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School board set to vote on challenging OCR

Original post made on Jun 14, 2014

The Palo Alto school board will vote Tuesday on a resolution sharply criticizing the federal Office for Civil Rights for its handling of investigations of the district.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, June 14, 2014, 8:07 AM

Comments (24)

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Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 8:10 am

Thank you Weekly for publishing Lobdell's work where it belongs. This is an important story that deserves public scrutiny.

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Posted by Easy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 8:42 am

The Weekly should thank Kevin Skelly, Charles Young, Barb Mitchell, and others for continuing to make this too easy.

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Posted by Issue #5
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm


The focus of this analysis appears to be centered on Terman.

I would think the resolution also has implications on open OCR investigations, namely Gunn and Paly for sexual harassment.

Or not?

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Posted by Josef Stalin
a resident of another community
on Jun 14, 2014 at 4:25 pm

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) asked PAUSD to seek parents consent to have their children interviewed. However, it appears that it was only after parental consent was granted and the children were in the interview room without their parents that OCR first made the children aware of "The witness's right to personal representation during the interview by a person of their choice."

Why didn't either OCR or PAUSD inform the parents at the time they were being asked for their consent that their children could have a personal representative of their choice present during the interview?

Since there is some evidence that PAUSD seems to have problems with understanding the rules and regulations, why didn't OCR inform PAUSD about the ability of children to have a personal representative of their choice present during the interview so that PAUSD could inform the parents of that fact when they were seeking parental consent?

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Posted by the truth
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 14, 2014 at 5:05 pm

The Palo Alto Weekly has turned into nothing more than tabloid reading that loves to cause controversy and the sad thing is a few disgruntled folks in Palo Alto have bought into Weekly scab newspaper! Overwhelming majority of people in Palo Alto are very happy with PAUSD and that is a fact.

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Posted by Barton Gump
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 14, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Stalin, I think you are talking about representation for people who are the subject of investigations, not for witnesses.
Truth, I like Palo Alto schools and I think our current board and some bureaucrats are not very good. Those are not inconsistent.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2014 at 7:03 pm

@the truth/adobe meadows - I'm agree that the majority are content with PAUSD; but that's not the issue here. For a district the size of PAUSD there are going to some issues, like bullying that affect a small number; the issue is that the PAUSD administration didn't deal with the issues, and covered it up, and the Board of Trustees, who is suppose to provide oversight of the administration has not taken corrective action. And instead of admitting that they mishandled the situation, the Board of Trustees are saying the Federal Government is the issue.

We are being poorly served by a Board of Trustees who has not performed their oversight function. That's the story here, and it's one that a newspaper should report on in a democracy.

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Posted by Focused Goal Report
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 14, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Annual Focused Goal #10, Initiative, E1: Engender trust with the community through communication

Has this been achieved?

Web Link
2014 Annual Focused Goals, End of Year Report, Kevin Skelly, Ph.D., Charles Young, Ed.D., June 17, 2014

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 14, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Thank you Weekly for this incredibly thorough and thoughtful analysis, we are lucky to have such excellent journalism in our town. This lays out the issues in a clear and cogent matter, which is very helpful to review, as it appears that school board has really lost its way on this one and is not acting as a group of rational decision makers. It seems like an emotional issue to them at this point, and it's a shame and embarrassment that they have lost sight of their role as fiduciaries for all of our children and their civil rights.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 15, 2014 at 5:59 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Thanks for a well researched and well written summariIzation of this matter. Hopefully this will serve to more fully informed the discussion prior to the board's action on the proposed resolution.

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Posted by village fool
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2014 at 6:59 am

I second (and third) the compliments above.
While I do have many questions, I'll just express now my wish and hope that the Terman case family has all the support and help that may be needed.
I hope that the OCR backs up families who seek and find some help.

I want to think that the latest does not support my previous observations that a PAUSD family can ether go the "private lawyer" way, or no way.

I want to thank, again, the family who came forward with the info about the first OCR agreement. I want to think that your courageous act was not wasted.

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Posted by Josef Stalin
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Barton Gump,

In my comment above I am not "talking about representation for people who are the subject of investigations, not for witnesses", I am quoting from the article's citation of the OCR Case Processing Manual that is clearly and concisely referring to representation for people who are witnesses.

The article itself discusses why interviewing such witnesses is importatnt. I am raising the issue of when in the process OCR first informs witnesses they are entitled to representation.

It appears that OCR first informs witnesses of that fact only after their parents have given consent for the interviews and at a time when the parents are not present.

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Posted by Ponder
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 15, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Some points to ponder:

Seems to me the process of interviewing students in groups is fraught. People, especially young people, tend to want to fit into the group and so agree with, and sometimes try to outdo, someone who says there is a problem.

In addition, people also want to appear to be in the know, whether they actually witnessed infractions or just heard third or fourth hand, remember the game of Telephone, and chime in without a real basis for what they say.

I also wonder whether OCR investigators asked leading questions or the more neutral open-ended questions.

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Posted by Issue #5
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2014 at 5:17 pm

"Teens especially can be knowledgeable, articulate, insightful witnesses, if provided a confidential, nonjudgmental adult ear"

This statement is odd in the context of any investigation.

A "witness" is contributing information which could get them or someone else in trouble. How would the ear be nonjudgmental?

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Posted by Terri Lobdell
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 16, 2014 at 10:46 am

In response to the question from “Issue #5” about whether a student "witness" is contributing information that could get the student or someone else in trouble:

With student interviews, OCR’s purpose in gathering information is not to render judgment (or impose discipline) against students, but instead to gather information to help determine whether or not the school responded promptly, appropriately and effectively to reports of bullying or harassment based on “protected” status (race, disability, sexual orientation, etc.); this is the issue the OCR focuses on.

OCR keeps students’ identifying information confidential, as described in the standard notice it sends out to parents. In the Terman case, this OCR notice was attached to Katherine Baker's cover letter sent to parents in October 2011. The OCR notice stated:

"OCR is gathering information at (Terman) to ensure that the (district) is operating its programs without discrimination on the basis of disability. We will be speaking with administrators, teachers and students to gather information.

"By sharing their experiences at the school, students can help ensure equal opportunity for all students....OCR will protect the confidentiality of all student interviews and will not disclose personally identifying information about your child to the district or anyone else. This is an important part of our review, and we hope that you will allow your son or daughter to participate....If you do not want your child to participate in group interviews with OCR staff, please sign and return the form below to the main office....”

In the Terman case, according to OCR’s findings, student witnesses provided the OCR investigator with specifics about how the disabled student was bullied, and also that many students were involved in the bullying. This is information the students apparently had not provided previously to school officials. Several students told the OCR attorney that they had never said anything to school staff about the student being bullied because they were worried about being accused of being a snitch.

It’s hard to know for certain why the students interviewed decided to tell the OCR investigator these facts, but it could well be related to OCR’s offer of confidentiality and lack of interest in assigning fault or punishment to students.

In gathering information to evaluate a school’s response, OCR’s stated goal is to work collaboratively with the district to resolve any issues it identifies as problematic. This approach was described in a Weekly June 2013 story (see: Web Link) as follows:

“According to Office for Civil Rights documents: ‘The potential for benefit of any investigation, be it complaint-driven or proactive, lies in the resolution. To generate the maximum sustained impact in each case, OCR collaborates with the institution ... to identify policies and procedures that need to be revised and training and orientation programs that need to be provided and to take whatever additional steps are necessary to identify and address the source of discrimination and empower and support the entire school ... community to eradicate it.’”

In response to Josef Stalin’s question above: “Why didn't either OCR or PAUSD inform the parents at the time they were being asked for their consent that their children could have a personal representative of their choice present during the interview?”

The answer to this is difficult to ascertain. One reason is that it's not clear from OCR’s manual whether this particular notice is required regarding interviews with minors (or applies only to interviews of adults). The rules about interviewing minors are different from those for adults, and are addressed in a separate section in the OCR's manual, as follows:

“Interviews with Minors (Persons Under 18) or Legally Incompetent Individuals

“OCR shall obtain written consent from a parent or guardian prior to interviewing any person under 18 years of age or otherwise adjudicated legally incompetent, for example, mentally impaired. Parental or legal guardian consent may not be required for persons under 18 if they are emancipated under state law and are therefore considered to have obtained majority. For persons under 18 who state they are emancipated, OCR should obtain proof of emancipation. Parental or legal guardian consent (or proof of emancipation) may not be necessary when the questions asked are of a general nature, not related to any specific events in which the minor was involved, and there are no records kept to identify the student. If a recipient refuses to allow minor students to be interviewed without consent even in the above circumstance, written consent must be obtained. If parents or guardians refuse to provide consent for an interview, and OCR determines that the child's information is critical, OCR may attempt to secure parental or guardian consent by inviting the parent or guardian to be present during the interview. If consent is denied, OCR will not interview the child.”

Based on this section, if a parent consents, it appears that OCR is permitted to interview the child. If parents/guardians refuse consent, the student is not interviewed. However, if “OCR determines that the child’s information is critical,” OCR may try to obtain consent by “inviting the parent or guardian to be present during the interview.” This doesn’t seem to contemplate an open invitation for parents (or other personal representatives) to be present at student interviews. If a parent were invited but still denies consent, under these rules OCR would not conduct the interview of that child.

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Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 16, 2014 at 11:19 am

Like players in an updated Gilbert & Sullivan production, this board has shown ludicrous governance with disregard for the bottom financial line, and that's not even including this fight with the OCR. There's not room here to list all of their misdeeds and examples of poor judgement.

Suffice it to say that I will not be voting for ANY of the present board members when they run for re-election.

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Posted by Former PAUSD parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 16, 2014 at 11:55 am

As a parent of former PAUSD students I applaud the careful and courageous reporting by Terri Lobdell. I too will not vote for a single one of the current School Board members. The arrogance shown by PAUSD's response to the OCR investigation, and now by the Board, is telling. It was that arrogance that led to the problems in the first place. The kind of arrogance that says we don't need to follow the rules, we know what's best no matter what the law is.

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Posted by Spending Priorities
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2014 at 2:29 pm

@ Concerned Retiree - Board of Education priorities seem to be skewed. Board of Education member Emberling says she supports the Resolution to benefit other Districts. PAUSD taxpayers are paying for this Resolution and the legal work. The Board is not elected to benefit other Districts at PAUSD taxpayer expense. She refers to her work with parents of 3 year olds at a local non profit. Isn't that a conflict, since she is in a position to refer families to PAUSD for evaluation for eligibility for Special Education at age 3, or to dispute PAUSD findings that children are not eligible.
Another Board Member (sorry, it doesn't say her name when she is speaking) supports spending to hire a Social Worker because she really likes they will do home visits. The District says they want to hire the Social Worker because it lets them hire 4 Interns to build a program to deal with problems such as mental health and substance abuse. Interns won't build a program, interns leave. Interns should not be used to invade family homes and privacy, nor to make school problems the fault of home. Problems happening at school should be addressed at school. When a disabled children does not want to attend school because they are being bullied at school, that should be solved at school. Part of the reason the District is in such a bad situation with disabled children is the reliance on interns and on unlicensed and non-certified workers such as therapists, counselors, behaviorists. Adding social work interns to this group of poorly trained and poorly supervised workers for our most vulnerable children causes more problems than it solves.
From LCAP:
Section 3: Actions, Services, and Expenditures
Page 48-page 49
10.4 Provide services to promote student engagement and attendance (e.g. create a process or program that aims to identify "outside of school" issues that affect "in school" performance
Salary for Social Worker $100,000
Interns $30,000

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Posted by Thanks
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 16, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Thanks to Terry Lobdell for clarifying the student interview issue. Based on the concerns expressed by some posters and the statements made by school board members, I had some concerns about the interview process. Lobdell's well referenced explanation was very informative.
Frankly, I understand why we parents would not know the facts about the OCR policies and procedures, but I can't understanding why the board and superintendent would be so miss-informed.
Also, I've been reading on other threads claims that the Weekly is on some kind of vendetta against the district. Lobdell's research and reporting seems very objective, much more so than the district's. I also know that the Weekly has a long history of supporting our schools, including endorsing all of our bond measures.
I am also willing to assume that there are some claims that the district has made which probably have some merit, as is usually the case in a dispute. However, on the whole, the district seems to be trying to claim that any flaw in the process means that the core conclusions are in error. That does not appear to be the case.
I wish the district would place its focus on fixing any problems on behalf of the kids rather than spending a lot more money trying to take on the US Department of Education and waging a campaign to try to change federal civil rights law. This is not what I want my tax dollars or the focus of our district wasted on.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jun 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is how expensive not paying attention to these kinds of problems can be for a school district:

"By Matthias Gafni

Contra Costa Times

POSTED: 06/17/2014 05:48:48 PM PDT0 COMMENTS| UPDATED: 40 MIN. AGO

MORAGA -- Seeking closure for a scandal that devastated a school community, the Moraga School District has agreed to pay $14 million to two women suing them over a teacher's sex abuse, in what is apparently the nation's largest molestation settlement per student.

The hefty settlement -- two other victims received $4.65 million last year -- is the price of the district's utter failure to investigate and report allegations of biology teacher Daniel Witters' behavior to authorities in the 1990s. Newly uncovered documents show more officials knew about those allegations than has previously been disclosed, and three were secretly reprimanded while the district assured the community administrators acted appropriately."

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Posted by Thanks Weekly!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 17, 2014 at 9:06 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Apparently our school board is not alone in thinking that the OCR is not perfect:

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link

I'm pretty sure there isn't a person in this community who also doesn't think the government can do a better job.

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Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2014 at 11:00 pm

The OCR may not be perfect, but for our district to do this is the very, very dirty pot calling the kettle black (and full of red herrings).

If it wasn't for the OCR, our district personnel would to this day continue to pretend like there is no such thing as 504 procedures. They would continue to make things up on the fly when it comes to bullying related to our most vulnerable children. Many parents would continue to feel like they had no recourse in the face of behavior by local bureaucrats that is in every way far worse than anything our district complaints about the OCR, with their children's wellbeing at stake.

The time, energy, and focus would be better spent looking inward, and figuring out how to do better for our kids. Good riddance Barb Mitchell. November can't come soon enough.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of South of Midtown

on Jun 5, 2017 at 4:17 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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