The Palo Alto school board has directed staff to pursue mediation in a student sexual-harassment case that has put the district in the "untenable position of weighing conflicting and complex points of law," according to a statement released Wednesday.
The board met in closed session Wednesday morning to discuss how to respond to a petition filed in January by a female Gunn High School student who the district found was sexually harassed by a male Gunn student. The 16-year-old girl and her family are asking the court to reinstate a district decision to ban the male student from participating in robotics activities. Both students belong to the robotics team.
After determining in October that text messages the male student sent to the girl and comments he made to other students constituted sexual harassment, the district initially banned him from participating in robotics activities starting in January, but later decided to allow him to attend on an alternating schedule with an "escort," according to the petition. This prompted the girl's family to seek a court order.
The petition calls the revised directive a "prejudicial abuse of discretion" unsupported by the district's own sexual-harassment finding.
The board voted 4-1 Wednesday, with board member Ken Dauber dissenting, to file a response to the petition by this Friday, Feb. 8, including a request for mediation between the district and the girl's family. The court documents will also outline the process the district followed in this case, from when the female student filed a Title IX complaint last June through now, the district said in a statement Wednesday.
"The Palo Alto Unified School District has an obligation, both legally and ethically, to protect and advance the rights of every student. We take that responsibility seriously," the district said. "In this case, new information led to the amendment of an initial directive that banned all contact between the two students involved in this case."
Superintendent Don Austin did not elaborate further on what "new information" prompted the district's reversal in this case. The district is determining what it can say publicly under student privacy laws, he said.
"In this case, the district is welcoming the assistance of the court to navigate available options," the district statement reads.
A judge reinstated the district's robotics team ban on the male student temporarily until a hearing scheduled for Feb. 22.