Another civil-rights complaint filed against district | May 17, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 17, 2013

Another civil-rights complaint filed against district

Feds launch third investigation in last two months

by Palo Alto Weekly staff

Already dealing with two new active investigations into whether it violated the civil rights of a Duveneck Elementary School student and a middle school student, the Palo Alto Unified School District was notified Friday that a third case has been opened by the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The latest case involves a special-education middle school student who is alleging discrimination based on disability.

The district released the notification letter from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on Wednesday.

The letter does not contain details, but a copy of the complaint submitted by the parent to OCR obtained by the Weekly alleges that the district failed to provide the student with educational services equal to those afforded mainstream students, did not ensure a safe and secure school environment and did not properly carry out the student's individual education plan (IEP.)

"This has been an ongoing issue that I have been trying to work through the school channels since the beginning of this school year," the complaint states.

The complaint also says the family has been working with both an educational advocate and an attorney to try to resolve the issues with the district prior to filing the OCR complaint.

In an April 28 email to Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the school board, obtained by the Weekly, the mother of the student made a final plea for a resolution.

"(T)his process has dragged on all year, is now relatively time-critical, and I am beyond frustrated," the email said.

The mother said that in addition to not receiving appropriate education services, her child has been the subject of ongoing bullying.

She outlined a series of specific steps she was seeking, including remedial services to help her child catch up between now and the start of school in the fall.

"I am hoping that you and/or the board are as interested as I am in reaching an acceptable solution and moving forward constructively without further legal assistance/intervention. Perhaps you have other options we have not yet explored?" the email concluded.

Skelly responded the next day: "I wanted to let you know that I spoke to Holly (Wade, director of special education for the school district) at length about this issue. My sense is that we can work through these issues. Everyone I speak with has very nice things to say about your (child)."

The mother replied 15 minutes later: "That's great. (Omitted) IS a wonderful kid. (Omitted) deserves to feel safe and to get the same education offered other kids of (omitted) his intelligence in this district. How are we going to make this right for (omitted)? I put forth my position very clearly. What is your proposal? Incidents continue daily. I am VERY tired of advocating and ready to turn it over to professionals."

According to the mother, there was no further response from Skelly and none from the board and no substantive proposed resolution from other district staff.

The Office for Civil Rights is the arm of the federal Department of Education that protects the civil rights of children in public schools receiving federal funds.

It responds to complaints of discrimination, including discrimination based on gender, race, disability, sexual preference and nationality.

As long as complaints are filed in a timely manner and pertain to federal civil-rights laws enforced by the Office for Civil Rights, an investigation will be conducted to determine if any violations of law occurred. According to the OCR's letter to the district, "opening allegations for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merits."

Under Office for Civil Rights policies, if an investigation concludes the district was out of compliance with civil rights laws, the district has an opportunity to resolve the matter by negotiating a resolution agreement prior to formal findings being issued by the government.

The new complaint comes as the district is in the process of carrying out terms of a "resolution agreement" in a bullying case dating back to 2011 involving a special-education middle school student.

In that case, the Office for Civil Rights conducted an extensive investigation, including on-site interviews of more than 30 students, teachers and administrators. It issued findings that the district had violated federal anti-discrimination laws by failing to respond properly and stop the bullying behavior, allowing a hostile environment that interfered with the student's rights to an education.

Coincidentally, various school groups were to have held a public meeting last night where a representative from OCR was to explain and answer questions on the law and the role of OCR in working with school districts. See Palo Alto Online for a report on that meeting.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

There is something going very wrong in our school district. It's time for the school board to come out of hiding and start to deal with directly and transparently.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 9:25 am

Wow, this is educational. Thanks to the PA Weekly for detailing all this stuff we would otherwise not know anything about. I, at least, never had any contact/knowledge about special ed & related concern before these recent revelations, and I take an interest in the district for the sake of local schoolchildren and our city's reputation. Now I really see it is important to have caring professionals managing and fulfilling these services. I thought parents came to this district for such services, but this all makes me wonder. It isn't glamorous like such topics as National Merit finalists and Intel Science competition entrants, which carry such weight in this district, but we need to ensure all children in PAUSD receive fair attention, treatment, and education, with any bullying corrected promptly by adults in charge. IMO it starts at the top, and our top school officials are well-compensated and claim to be experts, so we need to see them perform better in these vital functions.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 9:34 am

Until the school board takes up its responsibility in a serious way the only path left to parents is to file complaints with oversight agencies, or to file lawsuits. The school board is leaving the district open to massive legal fees and potential liability by its inaction. No one on the board seems particularly bothered by that. Are you?

Posted by time to pull the plug, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 10:24 am

I have lost confidence in PAUSD and my kids are attending private schools next year. This was a very hard decision for our family, but the environment at PAUSD is toxic.

I know many, many families applied to move their children to private schools this year. In our elementary school I personally know more than 25 families who applied to leave... about 15 were successful. Like ours, the vast majority of the families had no intention of moving their kids up until this last year. Wake up PAUSD.... people with means are leaving....and lots of young families are going private from the beginning or moving to Menlo Park. PAUSD's reputation is in tatters.

Time to Ditch Skelly and the Board

Posted by parent, a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2013 at 10:53 am

They love it when people go private. They still get your tax money and don't need to educate your child. This viewpoint was revealed to me by a teacher/administrator who is long retired. And it makes perfect fiscal sense. Too bad though - not kid or community friendly.

Posted by Former Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 10:59 am

Asked Palo Alto High School TWICE, in two different years, to test my child for ADD, they said no, "he's a boy, he's just lazy, there are some tests he does very well on". First semester in college it was evident to all concerned that he needed to be tested - was provided testing through their health center and low and behold - he has ADD. The guilt I feel for not ignoring their assessment and doing my own testing is still present - my anger at the PAUSD for their abysmal treatment of my child is made fresh by this report.

I'm a fan for starting over - so sad that Palo Alto is not the MODEL for education, despite their claims to just that. As it has been known to all for a LONG time - the school caterers to the elite, super bright, need to be challenged, gifted children - everyone else is an after thought. (Unless of course they break a rule - then they are front center)

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2013 at 11:12 am

Re: "pull the plug"

1. I'm not sure that I believe your statistics - they seem totally inconsistent with the demand for Palo Alto housing and other indicators. Can you provide evidence?

2. There are always families moving back and forth from private schools, as budgets, parents' wishes, student needs change. Evidence of anything more than baseline activity?

3. "toxic" atmosphere. Please detail.

Posted by Paly alum mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 11:16 am

Both my children received an excellent education from PAUSD. When health or educational issues arose the teachers and administration responded quickly and appropriately. Thank you PAUSD.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2013 at 11:35 am

I have heard from some people knowledgeable about special education in Palo Alto that in recent years the district has moved to more of a "push in" approach, whereas formerly the "pull out" approach was more used more frequently. I would be interested to hear from families whose children receive special ed. assistance in the district if they believe that this "push in" style of help has been more problematic for their children, and if it is possible that this has led to more bullying of these kids?

Posted by Sam, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 16, 2013 at 11:46 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by makes no sense, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Currently Happy with PAUSD, a resident of College Terrace
on May 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

I may be in the previously non-vocal majority, so I thought I'd chime in. I am very happy with the services my child has received through his PAUSD elementary school for the last 2 years. I don't think he would get the same services in a private school at all. (We've looked. We've applied. Many private schools don't want to offer is very costly.) I will say that through the previous principal, my child was bullied and nothing was done. He was even chastised by the principal first for not reporting, then (when he did report) for making it up and complaining just to get the other kid in trouble. We have had a new principal for 2 years, and I have seen a complete difference in culture. My son has an IEP and receives support for bullying and for social/emotional. We also have private therapy and medical outside of school, but my son has not felt unsafe at school at all this year. I wish the best to those children and families still struggling. It is incredibly hard to be a parent sometimes.

Posted by been there, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I just wanted to post to reach out to the parents and children who had to resort to filing with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. I applaud you for your courage to take this step when you felt the district no longer had your child's best interest at heart. We know how that feels as our child was severely affected as a result of bullying while they were a student within the PAUSD system. We met with the same roadblocks that I've just read in this article and we are so disheartened to hear it has not changed in all this time, even given that it is a different administration. Thank you for having the courage to step forward and say all is not perfect in PAUSD.

Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm

The PAUSD has done a fine job over the years, and continues to do a fine job, and I have seen nothing in this latest [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] that affects the facts of the achievements of the district teachers, administrators, and students.

What HAS changed is the perception of this fine district by folks who listen to the noise without discerning the reality underneath. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The result of these attacks have already been to weaken this outstanding district, and the chaos these actions have caused is likely to continue many years into the future.

The last time I predicted chaos in the future, the Weekly censor whacked that comment right out of my post. I expect the same treatment this time. Nevertheless, my prediction is likely to come true.

Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 1:15 pm

We have been extremely happy with the education our children have received in PAUSD, and we are a young family of 'means'. I know of only one family in 5 years that has gone private and several that have gone from private to public. I don't know of anyone who has moved to Menlo Park for the 'superior' education there - no district is perfect, and if you want an example look on the MP Almanac website at the overcrowding and other problems in that district.

The grass is always greener.

Posted by wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I am sad and ashamed at the retaliation against the special education families who have bravely filed complaints that are posted on this forum. [Portion removed due to responding to a previously removed comment.]

Posted by compassionforall, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Every child should feel safe and welcomed at school.

I used to be a public school teacher and I am a parent of a boy who was bullied. My best friend also just sued another school district for her daughter's neglected education needs. There are so many dimensions to these situations. I want to urge us to look at all sides on these cases and realize that there are few easy answers and lots of grey areas. We should also not be afraid to question whether certain (idealistic?) policies like mainstreaming work in practice?

At a PAUSD elementary school, my son was bullied and called "gay/girly" for his preference for friendships with girls. The teacher and principal handled it without one bit of my involvement. The boys were told firmly but kindly that if they were to taunt/bully my son for being gay or appearing gay in middle/high school they could have been suspended. They were told to talk with their parents about why they were summoned to the principal's office and have them sign a paper that said they had discussed the issue. If no signature came back, the principal told them that he would call the parents himself to have the talk. There was a clear process and follow-through. With the once exception of one of the bullies calling him a tattletale later that week, it stopped the taunting. My son felt that adults at his school had his back. It made me cry to see this work so beautifully. I asked the teacher and principal about how they came to develop this process and they said that's just the way things are done in PAUSD. That is why I am so surprised and saddened that the families who are filing these complaints did not have the same experience. This was in elementary school, so the environment is more tightly supervised.

My best friend's daughter also suffered when her daughter's learning needs were ignored/neglected at a low-income school district. She has Asperger's and so was ostracized by her peers when she was not in classrooms with a teacher. Teachers did not create the differentiated curriculum and the learning plan needed for my friend's daughter to do well in a mainstream classroom. My friend eventually filed a suit and also put her daughter in a smaller private school. She's thriving in that smaller environment. My friend did not file suit on a whim. She was just tired of the whole run around and lack of progress to get her child's needs met and finally felt she had to file a suit. My son had a really speedy response at his smaller school. I imagine that it is harder to respond quickly at larger settings like middle school. How can we make this feedback loop to the bullies happen faster?

Having been a public school teacher, I know it takes skill to do differentiated teaching well. As a young teacher, my mind was often more focused on crowd control rather than teaching to different student needs. Mainstreaming (pull-in) for special education students sounds good in theory and as a society it is a wonderful vision and goal. The truth is that it is very difficult in practice for those teachers who are not trained. As a result the special needs child is seen as an attention hog or disruption by other students and sometimes by the teachers too. Is it harassment or bullying to have your classmates annoyed at you? What can a teacher really do to stop classmates from being annoyed? Bullying is more clear cut but being annoyed and making someone feel un-welcomed as a result - how do you write that up in a disciplinary action. There could be more done to teach student's compassion, but you can't mandate compassion. Also, we need to look at whether mainstreaming is a good choice when teachers are not trained/equipped and given the proper resources.

I don't have all the answers, but I think we need to have compassion and look at re-examine ideals for all sides to design sustainable solutions.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I am the original former Paly parent, just to clarify I see someone else is now using that moniker and s/he is not me.
I expressed we had no experience w/special ed, nor particularly with bullying - only a little of that, however we are sensitive to the plight of all students. I always think board policies, board actions should take into consideration all students, not powerful parents.
My thought is that the expectations and tone are set AT THE TOP. Where are the top administrators on all this? - they need to lead, make it clear how teachers/aides/students or whatever are supposed to behave. I don't go along with spending months writing by committee some overblown elaborate "policy" on bullying - that's bureaucratic nonsense. Every day decent behavior and visibility and supervision of top adult administrators and leaders should go a long way in curbing problems in our schools.

Posted by Skellytons in the Closet, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 16, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Enough said with my name only. Dr. Skelly has irreparably damaged this district and we cannot withstand any more of his missteps (that is putting it nicely). When is our Board who we elected to support and protect our children going to come out of hiding and make a statement about all of the revelations that have surfaced recently? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I will be at the meeting tonight taking notes for my friends and neighbors who stated that they wanted to attend but have other commitments. I know that there will be news reporters there but being there in person will be very informative. If you are sitting on the fence about whether to attend, I urge you to come learn the facts and prepare yourself to help either your own child or someone elses child who cannot help themselves. Let's take care of our kids. They deserve much better than we are delivering. If the Board and Administration won't show us that they are about protecting our kids we will have to rise up and do it ourselves.

Thanks to the parent groups who stepped up the plate to get this presentation together and also to Ken Dauber and WCDBPA and the Weekly for continuing to advocate for transparency. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Both my children went to Palo Alto Schools. My daughter transferred when she was in second grade as we moved to Palo Alto. I told her teacher that my daughter was tested and is a gifted child. Her teacher responded "all children in Palo Alto are gifted". Really? Our son needed help but did not get it in grammar school or middle school. The test results were inconclusive - the teachers knew there was something wrong, but did not want to deal with it. Finally in high school he got the help he needed after my begging all his team teachers. I spoke with his counselor and she couldn't be bothered. It is so easy for teachers to turn there backs on those in need. They get great pay and great benefits. It is really a sad situation. I am sorry for the parents struggling now. Keep fighting for what you child.

Posted by Gunn parent of 2, a resident of Ventura
on May 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Overall PAUSD has been pretty good for my 2 kids.

I have one child who does very well in school and hasn't had any issues.

However, my other child has an IEP and I am frustrated with some Gunn teachers not respecting the IEP accomodations. One teacher even said he didn't believe in depression and thought my child wasn't doing the work due to laziness. He refused to follow the IEP in letting my child turn in late homework. It can be very disheartening when the teachers aren't supportive.

I hope these complaints force PAUSD to require ALL teachers to support the students in special education. If not, more lawsuits are going to be brought.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 7:17 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Much of this comes down to resources. Mainstreaming special needs kids is great in theory. As mentioned previously, many kids with special needs are annoying to their peers, almost all are need more "teacher time" than a regular student. It is part of their disability and they should not be penalized for it. But, neither should the other 20+ kids in the class.

Until schools are given the financial support to properly teach special needs kids in a mainstream classroom, bullying will happen.

Until high school teachers (they seem to be the worst) are REQUIRED to adhere to IEP and 504 accommodations (at least at Paly, the student needs to approach the teacher to ask for their accommodations, it does not come as a request from Guidance). A lot of disablities experience by HS kids absolutely mirror the behavior of lazy kids. But it is not.

As a District, I know we have many more lawsuits because our parents have the resources (or are attorneys themselves). Hence more lawsuits.

Most importantly, we NEED TO STOP SITE BASED DECISION MAKING FOR THESE IMPORTANT ISSUES. Barb Klausner did not run for another term on the BOE because of this issue. We are being sued because of this issue. There are many things that are better decided as the school site. And many that should not be.

Posted by serving different categories of different kids, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2013 at 10:41 pm

PAUSD also does a particularly bad job with gifted children. Ask for challenge or advanced curriculum, and you get a line about how advanced the PAUSD curriculum already is -- never mind that your kid is bored to tears. Very gifted kids have some of the same administrative challenges that learning-disabled students do. Namely, that recognizing and engaging student differences is not something the district generally prioritizes. It's easier to deny the validity of the mismatch between the kid and the education and refuse to pay for the testing. To be fair, it's very difficult to differentiate material in the full-inclusion classroom.

They do a decent job with bright-average kids, but anyone above, below, next to, or through that box does not get an appropriate education (if any at all!).

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 17, 2013 at 12:00 am

Sympathy for those who claim their children are so gifted they are "bored to tears"? Not from me. The parents who have exceptionally gifted children find ways for them to engage, either by enrolling them in a higher grade level or higher grade level classes or college classes. Highly doubtful there are any "bored" students who are taking all AP classes.

I have a child with a learning disability and have nothing but praise for the Paly staff and administration who have been highly professional in our encounters. The counselors are exceptional at Paly and the school psychologist is excellent. The principal is caring and competent. The staff are highly professional (overall) and I find it difficult to believe any teacher would call a student "lazy". Perhaps it's the parent's wording. Hello, parents, if you have a child who might be perceived as "lazy", speak to his/her teachers at the beginning of the year so they understand the situation.

I find it humorous that one poster claims families are moving away from PAUSD in droves.

Posted by CivilRightBull, a resident of Community Center
on May 17, 2013 at 8:35 am

No doubt Weekly is looking for another award for reporting the civil-rights issues. This topic will last for another 100 years even after the Obama's dynasty.. By that time, every student in the country would be slow enough for catching up each other. But for the world......
This top seems over-run..

Posted by Not surprised, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 17, 2013 at 8:46 am

I am not surprised by this report, just surprised it has not happened sooner, a lot sooner. Jordan, in particular, has had a "culture of abuse" that dates to the early nineties, that I am aware of. By that I mean teachers AND students who bully, and administrators who ignore. And including a popular teacher, who turned out to be a pedophile and got away with it for many years ( the man was recently released from prison, and has been spotted around town), DESPITE years of complaints.

PAUSD is FINALLY reaping what it has sown, that's all.

Posted by DuvMom, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 17, 2013 at 9:50 am

Love pausd! Thanks teachers! Keep up the good work. I am grateful for the good and bad experiences my children have had. Don't let the "vocal minority" get under your skin.

Posted by Hays Dad, a resident of Walter Hays School
on May 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

The failings identified by OCR are largely those of senior administrators. Teachers have the job of teaching, which they generally do quite well. Administrators have the job of creating and managing procedures to ensure equity and legal compliance. It's fair to say they have done an inadequate job at that.

Posted by registered user, Left of Boom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm

How many OCR complaints is it going to take before there's a culture change from senior administrators, principals and the board of PAUSD? How much is this negligence going to cost the school district?

Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm

All this shameful mess is entirely the Superintendent 's fault. The school board has completely abdicated its responsibility by disappearing from the scene. They are terrified of dismissing Dr. Skelly, which should have been done a long time ago and generally they are frozen with fear and ineptitude. It's pretty much guaranteed that all these OCR complaints will end up with incredibly costly and incredibly embarrassing civil law suits.

This school district is in shambles and resembles a rudderless ship drifting toward the rocks.

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2013 at 4:52 pm

How long is it going to be before parents start taking responsibility for their children and teach them respect and tolerance so that bullying doesn't occur, therefore, no need for OCR?

Posted by AnotherMom, a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Thank you PAUSD. My kids are getting wonderful academic and social experience. Greatful to all 3 schools, from elementary to high, that they are attending.
Echoing other parents - it's parents responsibilities to supplement (gifted children), to properly raise and punish (bullies), and be available and support.
Yes, schools should be safe for all kids and my heart goes to every child who don't feel that. But stop blaming just an administration. Get involved. After all, who knows your child better than you. Don't be afraid to volunteer and get involved.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Nixon School
on May 17, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I wonder how many of us take full credit for our children's successes but are quick to blame others for their failures. We have had their entire lives to shape their character. PAUSD has not. When my children behave badly I question my own parenting. Why can't parents of bullies (and all children) take some personal responsibility and stop bullying before it even starts?

Posted by Responsibility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Holly Wade, Director of Special Ed, Charles Young, Associate Superintendent and Compliance Officer, and Kevin Skelly, Superintendent, these are the folks in charge of the OCR mess and these are the administrators that Palo Alto deserves.

Sorry to those of you who want them and the board out of PAUSD, they are not going anywhere. I just read Skelly's Weekly Communication to the board for today, which included three emails praising him. The Internet doesn't lie: he's doing a great job and there are many board meetings planned to showcase more praise.

Posted by Gunn Grad, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm

I am completely baffled why the folks in Palo Alto did not vote for Ken Dauber to join the school board. Now people are complaining that the school is not doing anything but you voted for a school board supported by the Superintendent who would not question his actions. And that is what you have. If you want change and a responsive Superintendent you need to vote for someone who will hold the administrators accountable.

Posted by District Teacher, a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2013 at 11:21 am

While I have no doubt that there are problems in the district, including the leadership, I wanted share an anecdote from a few weeks ago. I received tirade of an email (that was cc'ed to everyone and God...) from a parent about how I violated his/her kids' civil rights by not signing an assignment book -- that the kid didn't even bring to class. I work very hard with the children's best interests first and foremost in my heart and soul. Yes, I had been signing the kid's assignment book for weeks but this was the first time I hadn't signed it. I can't follow the kid around school reminding (parenting?) him/her to bring everything to class. But, really? Violating the kid's civil rights? Is this now the bandwagon everyone will be jumping on when they don't get what they want? There are very real issues affecting students, but this sure isn't one.

Also, I cringe when I read about how mainstreaming students will lead to bullying students if the teachers aren't properly trained. Of course teachers need to be trained (and open-minded and '-hearted) to include and teach *all* children. Isn't teaching children to be kind to everyone also a parenting issue?? Finally, PAUSD needs to join the 21st century and stop treating 'special ed' kids as if they are second class citizens by keeping them separate and like a dirty secret that PA has students who aren't taking PSAT's or gearing up for AP's when they're children.

Posted by a parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 11:35 am

I really relate to what the mom in the letter was saying - she's tired of advocating, while her child doesn't have access to the same education. A good administration would spend time re-evaluating how it works with (or against, as is more the case) parents and uses resources. I just saw that legal costs shot up something like four-fold under Skelly from the first year. I'm sure some of it was in our case, where both my family and the district have spent thousands of dollars each all because of the adversarial way the district deals with special needs families. We would have otherwise spent the money on the school. (This is the first year we didn't donate to PiE or the school.)

We nearly filed an OCR complaint last month, but held off because of so many other complaints. However, there are time limits, and it will take time to see whether the district is suddenly honoring its new promises.

Posted by a parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

@paly parent,
I don't know about the previous poster, but for us, the "toxic" environment began the minute we needed any kind of special needs accommodations. Actually, that's not quite right, we were accommodated from day one, and this worked quite well for years. The problems began when we asked for the accommodations to be put into an IEP or 504, which is really necessary as kids get older.

"Toxic" is things like not telling us about our rights (as the law requires) and even denying there was a written process, making us spend a lot of time jumping through hoops that had nothing to do with the process (which we didn't know about), holding important meetings without notifying us properly, lying to us, making false and ad hominem accusations when we've persisted, retaliating when we've complained, not even following the accommodations offered, etc. And for our child, not having full access to the same educational resources as everyone else, being viewed as different and being teased because of it when proper accommodations would have eliminated that, and generally creating an unhealthy, hostile and adversarial relationship which has negatively affected normal interaction over educational and school issues. This has been our hardest year as parents because of this toxic relationship.

I'm sure the district would disagree with my assessment above, which only scratches the surface. Which is why it's necessary to complain to someone like the OCR, because at least then it's possible to lay out the facts and the evidence, and someone above will do something. From our perspective, because district admin people take such an adversarial tack, even though this is not a court case where someone from above will ultimately judge the truth, district people just create whatever narrative serves their "winning", completely disconnected from the parents' input. Dysfunctional at least, and like the above poster said, toxic. Absolutely not appropriate in an educational environment, with the goal of working together and doing what's best for the kids.

Posted by classified, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

parent: A parent noted long time ago that "It is a plantation mentality and it is clearly split down racial lines, you simply need to know your place... ". Plantation comment was prior to the OCR news. I responded noting the all kids breath the plantation air many hours a day. I noted in various threads that the plantation comment seemed to me to be a good description, and that kids breath the plantation air many hours a day. First mentioned in:
Web Link
"Toxic" - well suiting adjective for plantation air. So sadly, only the OCR was able to convince, maybe, that the plantation air is not healthy for anyone.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Re: Parent

A couple of points. As you are not the person I was addressing - at least it was a different id- your situation is not hers/his. In any event, I am sure you are trying to do the best for your child. And it sounds like you have had some positive, and some negative results. However, I don't think "toxic" is a synonym for either annoying, frustrating, or even improper.

Now, with regards to the OCR. A metaphor if you will allow me. To me it seems a bit like having a stop sign in the neighborhood that cars keep blasting through and don't stop properly. Very dangerous to everyone, especially kids. But is the proper response to call the FBI? Really? Are they even able to appropriately understand the traffic, the locals, the needs?
Just a thought.

More harshly, with regard to "classified." You don't get to win arguments just by being the first one to throw out a racially charged term. Calling this a "plantation" demeans those who really suffered on plantations.

Posted by Responsibility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm

If this was just about race, specifically underrepresented and disadvantaged minorities, there would be little uproar. It would simply go away. There are those of us who have complained directly to Kevin Skelly about this, but it is a non-issue to him. Latinos and African American schoolchildren do not have the political or financial power in this town, so there is little voice. I think he, Charles Young, Holly Wade, and the board misplayed the importance of the threat of the initial OCR case, but I can't explain it here because it would be deleted.

Deletions are part of posting to the forum, but I have noticed that the latest Curious forum about Skelly's board communication, in which Skelly chose to include three emails praising him, has been locked down. The latest East Palo Alto shooting has been locked down as well. Before, I was noticing that 100 postings were the norm to many PAUSD stories before lockdown occurred. Part of me thinks that the Skelly-board strategy of waiting this out will get him at least one more year of up to $300K of PA public money, but I'm also seeing that so much trust and confidence has been eroded by Skelly and the others that the board will have no choice but to get them out of there and stop the bleeding. Mrs. Ezran can praise Skelly all she wants in a public email, but PAUSD will be cleaning up this mess for years. It has not been a good five years and 11 months, and the last 13 months have cemented PAUSD as one of the most troubled districts in the Bay Area.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Re Responsibility: Town Square /= Reality.

Posted by Responsibility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

So then you are saying that your posts do not equality reality. Thank you for your input.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Post truly do not equal reality.

But, more to the point, your comment about "troubled district" compared to the area verges on the silly - certainly the unsubstantiated. The list is quite long on accomplishments of the district. We are, however, "blessed" with highly vocal groups. (Thus the allusion to Town Square)

Posted by I spy, a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Paly Parent apparently doesn't have the experience of growing up or living in a neighborhood in which the federal authorities had to be called in when the local agencies would not or could not act. In my neighborhood in SoCal, we had to organize to get the attention of the Feds to combat a decades-old gang. City police were not trusted and a long series of empowering community meetings and citizen complaints followed. Sound familiar?

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm

So, now its not a plantation, but the Crypts against the Bloods?

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Re I spy: To the point, what exactly are you complaining about that equates to a gang war? Evidence preferred.

Posted by Responsibility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Suicides are not silly to me, maybe to you. Disproportionality is not silly to me, and especially not to those of us who have Latino and African American sons in PAUSD. Brown Act violations that had to be explained away by a lawyer at a hastily convened board meeting are not indicative of an accomplished district. Civil Rights violations (and lets be fair, there is only one, right?), which are continuing to be filed, and a board that is scheduling and canceling meetings, indicating disarray demonstrate a troubled district. These are weak links (a long list!) that define our district and these are events of only the past four years. If the above is not a troubled district, then please do educate me what they represent.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2013 at 4:20 pm

@Paly Parent

Re: your metaphor of the stop sign.

I think the "proper thing" to do if people blast through your local stop sign is to call the police. This would be analogous to a parent contacting the school authorities when the believed their child was being discriminated against or harassed for reasons of race, gender, or disability. The question for the neighborhood is what do you do when the police don't enforce the law regarding stopping at a stop sign. Do you ignore the stop sign? Do you sue the Police? All you want is for the cars to stop at the sign - what to do? Work to get the Police fired for not enforcing the law? You love the community and you don't want to cause problems, but you know your tax dollars pay for the police.

In this scenario might you be tempted to talk to the City Council - a group that has some responsibility for the police? I think that the Office for Civil Rights is that next place to go - when your school principal and then district leaders do not enforce the law. They are a part of the Federal Department of Education and they are a higher authority, like the City Council in my analogy, that a family of a child in a school district that receives federal funding is legally entitled to use if they believe they have a complaint regarding discrimination against their child. I would be interested in knowing where you think a family in any school district should turn to for help if their child is in distress and that distress is not being ameliorated by their school district. My overall impression is that families are going to the OCR as a last resort. If you are aware of a better place to turn, as a last resort, I hope you will share it with this forum.

Thank you.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Your comment doesn't deserve a response - for obvious reasons.

Posted by I spy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Oh goodness! Crypts! It's Crips, and no, it wasn't the Crips. It was another gang and requests were made to the state and federal, which resulted in an injunction against the gang. That resulted in even more lawsuits the other way against the injunctions. It reminds me of our leadership school district in which many parents feel the need to obtain lawyers and federal help. Crypts! That was priceless.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm

(Previous comment addressed to "Responsibility" not "Eileen 1")

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I stand convicted of not knowing the spelling of SoCal gangs - my bad.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Re Eileen 1:
While any resident can petition any level of government they want, I think it is good public policy to solve problems as close to the level they occur on. I assume you are talking about bullying of a child, so that would seem to be teacher, principal, superintendent, board, county state, feds in roughly that order.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm

@Paly Parent

I agree with you completely regarding solving "problems as close to the level they occur on," so I took your advice and looked at the Santa Clara County Board of Education website. If you search "discrimination" you find what to do if you are an employee, if you search "complaint" you are referred back to your school district and told to use the Uniform Complaint Procedure. Currently, the Palo Alto School District has been found to have not followed the Uniform Complaint Procedure in the case of the family that the OCR came back with a finding against the district. I was not able to find any other advice for families experiencing a problem with their school district on the County Board of Education website. I don't have the time to look at the state department of education right now, but perhaps you could take a look and tell me if you can find something that a family could do prior to going to federal officials. I think you would really be helping the community if you could do this.

Thank you.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Re Eileen 1: Good ideas, will do.

It would be helpful to have more facts about what in particular you are trying to locate. What I mean, what is the perfect solution you hope for? Are you trying to find this for yourself or others?

Posted by registered user, Peggy Duncan, a resident of Community Center
on May 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

@Paly Parent
I am old enough to remember the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. A persistent theme in the South in that era was "states' rights" and the importance of local control vs. external control from people who "don't know how things work around here."
Local control in a country of laws works only when local officials follow the law. Otherwise there is a choice between letting laws go unenforced or exerting federal power and authority. In that choice, I will choose federal power.
In all of these cases in PAUSD, there seems to have been a long process of parents trying to work with the district, and being rebuffed. Now, parents sometimes want things they are not entitled to for their children. At least in the two cases that have been resolved, it seems that they wanted things (both process and services) they were entitled to. Local officials (Mr. Skelly and his lieutenants) failed to provide them. In such an instance, it is entirely appropriate for parents to complain to higher and more distant authorities. The cost and disruption of that should be laid at the feet of local officials.
I believe that our federal system rests on both local control *and* a willingness of local officials to follow all of the laws, local and national. If most officials didn't subscribe to that idea, we would need a much larger federal enforcement workforce than we have. At some point, our local school officials will learn to conform their behavior to federal law without being forced to. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Re Peggy: I hear what you are saying about the South, but we are hardly talking about segregation and Jim Crow laws. That is more than a little guilt by association...

Let me suggest the stop sign analogy one more time. Yes, the local cops may not be paying attention. One solution is another - hopefully local - political unit to do something. Speed bumps, cameras, whatever. All have costs, not all work, some fit better in some situations.
But the FBI? Really? Doesn't the FBI have higher value things to be doing with their limited personnel?

Posted by Road to nowhere, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Parents are supposed to file a UPC complaint if they have experienced discrimination
n but Palo Alto doesn't follow the UCP. I was at the daytime board meeting where Professor Dauber tried to tell the board to follow the UCP and Kevin Skelly, Dana Tom and Camille Townsend literally laughed at her and clearly did not listen or take her seriously. As was said on another thread by Eileen it was very dismissive. They did the same thing to Professor Boaler a famous maths education professor also of Stanford. Skelly wrote incredibly mean things about her and said he was going to complain about her to the dean because she had the temerity to say that the Paly math letter was bad. Sad that we don't listen to experts when they try to help us and then we get sued and such. It would be cheaper to listen to the experts who come forward and try to help. And how about calling Professor Dauber "professor." They make a big show of calling each other "doctor" and even "future doctor". (?). Both Daubers have PhDs. Respect is a 2 way street people.

Thanks again to Professor Dauber and Dr. Dauber for caring about our kids.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm

@Paly Parent

You have asked me what the solution is that I hope for...
I am engaging with you because I have seen that some people in our community, such as yourself, believe that the families who have gone to the OCR have gone to, in your words, the "FBI." That complaining to the OCR is an over reaction to their situation that should be handled locally first. As I said, I agree with you that starting locally is always the first place to start. However, it is not clear to me where these families should go instead of the OCR. Indeed, on Thursday night at the OCR presentation the OCR representatives themselves did not recommend any other agency the families could go to if they did not get what they needed from their school district.

I think it is very easy to tell people what they should NOT do. But what I think would be more helpful is to assist people is getting their problems solved. I understand what you are saying with your "Stop Sign" story, but the thing is many of these families have gone to their school. In the case of the family that initially brought the OCR to our district they had gone to a public school board meeting and pleaded for help from the Board. They did not receive enough assistance from the school district and ultimately appealed to the OCR for help. What I would like to know from you is where should a family go after they exhausted everything they can do at our school district level? As I said in an earlier post, I took your advice and looked on the County School District site for Santa Clara County and could not find anything that would assist these families. If, as you are recommending, the next step would be at the State level I would like to know where we could all advise these distressed families to get help rather than going to, as you put it, the FBI (meaning OCR).

I think it is worthwhile to engage like this with each other in the community as I know that we all want to support the children who are facing these problems. Any help, support or advice we can put together for these families is a good thing. Please do look into the California State resources and let us, on this thread, know what support is available for children who may be being discriminated against for reasons of race, gender, or disability.

Thank you so much for your interest in our community's children.

Posted by Really?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Road to Nowhere,

Just because someone teaches at Stanford does not make her beyond reproach.

Take Education Professor Boaler for example. It turns out that Boaler's views about math education are quite controversial.

"Boaler gets skewered in peer review" is the title of a piece written by her peers, including a Stanford mathematics professor who analyzed Boaler's work at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by registered user, village fool, a resident of another community
on May 18, 2013 at 9:35 pm

@Eileen 1 - Thank you for your thoughtful postings, and for looking into these issues. Best practices were mentioned many times, or rather the need of using those. Quite possibly those who could afford to buy private legal advice did that in the past. The OCR is free, and accessible. As far as I know the OCR it is the direct instance to file any grievance about 504, or any other civil rights concern. That seems to be the reason for having several such offices, customer service department. The hope that $ will not hold anyone for pursuing info as the civil rights.
@Really? Clearly, the school's officials and the district officials did not think that that math letter was of any interest to the public. Quite a few of the officials have higher academic degrees. Luckily, it was brought to the public attention - I am very grateful.

Posted by Ruh roh libel, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2013 at 9:44 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Also thank you really for helpfully illustrating how toxic it is for experts who try to help PAUSD and how their professional reputations are damaged and threatened when they try to help.

Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by registered user, Peggy Duncan, a resident of Community Center
on May 18, 2013 at 9:54 pm

To Paly Parent,
It seems that we disagree on the seriousness of the issues at stake. You analogize violating the civil rights of disabled and minority children to running a stop sign, and suggest that federal officials have better things to do with their time than to defend them. I think otherwise. I am afraid, however, that there are many in Palo Alto who agree with you. Some of them are in a position to act (or more accurately not act) on the basis of those beliefs, which is even more unfortunate.
I am happy that the analogy with the South makes you uncomfortable. It was intended to.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Re: Peggy
It doesn't make me uncomfortable, I just consider it inappropriate.

Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 18, 2013 at 10:53 pm

@Paly Parent

I hope that at some point in the near future you are able to look into the options for seeking redress that these families have open to them other than the Office for Civil Rights. You are clearly interested in this issue, and I very much hope that you will take a moment to look into and report back on where our local families can go for help when the school authorities and the superintendent of schools do not follow the uniform complaint procedure that is required by law.

These families just want their children to be able to be educated at our public schools without experiencing harassment or a hostile environment at school based on their race, gender, or disabilities. I am sure that families having this problem would be happy to go anywhere to get help for their children - they just don't know where else to go. I think it's worth mentioning that filing a complaint with the OCR does not cost money, so it is considerably more affordable than hiring a private lawyer.

I really hope to hear back from you. I believe this is an issue that deserves the attention of our entire community.

Posted by a parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 19, 2013 at 1:43 am

@Paly Parent,
Let me get this straight. You are equating what parents are doing by complaining to the OCR when their child's civil rights are violated, to the point of physical and emotional injury, with calling the FBI? You are calling children being injured, denied their education, while their parents are lied to, treated antagonistically, and made powerless just "annoying"?

The OCR is not a criminal or even punitive agency. Yes, they can fine us, but that's not their purpose. Their whole purpose is to get districts to comply with the law. They try to negotiate, and if that doesn't work (as in PAUSD's case), they take more steps. It's almost unheard of that they would come on site, but that was not because of the parents here, it was because of how badly PAUSD was violating the law.

Posted by No Skelly for Us, a resident of College Terrace
on May 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Parents are responsible for teaching their kids to be respectful of others, especially those who are different or have "problems". However, when kids are in school, the parents are not present to do their job, and that job is handed over to the school staff That school staff has not been doing the job that was handed over to them, temporarily each day. That is the problem in a nutshell!

Kevin Skelly's missteps in solving this problem have brought the Feds down on him. yet, in the middle of this brouhaha, he continues to do and say all the wrong things, bringing sharp criticism on him from the OCR.

Isn't it time of Kevin Skelly to be given his pink slip? This mess just doesn't look like it will get any better until he has been replaced with someone more suitable for the requirements of the superintendent of schools

Posted by Not Surprised, but you all should be, a resident of another community
on May 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm

@Not Surprised

Should look at the culture of the school. Kid don't feel safe because Adults don't either. Bullying is going on all over the place.

Posted by registered user, spectator at large, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Not Surprised:

This whole brouhaha is about protecting CHILDREN. It is not about protecting the people that were elected or hired in part to protect our children. Our Board members have an implied duty to do whatever it takes to comply with the law and to give ALL of our students every chance to achieve their highest potential. If what you are saying is that adults are afraid to come out and report wrongs inflicted on their child and fear retaliation for asking for a redress of a grievance I agree. If you are saying that we should feel sorry for the adults (some say that Kevin Skelly has been bullied which I totally don't agree with) I am not with you there. Kevin is a big boy and should be able to handle the fallout from his actions which it is hard to deny have not been totally stellar.

Posted by student knows best, a resident of Monroe Park
on May 20, 2013 at 11:41 am

The best article I've seen so far on the OCR issue. Leave it to a student to describe it best (page 9)

Web Link

Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 20, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Completely agree with Paly Parent: "Mainstreaming special needs kids is great in theory. As mentioned previously, many kids with special needs are annoying to their peers, almost all are need more 'teacher time' than a regular student.It is part of their disability and they should not be penalized for it. But, neither should the other 20+ kids in the class."

The parents should look to improve the behavior of their children before they point fingers at the schools. We had issues with bullying but our children are not likely targets, so perhaps that's why it was easy for the schools to immediately stop the bullying. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Observer, a resident of South of Midtown
on May 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by All Talk?, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Wow, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Paly Mom is advocating blaming the victim.

Posted by registered user, spectator at large, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 21, 2013 at 12:05 am

@ DuvMom: Thanks for the bit of humor!

@Paly Parent: Compassion is a virtue that you should look into cultivating at least a little bit of.

Thanks again to the parents who aren't just rolling over and playing dead around these issues (unlike some of the elected officials who I will not name). You know who you are!