UPDATE: The Palo Alto school board unanimously approved the hiring of Jason Krolikowski as the school district's new director of student services on Tuesday. Read more here.
Jason Krolikowski, who is set to be approved at Tuesday night's school board meeting as Palo Alto Unified's new student services director, was named as one of nine defendants in a student free-speech lawsuit that was later settled.
Nathaniel Yu, who was a 17-year-old San Ramon Valley High School junior at the time, alleged the school district violated his constitutional rights under the First Amendment when it disciplined him for his role in creating what his lawyers called "a James Bond-style parody video" in February 2017 during his campaign for student body president. Krolikowski was not principal of the school at that time and was not named as a defendant in the original lawsuit filed in 2017, but was added in an amended complaint filed in February 2018, according to court records. Yu was also initially disqualified from becoming student body president and removed from the school's leadership class because of the video but he was later reinstated, according to court documents.
Other district officials named as defendants in the lawsuit described the video as "racist" and "culturally insensitive" and said it violated a school election rule prohibiting inappropriate campaign material, according to an amended complaint filed in 2019.
The lawsuit alleged that Krolikowski, who became principal of San Ramon Valley High School in the fall of 2017, "failed to investigate, document, or to prepare an investigation report" when Yu reported incidents of vandalism and hate speech at the start of the 2017-18 school year. It also alleges Krolikowski and other administrators did not address Yu's reports of "threats of violence and death" made against his family on social media sites.
The lawsuit alleged that Yu faced harassment and discrimination on and off campus following public controversy over the video. His parking space and the senior parking lot entrance to the high school were defaced with hate speech, including homophobic slurs and "statements ridiculing (Yu) for his faith as a practicing Catholic" during the first two weeks of school in 2017, according to the lawsuit. Yu reported the incidents to Krolikowski who did not properly respond to or document his reports as required under district policy, according to the lawsuit.
Krolikowski "similarly did nothing to address the behavior of the students or teachers who personally attacked (Yu) by calling him a racist" during class, the lawsuit alleged.
Krolikowski did not immediately respond to this news organization's request for comment. Given the lawsuit was settled, he did not respond to the allegations in court.
The San Ramon Valley Unified School District settled the lawsuit in April, awarding Yu $665,000 — which former Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte said in a press release was "the largest settlement amount surrounding student free speech cases."
The district later issued a public apology to Yu, acknowledging the "negative effects, disruption and emotional distress that you and you family endured as a result of the reaction by District employees and community members" to the video. Superintendent Rick Schmitt wrote in the apology that the district didn't believe the video didn't constitute hate speech and that it didn't "bully, harass, discriminate against or threaten anyone."
Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin said when considering new hires, the district conducts three rounds of interviews, reference checks with people both on and off candidates' reference lists and a "digital footprint check" reviewing social media and search engine results.
"We ask the candidates if there are things we should know about and in this case the candidate told us everything that we would find in complete transparency with full descriptions verified by our reference checks," Austin said.
"The amended complaint included an allegation that he did not complete an investigation into a specific claim of harassment during his time as the principal following the original lawsuit. We followed up on the claim and conferred with those familiar with the details. It would be inappropriate for PAUSD to comment about the details of legal matters in another district; however, we are confident in the responses we received and are pleased to present him for board consideration this evening," Austin wrote in a separate statement, adding that he will make additional comments at Tuesday night's virtual school board meeting.
"We're excited to welcome Mr. Krolikowski to our school district," Austin said. "His reputation as a strong leader, positive influence and veteran principal will provide immediate value added."
In May 2018, during Krolikowski's tenure at San Ramon Valley High School, a student drowned in the campus pool during a physical education class. His death was later ruled accidental. In February, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District agreed to an $8 million settlement with the student's family, while admitting no liability for the student's death.
Krolikowski has been principal at San Ramon Valley High School since the 2017-18 school year, after working as principal at Foothill High School in Pleasanton. He was also employed as assistant principal at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon from 2010 to 2013.
Krolikowski's appointment is on the school board's consent agenda for Tuesday evening. If approved, he would begin his new post in Palo Alto on Sept. 21.
The virtual board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Those wishing to participate by Zoom can do so by going to pausd.zoom.us/j/97058205888 or dialing 669-900-6833 and using Meeting ID: 949 9734 6242.