The Palo Alto school board plans to rectify a Brown Act violation at its next meeting after it failed to properly notice a closed-session discussion of a potential lawsuit from the family of a Palo Alto High School student who said she was sexually assaulted on campus in 2015.
Under the Brown Act, California's open-meeting law, the board president is required to verbally announce the facts and circumstances related to anticipated litigation before going into closed session. The Weekly informed school board President Terry Godfrey of this requirement prior to the meeting, but on Nov. 14, Godfrey said that the district's attorney advised against doing so. The attorney, Greg Dannis of Dannis Woliver Kelley (which recently started providing governance-related legal advice for the district), said the board only had to list on its agenda the applicable government code section, but not announce the facts and circumstances.
"It's the beginnings of an idea that potentially could be a case," Godfrey explained to the Weekly before the board went into closed session. "Our attorney, Greg Dannis, told us what we had to do is indicate that it was related to that (section), to (d)(2) and that there was one case."
In response to an email from the Weekly prior to the board meeting, the district corrected the agenda to include the relevant code section on the day of the meeting. Previously, it had incorrectly listed all three possible applicable sections.
The section listed indicates that "a point has been reached where, in the opinion of the legislative body of the local agency on the advice of its legal counsel, based on existing facts and circumstances, there is a significant exposure to litigation against the local agency," government code states.
Three days after the meeting, after requests from the Weekly, Godfrey said that the board plans to remedy the mistake at its next meeting.
The anticipated litigation is from a former student and her parents "regarding the district's response to a Title IX related incident," she said.
The father of the former student confirmed to the Weekly that it is his daughter's case. The Weekly is withholding their names to protect their privacy. They have previously alleged that Paly and district administrators failed to properly handle their report that a male student sexually assaulted her on the campus quad in November 2015.
Godfrey said the district agreed, at the family's request, to sign a tolling agreement, in which the district waives its right to claim that any litigation should be dismissed due to the expiration of a statute of limitations, which would have occurred this month (two years from the date of the alleged assault.)
Godfrey attributed the noticing error to a misunderstanding between interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks and the attorney, who thought she asked for advice on which code section to notice.
The district is also facing potential legal action from the family of another former Paly student who said she was sexually assaulted in a campus bathroom in October 2016. The family is being represented by Gloria Allred, a discrimination attorney known for taking on high-profile sexual misconduct and women's rights cases.
The school board's next regular meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.