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Setting the wrong example

Original post made on Nov 21, 2008

My Nov. 7 column about school bullying in Palo Alto generated some thoughtful responses and triggered a thread on Palo Alto Online's Town Square forum with numerous opinions offered.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (109)

Posted by Annalise Winner
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Finally, the community at large is hearing about this incident and the example it set for young people. Congratulations to Mr Kazak for airing this and covering it from all the viewpoints.
Please let this be a reminder that even a "joke" can be hurtful.
I do not want to shelter children, nor protect them from from every hurt. As the mother of three grown sons, I undertand that this is impossible. However, please let those who are hired to educate our children constantly give great thought to how they interact with our children.

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 21, 2008 at 3:45 pm

I am very concerned that Spt. Skelly sided with Gary Prehn. Even if his "joke" misfired, it was bullying behavior for Prehn to get on the loudspeaker and demena the kid publicly. With a pincipal and a 2nd grader, it's hardly a level playing field.

Unfortunately, there are some other bad apples in the district --principals and 25 Churchill -- and they still seem to be uncontrolled and even rewarded with promotions for their bad behavior.

Skelly was supposed to come and clean house, but he looks like more of the same. How very, very disappointing. At least he apologized after the fact for his failure to react promptly and apprpriately. Unfortunately, he seems too sheltered to "get it" when confronted with this kind of behavior. Until he takes charge and properly cleans house, bullying will exist at all levels of this district, and PAUSD will be a district resting on it reputation instead of a true leader in education.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Yikes - this is an appalling incident! It qualifies as a poor-taste incident on the part of the principal and Stanford student.
I am horrified that adults would act this way to a child in their care and around other children! What message did this behavior of a couple of adults send to the children?
If I were the child I would feel quite unsafe knowing no adults would come to my aid in such a situation.

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2008 at 5:26 pm

This is a well written article as far as it goes.

What isn't mentioned at all is the definition of bullying. To some, bullying is ongoing victimisation of an older child to a younger child, either by demanding lunch money or fighting, to just being particularly unpleasant and taunting. To others, it is playground behavior which sometimes gets out of control. To my mind it includes the taunting "you have to leave us alone" comments made by some who know that another child will lash out in temper when he is taunted enough and then this child is the one who is punished to the amusement of the taunters who started it and get no form of scolding.

The difference between a "joke" to one person and "bullying" to another is whether or not the victim sees the action as a joke or not. In the above scenario, what college students may find as funny among themselves when the victim is laughing and taking it in the same vein as what the jokers intended, it is a joke. But, when the victim is definitely not enjoying it, is really upset, and onlookers are horrified, then joke it is not. The idea that college students can treat elementary students the same way as they might treat each other is equally horrendous and the fact that school administration can't tell the difference shows lack of professional integrity, not just a mistake.

In this particular incident, I think the Stanford coach should be held to some extent responsible for teaching his athletes that when they are outside their own domain, i.e. on an elementary school campus in their official capacity as Stanford athletes, that higher standards should be expected. And secondly, I think that the elementary school principal should be expected to attend some type of
leadership training in this very issue.

If this type of behavior is seen to be treated as nothing but fun when an 8 year old child is obviously humiliated and upset enough to leave the school without any type of professional reprimand by the principal or the athletes, then our wonderful school reputation is worth nothing in real terms.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I hold the principal primarily responsible. What strikes me about it is the lack of respect for boundaries. I can see the college players having that stupid kind of judgment--I mean they were kids not so long ago and that they lacked a certain maturity and awareness of how frightening their roughhousing would be to a young child is something I can understand--though I hope they really, really learned from this.

But what was the principal thinking? Or not thinking? Mindblowingly inappropriate. And let's face it, there's little chance that the football players would have done this without Prehn's initial targeting of the student.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2008 at 7:45 pm

The school principal showed very poor judgement twice - once at the initial incident, and the second time one or more days later when his announcement belittled the child in question.

The 2nd incident is even worse than the first, in that the principal had time to think about what had happened. Based on his poor judgement in the 2nd incident, the principal should be replaced.

I find it appalling that Skelly did not take more substantial action, especially with the 2nd incident. The job any supervisor, in this case Skelly is to take corrective action, and in not taking any corrective action, he then becomes part of the problem.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 21, 2008 at 7:57 pm

With more litigious parents, this could have had lawsuit written all over it--I assume Skelly may have been trying to downplay to protect the district.

I think Prehn should have been reprimanded. It's possible he was. I'd like to hear the other side of this because this looks really bad.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 21, 2008 at 8:06 pm

I remember when this incident was discussed here on the Town Forum this last summer and the entire thread was deleted.

Posted by parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 21, 2008 at 10:17 pm

" mother agreed to let the story become public since a lot of people in the Escondido Elementary School community already know of it, on the condition I don't use her name to protect the identity of her two young sons."

The mother didn't mention that most parents who were aware of the incident think she totally took it out of proportion and context and has some sort of vendetta against the principal. Enough is enough. She has done more to harm her children by her inability to accept an apology.

Posted by joe
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 21, 2008 at 10:34 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by x
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 21, 2008 at 10:40 pm

"If I were the child I would feel quite unsafe knowing no adults would come to my aid in such a situation."
Yes, so sad. Many parents rallied for the child immediately following the incident. It was painful to witness. They supported the child and his parents and gathered signatures on a letter expressing their concerns. Luckily for Mr. Prehn it occurred only a few days before the end of the school year and was largely forgotten.
For witnesses of bullying, there can be a moment of incredulous disbelief. It’s a painful, surreal moment where the bystander doesn’t know how to react. Students at Escondido are being taught about the various roles involved in bullying such as the bully, the victim and the bystander. I hope they’re taught that as bystanders there might be occasions when they don’t know the ‘right’ thing to do as the bullying occurs – adults have the same problem. However, taking delayed action is better than no action.
p.s. to the family: your son has the best Cal college entrance essay topic ever – if this doesn’t get their attention and show intent, nothing will. :-) Best of luck to you all.
p.p.s. to Escondido parent: every parent I know of who witnessed the incident was appalled. Which apology are you referring to? The one where he said "sorry you didn't get the joke"?

Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 22, 2008 at 12:35 am

Not saying the story should be swept under the rug or anything, but I dropped in to question the journalistic work.... Are the standards for a column like this so different from standards in reporting?

- This is an old story.
- The only apparent source for information about the initial event is the mother, who was not there.
- No mention of whether or not the principal was asked about this matter for the column and declined comment.
- The principal's initial announcement is mostly paraphrased, with unclear sourcing (the mom again? Did she hear it? or read it?) This is a situation where the exact wording and tone of voice are essential, yet Mr. Kazak uses this partial information against the principal.

Posted by Annalise Winner
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2008 at 9:13 am

It is amazing to me the extent that parents, a la Escondido parent, will go to defend "their" school.
The restraint that this family showed in dealing with this incident was remarkable, almost unheard of in our litigous society.
Adults should not get a "free pass" on this kind of ugly behavior, especially when it is in front of children - even if this is "your school"!

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2008 at 10:20 am

Parent without handles writes that the principal should be required to take some sort of "leadership training" --presumably to improve his knowledge/awareness/sensitivity of issues related to this "situation"? (obvious bullying/poor treatment of another human being, the young boy)
I would submit that this episode is evidence of a lack of basic human decency and has nothing to do with costly "training." Why do some people think you can "train" and "educate" and "retrain" people to behave in what should just be normal human basic decent behavior?? It should be OBVIOUS that the principal misbehaved here, it doesn't require lengthy examination or analysis.
I wouldn't dream in a million years of doing what this principal did to that boy. Especially not in the capacity of a school principal!

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2008 at 10:49 am


I take your point that common decency should have prevented the principal from allowing this to happen. The point is that he did allow it to happen. This is something which as a human being he should have not let happen, let alone in his professional capacity of being chief administrator of a school. While I agree completely with your comments, I was taking the road of using a requirement to do some form of training as a professional reprimand which would go on his professional record. I don't for a minute think that he needs training in common decency which he should already have, but the fact that he is made to do something is a similar type of reprimand as traffic school would be to a driver requiring traffic school as a legal reprimand.

Should the principal lose his job? I don't know. Should he get some form of professional misconduct reprimand? Once again, I don't know what would be appropriate in this profession. But, as a very minimum, some type of requirement to do some training sounds appropriate. High school students who infringe on say social awareness issues are often made to go to classes on tolerance so to me this sounded like an appropriate response to his poor judgment.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2008 at 11:25 am

Some of us are just now learning of this incident. A lot of time has gone by, sounds like the principal got a pass.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2008 at 11:59 am


Kazik talked to Skelly--presumably he did some sort of confirmation of the event with him.

Is there any actual dispute as to the facts of the event? It doesn't sound like it. Just a disagreement as to how important it was.

What I read between the lines is that that kind of roughhousing is seen as okay by some because a boy was involved. It really isn't--those football players weren't this kid's big loving cousins.

Posted by x
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm

One other thought - there's no mention of the teachers. They were present - what were their reactions? As community leaders and professionals, they're responsible for setting an example of how to react when witnessing such appalling behavior. You wonder what kind of principal-teacher and teacher-student dynamics create a situation where teachers don't react. Did any?
Kudos to the big brother, the only one among hundreds with the presence of mind to immediately step forward and object.

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Prehn enticed the football player then prevented the brother from coming to his sibling's defense. He then humiliated the child over the school's intercom system. There is no amount of coaching that will help someone who so fundamentally fails to understand children and steps so far over the line. The district has a history of coaching principals who bengage in outrageous behavior, and then sending them bck to do more damage without followup. Please, could we see an improvement in the district's oversight and the consequences of outrageous and inappropriate behavior?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2008 at 12:17 pm

but seriously,

What sort of history of "coaching principals" do you mean?

Posted by Gotta go
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Let us all hope the staff will not delete THIS thread. What happened to a wonderful little boy, at the hand of his principal/protector should not go unpunished. Anyone with a bit of sense would think twice before singling out a child to be held over a trash can upside down in front of a school assembly. And then "blame" the child for not getting the joke? It's thoughtless, unprofessional and disgusting.

Gary Prehn should be replaced.

Posted by Drew
a resident of Barron Park School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 1:41 pm

If you're a kid the message is clear:
Jocks get away with anything - as long as they smile & say it's a joke.
Bullying is nothing new at this school.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 2:03 pm

The principal should be fired for such extreme lack of judgement. Leadership training will not help. Damage is done.

Saying the teachers should have stood up to their boss is ridiculous.

Maybe with the newfound publicity, it still can occur. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Kids are taught to trust/respect adults at their schools. They are supposed to feel safe!

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 22, 2008 at 2:25 pm

OP, refer to previous threads on bullying in the district, and Drew's comments, above.

Posted by Go Bears!
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 22, 2008 at 2:45 pm

At least the boy's team is winning the BIG GAME today!
Kharma perhaps?

Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 2:53 pm

This is a classic overreaction by a Palo Alto mother, many of whom who are way too protective of their boys. This mommy decides to allow her son to wear a Cal t-shirt to school, on Stanford Campus, during a Big Game rah-rah event. Then he gets razzed (not bullied) for it. She then decides to pull her kids out of school, and go somewhere else. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] If she would have allowed things to play out, without her smothering intervention, her two boys would be much better off. The problem is her, not the principal, or the Stanford players.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2008 at 3:04 pm


So you're saying the kid can't express a minority opinion and not expect to be harrassed in school by the principal?

I don't agree with Mom/Palo Alto High--but the behavior was extremely inappropriate.

But seriously,

I read the bullying thread and I don't see the specifics.

Posted by x
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Susan, it was not a "Big Game rah-rah" event. It was an end of year track and field day event for the kids. A handful of Stanford athletes came to volunteer. Please don't overreact or blow it into something it's not, and don't accuse the victim.
Mom, I'm not necessarily suggesting that the teachers should confront their boss. The outcome might have been different if a bunch of them collectively groaned and cajoled Gary back to his senses. I'd like to know what their reaction was. Did they have a class discussion after the event, or after the loudspeaker apology that interrupted their class time? Did the boy's teacher reassure him when he came off the stage?

If we're going to confront bullying with any meaningful outcome, we must address how bystanders react. They're a powerful part of the dynamic, enabling or disabling the bully. Even a delayed reaction from the teachers could have affected the sincerity of the apology. On that day, they were next in line for students to look up to for positive examples of how to react.

Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2008 at 3:36 pm

This boy was 8 years old, not 6 years old. He wore a Cal shirt on purpose, to what he knew whould be a rally for Stanford. His mother obviously encouraged him to express himself. Guess what, sometimes tricks are played at such rallies.

This was some good natured razzing, not bullying.

I went back and read the original posting on this subject, and the boy did not complain. It was his mother who made a big deal of it. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by x
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Susan, it was NOT a rally for Stanford. He wasn't asking for it, and his mother wasn't setting him up by dressing him "wrong". Furthermore, you don't understand the immediate trauma the boy went through. Read it again. You're jumping to ugly conclusions that are utterly false.

Posted by Parent without handle
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2008 at 3:46 pm

Now it is being blamed on the mother.

The boy may have chosen to wear the shirt on purpose, so what. He was 2nd grade. Did he know that there is big rivalry between Cal and Stanford. Did his parents understand this - there are a lot of people who live in Palo Alto who are not interested in sport (particularly college sport) and are not native Californians. There is no reason to believe that the parents would have thought it inappropriate to wear the "wrong" shirt.

I can't see that the parents can be blamed for this. They could just as easily have taken it further, but fortunately didn't. They chose instead to protect their child by taking him out of the school rather than making a public spectacle of him by taking the matter further.

And, as for the Escondido community. Where have they all been in this? Surely the PTA should have done something to mend the bridges but they seem quiet on this one.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2008 at 3:48 pm


And how old was the principal? Old enough to know better maybe?

And since when is an 8-year-old not a child?

Would you be okay with an 8-year-old girl being treated this way? If not, why not?

Posted by john kunz
a resident of Greene Middle School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 4:00 pm

The story of Mr. Prehn is stunning. Decades ago and far away, this kind of bullying by both adults and children was common in my experience. I moved to Palo Alto in part to be free of both the reality and fear of such behavior. From an experienced educator who has responsibility to teach an entire school about the danger of and ways to avoid bullying, this incident is extraordinary and tragic. Ironically, it became public at the same time as the crisis of confidence in the police department about the leadership of Chief Johnson. At least the police action was "consensual."

The Prehn incident can have a silver lining if it leads to open personal and community recognition that good people can do bad things, that good people can have bad things happen, and somehow we all need to learn and move forward in life. Mr. Prehn owes an apology to the students, the families, his fellow staff who are supposed to practice and teach model behavior, and to the community. The School Board members individually and collectively need to clearly identify and personally and publicly acknowledge the bad that has happened as well as to positively and assertively seek to institutionalize culture, practice and training to make bullying rare and reprehensible. We individuals in the the community need to look in the mirror and ask what we have done to contribute to allowing the incident to happen and, like the Board members, what we can do to make it rare and reprehensible.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I think this was about not being in the popular position. A child had the "wrong" t-shirt, and apparently it was just too good for these jokers to pass up, to "single out" and ridicule him.

We just got through election season, with a home that was split but we managed to have fun, but it was NOT fun at school when the kids dared to express anything that was not adulation for the popular candidate, and if they dared to say they liked the other candidate, are you stupid? crazy? racist? dirty looks from the kids, insults.

Our kids also got to see how some teachers lost total control and common sense in the name of passion for their candidate or hatred for the other, in sometimes subtle and not so subtle ways, it was a lesson in itself, for those that noticed, most kids were clueless.

These grown ups lost an opportunity to demonstrate, not just LECTURE about the importance of, and respect for anyone, but especially a student, that dares to express something different than others. And they say there is a shortage of people that think "outside of the box" in the workplace.

When I read this story I got this bad feeling in my stomach. To the family, I'm sorry this happened.

This lack of sensitivity is especially alive in this area, where everyone is so passionate about everything, just watch out if you don't agree or dare to be different.

I'm not into the football rivalries, but tonight I say Go Bears!

Posted by Ken
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 22, 2008 at 7:43 pm

If Gary Prehn is a Stanford fan, then he is A-OK. However, if he pulled this stunt as an undercover Cal fan, he should resign!

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by x
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Ken, forgive me for saying, but you’re a real piece of work. You’ve never met the family, you don’t know the circumstances, you don’t know who made the decision or how it was made, and you don’t know what conversations transpired between school officials, the boy, the parents or the older brother. To jump to the conclusions you do about the family or mother based on the limited amount that’s been written here is flat unfair. It’s pure speculation based on what - a stereotype you’d like to make fit? With the ugliness some people have shown here, I can understand why a family would choose to move schools rather than put up with all this muck dredging. Try to learn from it or move on.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2008 at 8:32 pm


Feeling angry and upset about someone doing something out of bounds to your kid requires a heart.

Doing something about it requires courage.

She asked for an apology, she got it, good for her.

I think you were trying to be funny on your post too, another line of jokes that are not that funny but they are popular.

Posted by Ken
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 22, 2008 at 8:56 pm

All I know is what I have read on this thread. How I am I supposed to know more more than what I have read, especially from the editorial that led off this thread?

This mother, from what I have read, is completely over the cliff.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by x
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 22, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Ken, try separating what you read from what you imagine. It's a good exercise for learning to be nonjudgmental.

Posted by Jan
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Do you honestly believe that this incident was completely ignored? Or that Prehn wasn't reprimanded?

This was certainly an extremely erroneous maneuver on Prehn's part, but what do you want from him now? I'm pretty sure he has learned from this, and although I am not comfortable with what happened here, and I'm assuming that no one really is, I do not think that this incident is grounds for the replacement of Mr. Prehn.

Posted by Concerned Dad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2008 at 12:41 am

Since the time this incident occurred last fall, I have found the entire episode terribly disturbing. It is good to see the matter finally given broader visibility.

No child at the tender age of 8 should have to shoulder the burden of this type of public humiliation - particularly not from the school principal (the highest authority figure in an elementary school setting) and not in front of the entire school assembly.

Most tragic is that the bullies in this case are the same individuals we entrust daily to protect our children and teach them right from wrong. The child's parents are only doing what is right and best for their sons by trying to defend them from abuses by district staff.

From the time we first come to Palo Alto we are assailed with adulation about the quality of our local schools. Much can be said for PAUSD but too often PA parents appear willing to embrace the hype with a Candidesque belief that this is ‘the best of all possible’ school districts. Too frequently we overlook or accept inappropriate actions by members of the district.

When clearly offensive and unacceptable behaviors come to light, it is our responsibility and obligation as parents to protect our children and to hold those individuals and institutions accountable for their vulgar actions and poor judgment.

This is clearly one of those incidents. If the district does not take it upon itself to further investigate Mr Prehn's actions, then we as parents should ensure that the matter receive independent review by an outside organization. From what is already known, Mr. Prehn should at least be substantively reprimanded or even removed from his current capacity as principal.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 12:52 am

I agree, apologies have been made, it's unclear if the apology has been accepted?

If you ask for an apology and it's made, you should be able to accept it.

It's likely the mother brought this up again because of the topic Bullying, and the editor rightly highlights the issue of adults setting the wrong Example.

It's not about Mr. Prehn anymore, this incident is only representative of the kind of things adults do all the time, and then we try to ask more of children.

Bullying deterrent #1 you could end up famous on Town Square.

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 23, 2008 at 6:35 am

Parent, apologies were made, but only belatedly (months later) and long after the fact, significantly diluting their impact. The delay only highlighted the problem more. Why did Gary Prehn compound his mistake by arrogantly singling out the kid as being "unable to take a joke" when he made the announcement over the loudspeaker? It's meaningless. The parents had to take this all the way to the District before the principal made the public apology.

I say good for the parents. The principal deserved to be called out and, after he publicly humiliated the child not once but twice, the apology needed to be public so that all of the children who witnessed both events could know about it.

PAUSD provides, for the most part, a good education. It has very bright parents who can enrich and supplement their child's education, which has a lot more to do with the quality of education here than what is actually being taught in school. What PAUSD really does poorly is this: in purporting to teach children appropriate skills, it removes the right to take things into their own hands but then the adults in charge don't enforce the rules, so you get kids who are unprotected who are blamed when they defend themselves or simply end up being victimized without recourse.

I've seen in all around town -- kid is bullied, parents complain, principal says kid is simply not resilient enough, kid takes matters into his own hands, principal comes down on victim. Bullies now see completely helpless victim and delight in continuing and escalating their behavior. The pattern often repeats with adults as well.

Really, enough is enough.

Posted by momoftwo
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2008 at 10:37 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2008 at 10:54 am

I can't believe people are blaming the victim. If it were a religious shirt or a racial incident, there would be more of an uproar. Would they use the excuse of it only being a joke?

As someone here mentioned, Skelly was supposed to clean house. If a superintendent allows a principal to bully, how can anyone feel confident with PAUSD?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2008 at 11:37 am

A psychologist once told me that the best way to deal with bullying is to make it public. I don't think Gary Prehn should be protected in this case. He behaved inappropriately in a professional setting and that should be known.

I expect that his initial apology was mixed and inappropriate because he didn't want to acknowledge to himself how wrong his behavior was. I think there are people on this thread who like Prehn, whom I'm sure has good qualities, and want to blame the mother for Prehn's misbehavior. This is human, we protect our buddies, but flawed.

As far as apologies go, no, you don't have to accept every apology. Prehn's initial apology is not one I would find sincere or one that truly acknowledged his own culpability.

I think there is an us v. them mentality between the school workers and the parents. And I can sympathize. There are parents who overstp bounds and make unreasonable demands. This isn't one of those cases. Prehn should have owned up a lot earlier--like immediately--and been man enough to apologize to that kid and his brother.

Without trying to shift blame.

Posted by Perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2008 at 12:29 pm

The best post is by the Parent speaking of the relationship between our very high intolerance for differing opinions around here, and the attempt to say that scaring the *&^ out of an 8 year old is "just a joke".

The bottom line is that he was singled out for having an opposing shirt on. College boys SHOULD know better, but I hold the principal and every adult in that room, especially those who knew the boy, responsible for just standing by and doing nothing.

I can understand in the shock of the moment doing nothing for a moment, but to then go on and defend it as a "joke"??? With a crying kid??


Posted by another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 23, 2008 at 12:57 pm

I find it interesting that everyone on this thread is believing every word of a very one sided column. Why weren't any other parents, teachers or principal interviewed for their side of the story. I was there that day. The incident occurred as part of a whole program where the athletes talked about how important it is to work hard in school to achieve your dreams. They then went on to get the kids to cheer on Stanford. One of the athletes in fact was headed for the Olympics. While picking up the kid and dangling him over the garbage can was in retrospect, a mistake, it was not a bullying incident. Another child may have handled it completely differently. There was no intention to harm the child, it was to illustrate the rivalry between Cal and Stanford. It was not personal. After the child sat back down, the athletes made a big point of going into the audience and high fiving him. The child was not crying at the time and actually seemed to be enjoying the attention (my perspective). Maybe it sunk in later as to what happened. The apology that was given the following school day over the PA system did not demean the child. It was a clear apology. Frankly, I can't believe the parents would have wanted to have their child stand on a stage while the principal singled him out again. Parents don't always know best. The apology given at the fall assembly was also very honest and told the children that yes, even adults do make mistakes.

The principal at the school is well loved by the children. I don't think there is a child or parent there that would call him or the athletes, a bully. There are always, however, going to be unhappy parents because they don't get what they want when they want it.

Posted by The First Stone
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm

It seems that the last post is on to something. If the principal made an apology on the PA system after learning of the child and his family, that was a start. If it were my kid, I would not want a special assembly that singled out my kid yet again. Prehn may not have wanted to apologize again, but singling out the kid again, even if the parent wanted it, was a judgment call he made.

Clearly the parents wanted more. So Mr. Prehn apologized again in the fall and in writing shortly after the incident. It appears, for whatever reason, the parents chose not to accept his apology. Their decision to bring up the issue to Mr. Kazak demonstrates this. Their decision to withdraw their kid from the school is another sign that they either do not trust Mr. Prehn and the school or they have not forgiven him.

Forgiveness is a powerful force in our world, but it is in short supply indeed, as is evidenced by these postings. Haven't we all hurt people, even children? Are we all perfect? Would we want to lose our jobs over one mistake when we had devoted our professional lives to the benefit of kids?

I would bet that no reprimand of Mr. Prehn could hurt him as much as the knowledge that he hurt a child. I also hope that sometime, somehow, the family can find it in them to accept Mr. Prehn's apology. It would be good for them, as anger and lack of forgiveness are hard to harbor and are so destructive. As for our world, I am hoping for more forgiveness. Otherwise I see little hope that we will ever truly heal this troubled world in which we live.

Think about Mandela. Desmond Tutu. Jesus. Martin Luther King. These people are moral giants not because of what they did but because they forgave. Asking for forgiveness is hard. Accepting it is even harder.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm

another parent, a member of the Escondido School community

I agree with some of what you say, that Mr. Prehn is a good guy who just made a mistake. BUT, your comment

"There was no intention to harm the child, it was to illustrate the rivalry between Cal and Stanford. It was not personal."

shows why nobody else stepped up to the child other than the brother - it simply was not important enough to show sensitivity to someone that was singled out for simply being different. "Not personal", we all high fived after, yada yada. Be tough, etc.

About a year ago, I saw a movie documenting High School students, and one of the troubled kids cited that what changed his life was being singled out the first day of school in Middle School, ne never recovered.

All the high fivers, so lucky to be so tough and "strong" and so forth. Actually, a bunch of weenies because not one person was able to go over and be sensitive to the kid. Don't school specialists KNOW that singling out some kids is hell for them?

One thought is WHY is it so difficult to feel singled out in school when you are a kid? Why is there such pressure to fit in? Maybe it is because there is such a culture of the strong are better, the ones who can laugh at the expense of others are the funny ones.

While it's simple to say, no big deal, move on. You just may have no idea.

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 2:15 pm

I honestly don't think a public apology is the right thing to have done in this case except perhaps in a very general way to the student body that something inappropriate happened which should not and this could have been done without mentioning the child by name.

But a private apology to the student and his family, in the principal's office was definitely appropriate, if it happened. At 8 years' old, a child would not understand a public apology and would as others have said been embarrassed at being singled out. But, a special time in the principal's office with an apology to the child, his brother, and his family would be something he would remember for ever. The fact that he received an apology from a principal who was big enough to acknowledge that he made a mistake and was sorry for it would teach both the boys a lot. They would remember that making a mistake is human, but owning up to it and asking for forgiveness is what makes us honorable people, the type of person we should all aspire to become. Unfortunately, what has happened teaches neither of them anything. All that is left for both these boys is a bad taste in their mouths whenever they think of their school or even Stanford.

We always hear the phrase of a teachable moment. This could have been one, but this teacher failed miserably with an F this time.

Posted by Symbolism matters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Unfortunately, the symbolism with the trash took it to another level. That was not Mr. Prehn's fault, but the student from Stanford.

The Stanford athlete demonstrated total lack of respect, no boundaries, anything goes as long as you're having fun. The tribe was there to cheer him on. Yahoo!

And this is the crew intent on changing the world?

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 23, 2008 at 4:18 pm

What I understood the aricle (and previous thread) to say was that the incident happened, the parents complained, the principal did an announcement over the PA system stating too bad the kid couldn't take a joke (THIS was the time to give a real apology) and the apology took place in the fall assembly after the kids were no longer in the school.

People are complaining that the principal did enough. Not in the beginning, and not in the fall assembly where they couldn't see it.

One of the most hateful things about Palo Alto is the way in which children who are hurt by actions of others are revictimized by protective school community members who blame them and their parents. It is really awful that this happens. The school board knows these problems exist in the district and yet the people who have a pattern and practice of neglecting, singling out and bullying kids do not have repecussions (like GETTING FIRED). I am not saying necessarily that was Gary Prehn, but it's the whole tone of inevitable response (or non response) that is so inappropriate and frustrating.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Emotions will be high, but you can't just fire someone for an isolated thing.

In a way, Mr. Prehn only made the mistake of singling out the student, but the rest of it happened with shared responsibility.

I wonder if I (adult) would have done something, other than cringe, and tell the parents later, not wanting to go up to the child and make him feel worse or intiimidated. Maybe his friends went up and said something.

If you focus on getting heads to roll, the point of setting a good example gets lost.

Posted by Another Escondido Parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 23, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I happened to glance at this long thread and, wow, what a lot of vitriol. Immediate dismissal? "Gang rape"? Please, Palo Alto, a little civility -- and a little perspective.

It seems like a lot of posters on the thread are speculating about facts that were not discussed one way or the other in the article, and then drawing very strongly opinionated conclusions. So I just asked my son about the incident, who remembered it and described it without any leading questions from me as "everyone was just having fun and joking around." He also indicated that the apology over the loud speaker at the end of the day was just that, a straight up apology, with no hint of "the boy can't take a joke." Maybe my son's memory is not entirely accurate, and it obviously is just his unfiltered personal perspective, but I would trust it over those who seem to be speculating about the incident from the vague description in the newspaper.

I'm curious why the PA Weekly described the incident in an column about bullying. Wikipedia describes bullying as "the act of intentionally causing harm to others, through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation. . . . bullying often describes a form of harassment perpetrated by an abuser who possesses more physical and/or social power and dominance than the victim." Does anyone seriously believe that Gary Prehn was intentionally trying to intimidate or cause harm to the second grader? To what end? He obviously exercised poor judgment, especially if it upset the student in question (my son, on the other hand, would have loved to be the center of such attention from a bunch of Stanford students, but all people are different and school personnel should be sensitive enough to realize that), and he probably should have apologized again in a private meeting with the family, if that did not occur. But I don't know of any child at Escondido who would describe Prehn as a bully.

Believe me, I'm not an apologist for the principal. I am very aware that many parents, myself included, have had legitimate issues with his management. But the one thing I can observe with my own eyes is that his relationship with the kids is very good and not at all like his relationship with some of the parents. Almost without exception, the students really like him. Thus, while Prehn may well have lots of faults as an administrator, an intent to bully kids doesn't seem to be one of them.

So a word to the Palo Alto Weekly and its reporters: Before you write something that you must know will inflame the sensibilities of the community, do a little more investigation and try to put all of the facts on the table, without coloring them to fit a larger agenda. That's what good journalism is all about.

Posted by mom in a minivan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2008 at 9:37 pm

People make mistakes. People in power make mistakes.... We all do. What a perosn does and says after making a mistake is what really defines the character of a leader. We have a lot of useful words to help in these situations such as:
"I made a mistake... I feel bad that I hurt you. I'm sorry. Give me another chance" But these words carry with them legal ramifications. As a community can we learn to accept an apology without resorting to legal means? It sounds like the parents in this situation are will to move on. Let's join them. "Mr. Previn, we're sorry you behaved badly. People in power must never harass kids even in fun. It's not sporting. It's in fact cowardly. We'd expect you to do better going forward and lead by example." What do you think? did that cover it?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Minivan mom,

I think you covered it.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 12:01 am


Web Link

Posted by YouShouldKnow, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Nov 20, 2008 at 11:52 am

"I have had kids at Paly High for about 13 years almost continously. I was always pleased with how little racism they experienced there.

It's not a huge problem at Paly to be of a different race. It IS a SIN to be conservative. Many of the students espouse the left wing ideals of the parents without enough life experience and no real understanding of what they are actually talking about.

More conservative students, a definite minority themselves, are mercilessly attacked. Students jeer at them in class and tear at them with sneering vitriolic rants. Most of the conservative kids are better educated on their topics because they have to be by necessity. They have to have their facts in order as a defense when not only the other students go after them, but the teachers as well.".........

Having just barely survived election season as per my post above, this sums it up for PAUSD.

What examples are parents and teachers setting about allowing minority opinions?

Posted by Get a Life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 9:28 am

You've got to be kidding me. Gary Prehn is a wonderful principal. Don Kazak must have hard up for a story to take something that happened six months ago and making it into a column without talking in depth to anyone but the mother. It has nothing to do with bullying, nothing was intentional and I hear that the child enjoyed the attention,in fact it was the parents who had a problem with the Principal. The mother told Don Kazak what was said on the loudspeaker, he's relied on her word for everything, he's so out of touch. People are so quick to judge without knowing that facts, which Don Kazak didn't give. Is that the answer you people out there have to everything, he or she should be fired? Get a life.

Posted by concerned dad's wife
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 9:46 am

It's clear that the principal and the Stanford students did something unacceptable. I know this because the 2nd grader was crying. That's all the evidence I need. Why? Because we teach our kids that a joke is not a joke unless everyone is laughing. And in this case, that 8 year old was not laughing. What else do we teach our children? We teach them that even if they did not mean to offend, it is their responsibility to apologize. Graciously. Effectively. Immediately. And we don't blame the other child for "not being able to take a joke".

This incident highlights how society can be made to accept bullying, particularly if adults condone it in the guise of "fun". I'm apalled that no one stepped forward that day (except the child's older brother who apparently was the only one on that campus to understand that his brother was being publically abused) to stop the principal and stanford athletes from holding a little boy upside down over a trash can (aren't there very clear rules about physical contact that were violated here?).

It really doesn't matter what the boy wore, or if he chose it on purpose that day. He should be able to wear a T-shirt without fear of reprisal from the grown-ups responsible for keeping him safe.

That school officials did not immediately call a school assembly to address this issue and apologize to the child, his family, and the entire student body, is reprehensible. If I had been the parent of a child at that school, I would be furious that my child had witnessed the public abuse and humiliation of another child at the hands of his principal.

Shame on them.

Posted by Get A Life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 10:01 am

I'm sorry, we're you there? You know all these reactions because you were there? If so, that differs from what others have witnessed, including staff and parents. Just curious.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 10:28 am

Get a Life,

Maybe it was intended as a benign situation, but whatever lead to a 2nd grader being dangled by the feet over a trash can is the reason this is news. Your comment

"I hear that the child enjoyed the attention" is another reason this is news.

Sounds like you weren't there if you only heard about this.

As long as a 2nd grader was singled out, to be dangled over a trash can, by an adult, with adults yahooing, no matter what the yahooing was about, it's newsworthy.

and thanks, I have a life

Posted by AAE
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2008 at 11:13 am

hilarious. the kid will have a good story to tell his grandchildren.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Get a Life writes "I hear the child enjoyed the attention" as if THAT were a fact and negates this reported story and legitimizes anything this principal did!
Are you also saying the parents pulled their two sons out of that elementary for some other reason?
To me the reported story adds up.
Look, you weren't there and I wasn't there either, but I have been saddened at this reported story and if someone can accurately contradict it, fine, but there appears to be quite a bit of corroboration that the principal mistreated a young child and to write that the child "appeared to enjoy it" is an attack in itself.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Although I was hesitant to read this, I have read every posting about this event. I was there at the entire event and comments are needed. I had no idea this was an issue until reading the Our Town column on Friday. First, if you were not present, as Mr. Kazak was not, it is irresponsible to report as he did in his column without interviewing anyone who was there. Talking only to the mother (who was not present) and Mr. Skelly (who apologized, which tells us nothing about the event) is not enough to obtain the facts. Although I remember this event I have spoken to over 20 parents, numerous kids and some teachers before writing this. Unlike Mr. Kazak, I was there and did my research.

I have always believed that I am sensitive to kids and would never stand by and let a child be humiliated or degraded. This situation was not that. There is always a lot of STanford enthusiasm at track and field day, since STanford student athletes come as our guests. And as another writer mentioned, the focus is actually on how important it is to read and study to go on with school, and it is always wonderful to have our kids hear how important education is, even from star athletes. When the football player picked up the child, the child was laughing and seemed to be enjoying it. There was no feeling of wanting to humiliate him by the player. I did not witness a child try to get up and come to his rescue, and no one I spoke with recalled this either. Perhaps we missed it, but it was not evident. But I can definitely say that there was no apparent intimidation, degradation, humiliation or negativism with this event that anyone I spoke with felt.

I would never think to question the mother or her child. As someone said earlier perhaps he became upset later, but he was clearly NOT upset at the time and seemed to enjoy the event. Perhaps he was very upset at the moment inside and was hiding it, but we could not have known this. I think everyone realizes now that it would have been better for the football player not to have done this, but he was clearly well meaning. It is a good lesson that in hindsight kids can have a change of heart or feeling, and that needs to be respected and anticipated. And that kidding around of that sort should not be done. We get it.

Many parents, teachers and the entire student body were there that day. Children have reported to me that it was "done in a good way" that "the boy was laughing" and that they wished they had been picked, because it looked fun. Perhaps these are the perspectives that are most meaningful. I resent that we have been painted with a broad and inaccurate stroke that we were insensitive to the needs of this child. This is a wonderful, supportive and caring school community. The parent's friend that reported this to her did not intervene either, which makes me question whether he/she even saw a problem at the time.

In terms of the apology given at school, I was not there nor was Mr. Kazak or the many parents commenting on it. But I did speak to someone who was there that day and he believed that the apology was sincere and without sarcasm or condemnation. Someone made a good point that perhaps to raise this issue again through the apology was only going to make the situation worse. But the intentions from Mr. Prehn I believe were sincere and it was apparently delivered that way.

I agree that this was not bullying and inappropriate to link it to that discussion. If anything it was a poor judgement in hindsight. With my own child there was a long discussion about how after the fact, it may have been scary or felt "bad" to the boy, and try to understand how that might happen. It is a good lesson to learn. But we also discussed the failure to get the facts before writing a one sided story. I am very sorry that this traumatized the family, but perhaps moving on from the incident would also do them good as well. I wish them the best. Apologies have been made but the incident has been misrepresented by irresponsible reporting. Next time Mr. Kazak should get the facts, before accusing a good principal and school community so recklessly. And parents who were not there need to take a breath and quit assuming the worst,when you don't have the full story.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Y'know, as the facts stand, the basics what we outsiders DO know, about dangling a child over a trash can does NOT look good. It is an ugly story in my opinion and that is just based on the bare facts not the child's supposed/reported reaction. This behavior of the principal and Stanford students does NOT belong in the esteemed Palo Alto public schools.

Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 24, 2008 at 2:03 pm

The principal Gary Prehn should be replaced. What he did to the young kid is unacceptable. I don't think any child is safe in Escondido. I would never want to have my child in that school.

I hope the PAUSD superintendent realizes this is a serious matter and that he needs to replace Prehn soon... and also make sure that the next principal is not another bully.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 2:18 pm

Parent, Escondido Community,

Thanks for clarifying. I think most of us could have easily been in the Principal's shoes, and as I posted above, I probably would not have done anything as a bystander either.

But I also see myself in the parent's shoes, and I would have been really upset. Especially if I had something else against the principal, yeah, it would have taken it over the top.

The best outcome of this story is what you said,

"With my own child there was a long discussion about how after the fact, it may have been scary or felt "bad" to the boy, and try to understand how that might happen. It is a good lesson to learn."

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I want to add that the feeling of being singled out and attacked because you are from a Conservative family in PAUSD, also hurts kids.

I was shocked to hear from the mom with kids at Paly for continuously for 13 years, how

"Students jeer at them (COnservative students) in class and tear at them with sneering vitriolic rants"

I think next election I'm going to start a thread that will make these cases famous.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 3:02 pm

We used to have students at Paly. They are not at issue in this discussion but in our experience, from what I observed, it is totally liberal politically at paly(I am a middle of the road moderate, myself).
I know there have been a handful of conservative students from time to time (over the four years we were there) because a few have actually expressed their views, when interviewed in the student newspaper for example, but it has been VERY challenging for them to exist in such an environment.
Certain students of a certain religion were very brave to stay true to their religious beliefs and not be intimidated by a certain group on campus, who certainly tried their best. It was something to behold. At one time at least there was strong pressure that one MUST join this certain group that has beliefs that some do not share.

Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 24, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Try letting your 8 year old son wear a t-shirt to school with a positive image of Sarah Palin. He will have a lot more to worry about than being the focus of a big game joke.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 3:20 pm


I know the feeling, speak in code so you don't get beat up because you may have any Conservative leaning beliefs. But, what is that group that made kids feel they MUST join?

By the way, it's not just the students of course, it's also the teachers that make the Conservative kids feel bad about their views, some worst than others.

This is the mystery of PAUSD, everyone can be so nice, but not if you dare express opposing political beliefs.

Posted by Aerin
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 24, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Bulling, hazing, or whatever word you use to describe the situation, keep this in mind:

The principal allowed a complete stranger to touch the boy. It doesn't matter if that person was from Stanford or Cal. The principal should have had enough sense to know that he's responsible for them.

That in itself is completely unacceptable. Can any parent here make excuses for this man's judgment if YOUR child was touched/handled by a third-party, no matter how "innocent" or "in jest" it was?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm


A child wearing an opposing political party t-shirt in PAUSD would simply be toast.

Posted by Gary
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 24, 2008 at 4:02 pm

If the 8 year old boy was to stand up in his home room class, before the teacher starts teaching, and says, "I want to say the Pledge of Allegiance", he will get humiliaed by the teacher, other students, the principal and the school board. Yet, all he would be trying to do is to comply with the California Education Code, which requires this.

Why is that?

Posted by Don Kazak
Palo Alto Weekly columnist
on Nov 24, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Don Kazak is a registered user.

I want to respond to some of the comments made by readers, and correct what may be some misunderstandings. I did talk to Kevin Skelly at length, both on background and on-the-record, to confirm the main details of what happened. I also learned that the district had apologized to the family. Finally, I did put a call into Gary Prehn, which wasn't returned. As several readers noted, the boy was not upset at first, but he was later. And as Skelly said, quite clearly, a mistake had been made.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm


Not sure why. But I would not allow my 8 year old to engage in a pledge of allegiance battle.

Influencing others from the bully pulpit, one of the Bush administration's traits is what many have revolted against. I agree with that, and it's tough enough when it's between adults, but with kids?

PAUSD should be extra sensitive during election season, or in any class related political discussion. It's a fact, there is a minority of Conservatives, and these students should expect nothing but civility. Unfortunately, that is not the case yet.

Posted by former Escondido Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Another bad story about Prehn, He is a former PE teacher who is not equipt to be principal. During my 8 years as a parent at Escondido
I saw:

not reading or responding to the parent feedback
Poor leadership
Bad choices in hiring new teachers (never experienced ones, just the prettiest, just out of their credential programs)
Not willing to observe or mentor new teachers in their classroom

This should be Prehn's last straw. Skelly: Pay attention!

Posted by Susan
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm


"As several readers noted, the boy was not upset at first, but he was later"

How do you know that? Did you talk, directly, to the boy, without his parent(s) present? Or did you interview other students?

If your statement is true, when did the boy decide to become upset? After his mother convinced him to be upset?

Don, have you considered how upset this boy is compelled to be, once you dug up this story from the past? With a mother like that, what chance does he have?

Do you have any deep concerns about your own role in this issue?

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2008 at 5:52 pm

There is a great deal of supposition here. For Susan's comment, who knows the minds of a child? Maybe what got the child upset was that he continued to be teased about his shirt - kids will be kids and they had been shown by their elders that it is OK to tease someone and they probably continued later in the day. As I said, who knows?

The point is, with children things escalate very quickly. A good teacher should never allow a child to be singled out for ridicule. Even if it is done in "the right spirit", even if the child appears to be having fun at the time. Kids learn from their role models and the behavior at this field day was not the type of behavior that should have been shown to the kids, because they copy it.

Whether the child is wearing a Cal shirt, an As shirt, a Lakers shirt, a political shirt, or a religious shirt, that child should have been shown respect. There seems to have been very little respect shown and if the teachers and so called invited role models are showing behavior like this, then they are not doing what we expect of them.

How about if the kids started copying this? How about if a 5th grader came up to the 2nd grader later in the day and carried him to the trash can? Would that have been acceptable? No, of course not. But, to the 5th grader he would have been copying behavior shown to him earlier that day which was supposedly acceptable. His defence would have been that he thought it was OK because he had seen it happen earlier in the day. How would he have been punished in this, I wonder.

No, teachers should not do things in front of the kids that they wouldn't want the kids copying. A bad lesson was taught this day.

Posted by The RIght Thing
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

It is unbelievable that some people on this forum have blamed the mother for the inexcusable actions taken by the principal and the Stanford players that day. This was a track and field day at an elementary school not a Stanford big game rally with college students teasing each other. This was an eight year old child being handled inappropriately in front of all his peers for wearing a t-shirt that he proudly bought with his own money. I wonder if he is afraid to wear that shirt now knowing the potential consequences. The fact that the older brother tried to save his younger brother from this physical and mental harassment shows me that this mother and father have taught their children that this behavior is wrong and protect those who are in the position of being harassed. Bravo to the parents of these two young boys. Shame on the school district for not taking decisive action to prevent this from happening again.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 9:20 pm

Parent, you asked a question about what group I was referring to. We are not longer affiliated with Paly. My recollection of the timing was about 3 yrs ago and the student group has a 'G' in the name. Maybe you can figure it out from that clue. The situation was during club sign-ups I was directly told by youth that they were confronted face to face and virtually made to feel they must sign up for this group. Mine didn't but certainly noticed the intimidation. This is a group that had a lot of publicity a few years ago - not sure how much they are featured currently-
Like I said, I am a moderate but I am sensitive to the individuality we all (should) have and the right to feel comfortable with our own beliefs, but believe me, certain ones appeared to be endorsed at the time

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 24, 2008 at 9:21 pm

Parent, BTW I DO know the name of the group but am not clearly naming them because they do involve kids so I'll let you figure it out

Posted by Not bullying
a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2008 at 11:12 pm

I've read all of the comments and my child witnessed the incident. It just wasn't that big of a deal. The principal appears to have been joking as one might do with someone close to him, however the move was too risky in retrospect, based on the reaction of the mom. The incident happened, it resulted in humiliation, not completely shared humor, but the apologies are more than enough, and for some of us, the reaction is just too much. Demonstrate that which you want to see in others, not that which you condemn.

Posted by but seriously
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 26, 2008 at 7:28 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Helicopter parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 26, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Lifting a boy into or around a trash can sounds pretty dumb, but I'd ask for a little perspective from the parents who want blood, either literally or figuratively. I haven't seen this much traffic in the forums in much more serious cases in Palo Alto, such as various molestations a few years back.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 5:30 pm

While most are appalled by the story, I think only a handful are seeking "blood"

I certainly don't want blood, an isolated event like that, a fluke even, no reason to fire or go after anyone. What bothers me though is when some of you that were there, say it was no big deal. Obviously, if it was not a big deal then, it became a big deal, and that is the point....reactions or actions involving children and parents, that are less than thoughtful can and will result in potential big deals.

So, next time a child or teacher starts to single out a child with a minority opinion or position, in any way that could offend him/her (now or later), or his/her parents, think about what a big deal it can become. And if a child is laughing and "enjoying" it, think again, and then think again some more.

Where is the connection of this story to to bullying? I don't think that Mr. Prehn is a bully, it's just that the act of having fun at the expense of others is what bullies are known for.

Late night comedy may be a place for fun at the expense of others, but in school, it should be out of bounds particularly if it is related to religion, political beliefs or something kids actually have no control over because it's part of their family make up.

Posted by concerned dad's wife
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 26, 2008 at 6:44 pm

The connection to bullying is that when children witness their principal and other adults setting the example that it's ok to single out a child, and laugh at him while dangling him upside down over a trash can, while making fun of him, his ideas, or his beliefs, then it becomes acceptable for others to do so.

I would suppose that all day long, that child was repeatedly teased, humiliated, and bullied by the children in his school. Because they had seen their principal and the "esteemed" Stanford athletes do it. It may be one reason why the child initially "did not appear upset" but was crying at the end of the day.

The principal and the athletes set a bad example. That's the connection.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 8:03 pm

To those that say the reaction to this story is "too much" it's because bullying is a big topic in schools, and this story is symbolic of the issues surrounding bullying.

Kids don't learn to bully or not to bully by osmosis, they get it from examples. Examples from their parents especially, and other adults of course. The headline was not "Child embarrassed in school assembly", it was "Setting the Wrong Example".

At least, what I take away is the topic of Example, the actual story is just a prop.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2008 at 8:15 pm

It is unfortunate this story involves real people and by saying it's a prop to the bigger topic, it could be objectionable, but unfortunately bullying is usually under cover, and only the victim knows how it feels. Experiencing bullying is something usually only the parents and the child wrestle alone with. So, if one real story can help others, maybe something good can come of it.

Posted by Helicopter parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 27, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I am still not buying the bad example argument. The boy was embarrassed, and that was wrong, but it won't be the last time that he will have to navigate his way around bothersome adults or children. That moment of embarrassment should have been the end of it, but the mother's relentless pursuit of what she may or may not see as justice is far more damaging than the original incident. Amazingly, she is still bringing it up in November. At what point does one move on and grow from this experience? Posters that call for termination, reprimands, etc. are out of line. The ones that lifted him up over the trash can may or may not have thought that they were bonding with him with good-natured ribbing--which still exists innocently is some place and within some relationships--but because the boy was embarrassed by the incident, the adults do indeed have to take the blame. However, this is not a case of child abuse, not a case of bullying, it was just a moment of levity that illustrated some poor judgment. If you really want to help the kid, give him a hug and tell him what a great kid he is for standing up for Cal and then teach him the virtue of resiliency, which will serve him well for the rest of his life.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 27, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Helicopter parent has a point...for one who clearly has not been the victim of an egregious case of bullying like this! Yes, we have all been bullied or harrassed at some point in our young and not so young lives, that IS reality. This case seems a bit more than basic life experience, though. I don't think this happens every day of the week.
I am a complete outsider to this school in question, yet the news story really struck a chord with me that this was a distinctive case of bullying and then mocking the young victim.
The fact that Stanford athletes are involved and maybe "...thought that they were bonding with him (the young boy) with good-natured ribbing..." per Helicopter parent, that is... is really off base to me. I guess there are all types. This sure would never appeal to me as a "bonding" method with children. There was a total power in-balance between Stanford athletes and a little boy and between the principal (grown man/authority figure/ leader of entire school) and the little boy, and the fact this was in public apparently before a large crowd. This incident has given me a poor image of Stanford athletes; I would have thought they would be instructed to behave politely when they are off campus "representing" Stanford Athletics associating with elementary school aged children. One would hope they - great Stanford students after all - would know enough to behave decently in the first place when they were visiting at that school.

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2008 at 6:53 pm

In response to the last two posters, I agree that if the child in question is still being reminded of this incident then that would be wrong of the parents. Hopefully for a 2nd grader, probably now a 3rd grader, the incident is now in the past and he is not aware of this discussion taking place.

But to say that this bad example is not more than a bad experience for him to learn from is only half the story. There were presumably 300 - 500 children who witnessed this. Every one of those kids were shown a bad example. Every one of those kids saw adults behaving in a way in which they should not have behaved, and saw them seemingly get away with it. They saw behavior which if they copied, would not be acceptable. They saw behavior which they may or may not have understood in context. They saw behavior which was a bad example for them. This is not just a story about one child having something done to him which may or may not have upset him at the time and may or may not have lead to more teasing from classmates later in the day which could have been the cause of his being upset when he got home. This is also a story of a whole school being witnesses to something that if it happens in college or adult life, is far removed from what they should be doing to each other.

Perhaps another child will come to school one day wearing the "wrong t shirt" and when the playground teasing starts at lunch time who is to say when one bigger kid gets the idea of lifting this poor child upside down over a trash can, and perhaps even worse. What this school has been shown is that it is fun and ok to tease someone and that is the bigger problem.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2008 at 10:17 am

ditto anonyomous and parent without handles

Helicopter parent,

If you don't buy the example thing, and you think it's the mom's fault, think about the following.

This is not your kid. If I were the mom, I'd tell you, I don't' care what you think, I 'll do whatever I think I need to do for my family. If you mess with a child in school, you are messing with their parents, and parents will not act according to what you, or the community may want. I doubt this was done to become popular or well liked.

You can judge the child and parents all you want, and accuse the posters here of wanting blood, only two or three asked for more consequences for the principal. I happen to think an apology is enough, but I don't fault the parents.

Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 28, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I was at school the day this happened. It all appeared like good fun to me, and as I remember, the boy was laughing. And I never saw his brother or anyone else try to intervene let alone be stopped by Gary Prehn. Give me a break. Do any of you actually think that Gary Prehn or any adult for that matter would block someone from intervening? The whole premise is BS. It makes it sound like Gary Prehn was running blocker for some gang of hoodlums as they beat someone down. Ridiculous.

Furthermore, I know the mother [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] When I pressed her on why she did not like him, she only would say that he seemed insincere. I have two children in the school and I can tell you Gary Prehn is not insincere about his job. In fact, he is passionate, hard working & deeply committed.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I can't believe there was not more follow up on this story before it went to print.


A truly grateful mom who has her children at Escondido School.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2008 at 2:50 pm

it all sounds sad, especially the fantasy of holding a vote to block the angry mom from returning.

Since I'm not from the Escondido community, maybe it sounds cold to analyze what happened, based on the story. Maybe this should have remained quiet.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2008 at 6:05 pm

thank you PA staff for removing the really ugly comment from "grateful mom"

talk about setting a bad example, it's completely clear, bullying starts with adults.

Posted by Realistic Pop
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I always miss the comments that get removed, regardless, I agree with those who see this as an innocent event gone awry. At the very least, this is hardly worthy of a newspaper, especially in light that it happened nearly half a year ago. The mother clearly is the one who is hurt by this and it is reasonable to conclude that she is going to get her payback. And the last poster is spot on about bullying amongst the Palo Alto adults. You are the biggest bullies around, judging by this forum. Heck, that last sentence of mine could be construed as bullying.

Posted by Thoughts
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 28, 2008 at 8:55 pm

"Posted by Realistic Pop, a resident of another community, 1 hour ago

I always miss the comments that get removed, regardless, I agree with those who see this as an innocent event gone awry. At the very least, this is hardly worthy of a newspaper, especially in light that it happened nearly half a year ago. The mother clearly is the one who is hurt by this and it is reasonable to conclude that she is going to get her payback. And the last poster is spot on about bullying amongst the Palo Alto adults. You are the biggest bullies around, judging by this forum. Heck, that last sentence of mine could be construed as bullying."

Well said. The phrase "Palo Alto Parents" didn't come out of nowhere... This poor reputation has been well earned.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2008 at 1:23 am

Hmmm, at this point, I think there's a bit of a school-pride thing going on. No matter how you slice it, a kid getting dangled over a garbage can by strangers was inappropriate and the principal didn't intervene and may have even encouraged it.

I think it's cut and dried enough that I don't understand the vehemence of the attacks on the mother. Yes, she didn't like it, but she also didn't sue the district--and don't fool yourselves that is a real possibility. From what I can see, the mother did nothing to encourage the original incident, so blaming her for her reaction is out of line.

If you want to defend Prehn, defend Prehn, but quit attacking the victim's mom. It gives an outsider like me a negative impression of the school.

Posted by Realistic Pop
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2008 at 8:28 am

So if I toss my kid in the air and catch him, then I am bullying or abusing my child? In my view, of course not, but in the views of some of the posters, some may see that. If I toss your kid in the air and catch him, though, it may be bullying or abuse, according to some of the posters. At that point, you have to call the police on me because I didn't have explicit permission to do so. As for attacking the mother, I don't see the attacks. Everyone's actions are open to questions and she shouldn't have immunity. Indeed, her actions are question in my view. I know all of you posters will respect my view just as I respect yours. I couldn't care less about the principal. What I worry about is how we prepare our youth for life's obstacles and challenges.

Posted by concerned dad's wife
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2008 at 9:29 am

Realistic Pop,

actually yeah, if you pick up my child without my permission your actions are questionable, whether you toss him in the air or not. Particularly if you are on school grounds, where school officials have a duty to protect all children.

And if there was harm done to my child, your actions may be prosecuted, even if there was no original intent to harm.

Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2008 at 9:33 am

Realistic Pop

If you toss your child in the air and catch him, that is father/child interaction with a possessive quality. If you subsequently toss your child's friends who witnessed this in the same manner, it is just including them in the game. If, on the other hand, you single out one of the group of friends because he is wearing a shirt you do not like, or some other reason, and toss this child as the only child tossed in the air because of the shirt he is wearing or whatever criteria you chose, then indeed you are teasing that child. What you are indirectly saying by this act is "I don't like your shirt/views/personality and I am singling you out to ridicule you in this harmless fashion". Your own child and friends who witness this act then look on you as the responsible adult in charge as having condoned this type of behavior and are likely to continue the teasing after you get back to what you were doing and perhaps this child which you tossed then starts feeling no longer special but now victimized.

As far as I can see, it is not the mother who is publicizing this event, but the reporter had this brought to his attention and has been in touch with the mother as part of his research. I have no idea if he attempted to get in touch with the principal or if the principal was willing to talk to the reporter. So, I let that part of the incident go without challenge.

So, what upsets me most about this incident, is the lesson that has been taught to every one of the children who witnessed it. If I had a child in this school, I would have been very upset at the fact that they had been shown that it is quite alright for guests to the school, who appear as role models and responsible adults, to single out a child for ridicule, whether in good humor or not, as being something of entertainment for the whole school body. I know my children, I know that if they see this type of thing happening, they will make a judgement of seeing it as funny to then go and do the same themselves - monkey see, monkey do. 2nd graders are easily influenced, so are all elementary aged kids. If my second grader witnessed this then came home and did the same to his neighbors which knowing how kids copy the actions of others, I would stop this happening. I would question this and find out why my child thought it fun to tease his neighbor. If my child told me it was because it had happened in school so it must be OK, I would have been shocked and looked into the matter further to verify his account of what happened at school. If I then discovered that indeed it had happened as described, I would be at a loss to know what to do next.

I can't get across more the concern I have that this bad behavior was a bad lesson to be taught to the whole of the school.

Posted by Escondido Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2008 at 10:55 am

This thread seems ripe for a close. Nothing but restatements of restatements at this point.

I do not think that any adult, especially in hindsight, thinks that this was a wise move to allow to happen. What angers those that see Gary Prehn everyday is the seemingly knee-jerk reaction of some posters (not all and not even all that read the article) to have him removed because of this one incident that at the time, seemed pretty benign to everyone, kids included, that I have spoken to or heard from. My own kids did not even remember it happening. He apologized. Lets get over it.

I do not think we are giving our kids enough credit here for being able to discern the difference between good and bad and right and wrong. Our kids do feel safe at school, feel safe amongst their teachers and feel safe with Gary Prehn. If this had happened on the street, away from school, our kids would have reacted differently as expected. Some would have fled, some would have called for help and some would have probably intervened. And they would have remembered it a year later. The fact no one did anything but laugh along with the child in question and then promptly forgot it ever happened should tell you alot about the reality of the "incident".

If your not sure what your child learned from what happened this day, talk to them. Ask them what they feel about what they saw. Let them know what you think was OK and what was over the line.

Although we adults crave for it, the world is not black and white. It is filled with gray. Our kids need to learn how to navigate it. When you talk to them, be prepared to give them some credit - many of them already do.

Posted by Realistic Pop
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Children are not monkeys. Many of them are quite capable of seeing humor--even ill-conceived attempts at humor--and then making their own judgments. My kid saw it and thought nothing of it. However, he has often told me about treatment he has received from adults and parents at school, but it is usually covert behavior as in poor attitude and a general sense of not being welcomed. I'll move on to the next Palo Alto "emergency" situation: parents serving alcohol to minors at a party, a police chief articulating offensively, or a new speed bump. In that respect, Palo Alto is (was for me) a nice place to live.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Escondido Dad,

"What angers those that see Gary Prehn everyday is the seemingly knee-jerk reaction of some posters (not all and not even all that read the article) to have him removed because of this one incident that at the time"

Please count how many posters have asked for his removal, maybe three or four? and that was a long time ago. The only ones repeating the issue of removal are you and realistic pop and grateful mom and so forth. As much as you'd like to make it about a witch hunt against Mr. Prehn, if you read carefully, it's not.

Posted by old time Escondido mom
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 29, 2008 at 5:34 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2008 at 6:11 pm

old time Escondido mom,

I think this thread has mostly been about the topic of bad examples, not about going after your Principal,

funny you pop up in witch hunt mode right after the post perceiving this thread to be about the topic of bad examples, not about personal grievances.

do we have a troll?

Posted by Ken
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2008 at 11:15 am

Ken is a registered user.

I wonder if the (unnamed) Stanford football player faced any discipline. Yes, college-aged people exercise poor judgment from time to time, but if I were a coach, that is not how I would want a member of my team representing the university.

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