety and am sure most in town, including his fellow board members, do too. We need to talk to our US Senators and Representatives.

But school board meetings and motions are not to be used as a vehicle to express political fears and views on matters that don't directly impact PAUSD students.

Board Watcher will say that the prior school board did that so Ken Dauber can too. It didn't though. My reading of that resolution had all 5 board members saying that they respected OCR's work and shared its mission but had frustrations with how the OCR handled PAUSD's prior investigation.

They weren't alone.

Google it.

There are tons of articles about issues institutions had with the OCR's old practices. Even law professors, including Alan Dershowitz who is a leading defender of civil liberties, put pen to paper saying OCR's practices were too one-sided and suggested changes to improve its work. Web Link (open letter to the OCR by professors from the law schools of Harvard, New York and Stanford Universities, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other institutions).

As I see it, PAUSD's school board was trying to be helpful by doing the same thing.


14 people like this
Posted by PTA Member
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 26, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Thanks for making it clear that you agree with the old board about OCR. I can see why you don't like Dauber since he's been the most persistent critic of the old board from the beginning on OCR and now has a solid majority on the school board. Pretty clear what the community thinks since Emberling is gone and Caswell would have lost with competition.


12 people like this
Posted by Parent2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:34 am

The old board OCR letter was an expensive off-mission debacle. If the district paid attention to even half of the things it complained about OCR doing and looked in the mirror for how it failed and even persecuted parents and families, it would never have had complaints in the first place.

The board should pull up the old letter, and make the district look at themselves finally and clear the BEAM from their own eye. Then they should apologize to all they have wronged, including those they ignored while pursuing this idiotic self-serving pointlessness and retract it.

Our district has a mandate to educate kids and serve families. It is not an educational nonprofit whose mission is to change the OCR, especially when any criticism they had of the agency behavior was a hundred times worse by administrators here against parents and families, and THAT was actually relevant to running a district.

It's tragic the way Barb Mitchell co-opted Emberling when she started. H.E. Never bothered to spend anytime learning from various parties outside 25 Churchill, she just trusted Mitchell who steered her wrong. This is a good teachable moment in which adults who learn the elements of a good apology can make lasting improvements to our distrixpct.


10 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 27, 2017 at 3:05 pm

@ Wondering: I think the teachers and staff feel somehow threatened by teen and pre-teen girls of European ancestry.

Not sure why, but a theory is that the pre-teen years are when they are first becoming aware of their bodily changes.


Like this comment
Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2017 at 8:09 pm

If anyone disagrees with the way our school board is trending, and if you are 65 or over, you can express yourself by refusing to pay your parcel tax (Measure A, 2015)

Here is the link:

Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2017 at 8:14 pm

The savings from not fighting OCR will more than pay for taxes withheld by resentful Trump fans. I doubt that public education is high on their priority list anyways.


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

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