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After trustee questions, school district decides not to renew contract with controversial law firm

Original post made on Jun 14, 2019

When the school board replaced a controversial law firm Lozano Smith in 2017, board members expected their former attorneys would not be receiving any new work from the district. Staff, however, continued to consult with them.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, June 14, 2019, 8:09 AM

Comments (41)

52 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 14, 2019 at 9:19 am

Sounds like Pausd staff do whatever the heck they like!! What a surprise!! Work w a law firm that couldn't follow the law and has been censured? And which the school board said not to work with anymore? Check.

Ignore what the board and community say is important and bring forward a new contract to work with that legally challenged law firm? Check.

I wonder if the district staff, so highly paid, even bother listening at board meetings, as no one is held accountable (and they get raises and promotions) if they don't follow directives anyway.

Great job school board!!


33 people like this
Posted by In The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 14, 2019 at 10:38 am

Didn't they tell them not to hire that law firm a long time ago?

What other things like that are the staff doing?


38 people like this
Posted by $550,000 Should Not Be On Consent Calendar
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 14, 2019 at 12:18 pm

$550,000 Should Not Be On Consent Calendar is a registered user.

Per Palo Alto Online above:
"Contracts for next school year with Dannis Woliver Kelley for $250,000 and with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo, which has advised the district on Title IX and special education, for $550,000, will be on the board's June 18 consent agenda. Consent items are routinely approved without discussion."

$550,000 is too high to be on the consent calendar.

Why is such a high amount being given to one firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo (AALRR) for Special Education and Title X? PAUSD now has an in house lawyer and it has an in house Title X Office with 3 staff. Don't those staffers handle most of the legal work?

The Superintendent's Board Update of 6/13/2019:
"It should be noted that the majority of these responsibilities were handled in the past by outside counsel. Thus, this in-house function has eliminated the need for most external legal costs."

There is a history of PAUSD handling this poorly. A few years back there was a controversy because the Board only took input from PAUSD Administrators about renewing the law firm (a different firm), despite the Board Policy which said the community had to be considered, The Board refused to listen to parents and the community members who reported bad experiences with the then law firm. The consequences were disastrous: excessive and silly legal cases against disabled families, OCR findings PAUSD allowed sexual harassment, abuse of students by staff, mistreatment of faculty and staff, bullying of disabled students, and an independent attorneys report PAUSD Administrators did not follow the law and altered documents. It lead to replacing the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent. That is how we got Austin as Superintendent now.

Past Palo Alto Online reporting left the impression AALRR was first chosen by a group of District employees, without telling the public and without public input. Was there Board input? How long have they been the vendor? Was there an RFP for renewal, this year or last year? In promoting AALRR's renewal, the in house counsel said they did a good job, but a parent stood up and disagreed (Gutsy parent). It is amazing any parent knew about it. Each year, renewing the legal firms are only put up for approval after the school year has ended and most of the parents are away. So families are unaware of what is happening and can't give input.

There is a high potential of abuse of legal funds by PAUSD employees who want to get out of trouble, win at all costs, and make themselves look good. We've been there. This is far too important an issue to be rubber stamped on a Consent Calendar.


8 people like this
Posted by Clarification
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 14, 2019 at 3:05 pm

@ $550,000 Should Not Be On Consent Calendar: Keep in mind that any member of the public may pull items off the consent calendar for comment and discussion. In addition, any member of the public may submit written comments to the Board in advance.


36 people like this
Posted by going UP not down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2019 at 3:26 pm

The district's spending on legal is going UP not down.

+ $800,000 outside legal counsel next year
+ $188,000 General Counsel
+ $? for two other JDs on staff
+ all their insurance premiums, pension contributions, vacation pay and misc. benefits
= $1.3 million or thereabouts.

The Cozen year was the year PAUSD spent $1 million to unravel the tens of Paly sexual harassment and assault complaints its principal and assistant principals outright ignored.

The two recent normal "outsized spending" years PAUSD paid lawyers only $386,086 and $997,055 according to this week's staff report.


35 people like this
Posted by Board watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 14, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Apparently they don’t take Citizen comments into account. A family called them on their lack of ethics, disregard for the principle purpose to educate students not make them drop out, and not to make examples out of families to deter requests for services at the last school board meeting and they’re still giving them the half million dollar contract.


23 people like this
Posted by Harmed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2019 at 12:27 am

[Post removed.]


33 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2019 at 7:23 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Maybe the board and the administration could act in a manner that would require less reliance on lawyers. Just sayin'.


42 people like this
Posted by Harmed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2019 at 7:48 am

"Legal Consequences of Apologizing"
Web Link
"[A sincere apology] serves the public interest because such expressions have the potential to reduce the number of lawsuits, rather than attract litigation."

Before the apology, has to come a genuine interest in examining what you did wrong, so that you can SERVE CHILDREN, and avoid repeating the mistakes in the future. Hint: Turnover does not magically fix things.

How many millions have we spent because of the cover up culture instead of learning how to examine, fix, and apologize for cultural and organizationals failures? The law requires you to be proactive, because this is a SCHOOL, we are talking about CHILDREN you are harming, and it does not meet the spirit or letter of the law to only serve those who have expensive lawyers go up against yours to force you.

Just saying.


18 people like this
Posted by @Harmed
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 15, 2019 at 3:37 pm

[Post removed.]


33 people like this
Posted by More Consent Calendar Games
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 15, 2019 at 3:58 pm

More Consent Calendar Games is a registered user.

@Board Watcher - No, they don't take parent or community input into account anymore. On the Board of Education 6/17/2019 Agenda, they are pushing though a Board policy on the Consent Calendar on Attorney. The policy includes no public input on choosing a law firm. Only Administrators and Board give their opinion of responsiveness and "interactions with" the community. It doesn't say these interactions have to be professional or efficient.

I can't imagine any family would report AALRR was efficient or gave the District adequate advice. They are rude to families, attack parents of disabled, create issues that did not exist, create useless legal issues, and are incredibly slow in completing documents. Parents have to proofread and correct their typos.

I love that this policy gives AALLRR a 3 year contract (since RFPs will only be done every 3 years). No child gets an IEP or placement for 3 years. The same law firm is guaranteed to make money off the same child every year!

The Superintendent is doing this after he unilaterally removed an effective and polite Assistant Superintendent, with no warning to families. Special Education is back under the control of another long term PAUSD administrator without Special Ed experience who comes from PAUSD's attack culture of the past, and uses attorneys to get what they want.

After the years of self induced problems in our District directly related to poor legal advice (bullying, sexual harassment), it is hard to believe the Superintendent is trying to do this to the Community again.

Policy on Consent Calendar:
Web Link
"In evaluating the proposals, the Board, and Superintendent, [and General
Counsel] shall consider the firm's or attorney's background, experience, and reputation in
education law; experience advising or representing school districts in California; fees; and
experience of attorneys at the firm who will provide legal services.
The Board, and Superintendent, [and General Counsel] shall annually evaluate the performance of
the firm and/or attorneys providing legal services in such areas as efficiency and adequacy of
advice; results obtained for the district; reasonableness of fees; and responsiveness to and
interactions with the Board, administration, and community. Upon a successful evaluation, the Board
may renew the agreement with legal counsel without initiating an RFP. [Regardless of continued
satisfactory evaluation, an RFP process shall be initiated at least every three years]."


34 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 15, 2019 at 8:57 pm

It's not surprising when all the district cares about is pleasing the teacher's union. Think of it from that perspective.

Special Ed costs too much. Takes money out of the pockets of the teachers if kids go to alternative, outside schools. Takes money out of the pockets of the teachers if too many special Ed teachers have to be hired, dividing up the pool of money by more teachers. Cheaper to play a game of chicken w the parents to see if anyone has the guts and money to sue. Maybe only 10% will sue and they do better w those odds.

Nothing about serving the students, only the teacher's union. Just keep that in mind. And the school board is complicit.


31 people like this
Posted by Pa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2019 at 8:57 am

Public note to Dr. Austin, Superintendent PAUSD and anyone that might care

No “promise” can exist while you automatically renew contracts with your lawyers that cause harm. Therefore no promise exists, just a random set of activities that may or may not provide benefit.

Your new counsel’s comments about performance were pretty light on facts and if indeed you stand by, “Couldn’t be better support” fluf statements and lack of awareness of the status and harm caused to the students your lawyers engage against, inflicting unlawful corporal punishment and creating a conflict of interest as the reporters become the perpetrators (Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws – Cal. Penal Code § 11164, Child Abuse Prevention and Reporting – BP/AR 5141.4).


25 people like this
Posted by Pa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Bonuses should be tied to equity, no equity no bonus and $500 hit for each student that does not graduate for everybody, if more than 5% fail to graduate no bonus at all.


21 people like this
Posted by Board watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 16, 2019 at 4:58 pm

@Harmed, I believe you asked about the lawyers prior to AALLRR. Which sound pretty much who we replaced them with.

Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost law firm was formed (by Howard Fulfrost and other lawyers who were sanctioned by a federal judge for lying in the Moser case when working for Lozano Smith). Soon after that ruling, Lozano Smith shut down its special education section. Basically, FFF is Lozano Smith under a new name.

The federal court found the following characteristics
in the Lozano law firm:

1. A culture of misrepresentation and deception

2. The firm clearly suffers from a lack of
professionalism or a lack of understanding of the
law.

3. Many of Lozano’s filings cannot be interpreted as
anything other than bad-faith attempts to mislead
the court, obscure the real facts, and to obstruct
and/or harass the plaintiff, either to wear down the
plaintiff or to win a victory that is clearly unjustified
by either the facts or the law.

4. While isolated errors or misstatements might be
excused, given the size of the record, the sheer
volume of misstatements, the only reasonable
inference that can be drawn is that lawyers
intended to obstruct at every ste.


Web Link

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 16, 2019 at 6:26 pm

@$550,000 Should Not Be On Consent Calendar: it's only on the Consent Calendar because legal contracts were discussed at the last meeting and it appeared that they would pass without additional questions or discussion. They aren't trying to slip something in - it was already discussed, just last Tuesday.


2 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 16, 2019 at 6:53 pm

@More Consent Calendar Games: same with your item, Board Policy 9124, Attorney. It was the agenda last Tuesday, there were no questions from the board members or the public. So bringing it back on Consent seems reasonable, not sneaky.


13 people like this
Posted by Consent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 16, 2019 at 10:24 pm

@BW2 - Both the public and Board members expressed concerns, so it should not be seen an an automatic pass that goes on consent. Plus the District has a history of putting controversial legal and special ed issues in consent at the end of the year after school is out so parents are away and unaware.

The Board Policy on lawyers was not clear to the public. Putting it on consent says it is a done deal and should not be discussed or examined. In light of the attempt to give $550,000 to a controversial Special Ed lawyer without community input, it should not be on consent.

This is exactly what brought our District to disaster the past 4 years. Arrogant Suoerintendents reorganizing Special Ed, re-hiring problem attorneys, and passing issues on consent with only employee input and without appropriate oversight.


2 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 16, 2019 at 10:59 pm

@Consent, the questions from board members were about Lozano Smith, which Austin said would be taken off the list. But if a board member or member of the public wants to pull the item off consent, it will be - it only requires one person to ask.

BTW, I think the agenda committee decides if things go on consent or not. Agenda committee is run by the board president, not the superintendent.


7 people like this
Posted by Consent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 17, 2019 at 1:57 am

@BW2 - Board Policy states the Superintendent and Board president decide what gets on the Agenda.
It also states the Superintendent, Board President and Board Vice President decide if items are action or consent.
Board Policy states multiple times Consent items Must be routine in nature or no discussion anticipated and must be recommended by the Superintendent.
The Superintendent is secretary to the Board. The Superintendent and staff produce the written agenda. In reality, Superintendent through staff has tremendous power to structure the Agenda. This has caused conflict over past years when Board thought items were not being agendized promptly, or items were being pushed through too fast without adequate discussion, or if they felt Suoerintendant was not falling their directions and either ignoring direction or pushing them into a decision they didn’t want.
Our Board does not have funds for an independent Board staff, so cannot do much without resources.


2 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2019 at 9:12 am

@Consent, I think it is very unlikely that if the board president directed the superintendent in agenda setting to put something on action vs. consent that the superintendent would refuse to do so. So while the superintendent may propose, the board president decides.

That said, any member of the board or public can pull something from consent and open it up to discussion and a separate vote - it happens almost every meeting.


10 people like this
Posted by Consent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 17, 2019 at 12:29 pm

@BW2 - agreed in theory, and this works best when it is a new item. Yet there have been times when a Superintendent did not put items in Agenda Board as instructed, which came up when Board was upset about it. Superintendent’s have also put items on Consent before asking Board, then ask in Board meeting. Board may or may not say OK. Concern is for items that should have a second reading or discussion, then are put on Consent or when the 2nd discussion is Waived. They may need more sunlight.

The history of disaster follows rushing items related to legal, Special Ed,Special Ed hiring and reorganization, compliance, OCR, legal spending and selection of firms and is use of specific attorneys at firms. These are subjects that should go on Consent only with great caution. If there is a first reading or hearing, nexts steps should be made clear to public at end of first discussion or hearing. No surprises.

A parent can pull on item off consent, but they have to be there to do it. There is a care provider crisis now. Families cannot get disabled childcare at night, or often the day in Palo Alto. Or they must pay $180 a night. Even then, parents may not be able to leave their child because only they are trained to care for them. Board meetings run late and Special Ed and Legal matters are usually at the end of evening.

Board Retreats, where much of this comes up, are not always Televised, Neither are Board Policy meetings and sometimes discussion before general meetings start and Board goes into closed session, unless Palo Alto online does it. So meetings are inaccessible to disabled families.


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Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2019 at 1:31 pm

@Consent, if you really think the key issues are coming up in BPRC or board planning sessions, then I think you are way far into the weeds. You can do that, but I'm not sure how effective you will be on important issues. Whether a law firm contract gets approved on consent or as a separate item doesn't really matter - what matters is whether the district has an approach to special ed that serves students and whether the district staff manages the lawyers, not the other way around.


3 people like this
Posted by confused
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2019 at 9:01 pm

June 18th board meeting agenda lists briefly the change of of title ix personnel's job description and hours. The change of status is listed under Classified Personnel items (consent), Agenda item #2B.

Link: Web Link
This change of status is also detailed in a separate agenda item #2R. (also consent).
Link: Web Link
Once 2B is approved, what is the meaning of the later discussion?


Thank you
Villlagee FoooL


Like this comment
Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 17, 2019 at 9:15 pm

2r changes job descriptions. 2b assigns a person to the job.


11 people like this
Posted by Consent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 17, 2019 at 11:25 pm

Consent is a registered user.

From what I have seen, the Board and Board Policy Committee members (which includes parents) are responsive to parents who attend and raise concerns. They do listen to input and can sometimes make adjustments. Not always and not as much as people might like. It is just very difficult for citizens to get to these meetings.

Once it shows up on a Board of Ed general meeting agenda, it is tough to give effective input because it is so far down the process.

We will have to agree to disagree on if a legal contract is on Consent or Agenda Item. I think it does make a vital difference where an item is placed on an agenda, because the public is not always aware of Consent items. They appear routine, so the public misses them. Board members may or may not want to remove them from Consent, and very few people know if they can remove them from Consent.

Board Retreats are crucial to policy of the District. This is where major issues with process are discussed, and Board goals are set. Each year, crucial Special Education matters are reviewed, and the Board clearly states it's opinion on how things are going, and what has to change. The Superintendent is given instructions, and in past years, has ignored many of them until the Board became angry. They should be televised. They matter to our democracy.

Spending legal funds is a morality issue. There is little that has been more damaging to vulnerable families in past years, or more controversial. Public protests followed legal actions. The public has a right to give input, to know if families are being treated respectively for the $280 an hour attorney's are paid, if the issues are resolved effectively and to monitor the high risk that attorneys are used to protect problem employees and get out of management issues, rather than fixing them. Sorry but if you followed the District closely for years, attorneys have not been helpful. They allowed a culture of bullying the disabled, attacking families, sexual harassment of students and teachers, and suing rather than fixing, and brought government audits that found the District at fault. There are few District contracts that can harm children more than this. Decisions on which firm to hire and even which individual attorneys to use from those firms are crucial to the lives of our students.


3 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2019 at 12:02 am

@Consent, sorry to hear that you feel that these minor details - which lawyer, how a board policy is worded, what is on the consent list, how many people watch a board planning meeting - are what makes a difference for our students. They're not.

Focus on the bigger things - does the board set the right priorities? Do they set goals and measure whether they get achieved? Do they hold the leadership accountable for results? Do they have consistent focus over time on the most important things?

If not, then change board members, and get ones who will. Otherwise you are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


2 people like this
Posted by just sayin'
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2019 at 7:38 am

If the entire Lozano law firm is now deemed "controversial" and banned from doing PAUSD's legal work because

14 years ago
1 judge ordered the law firm to pay
$5,000 to a plaintiff to help cover his legal costs because
1 of its 100 lawyers
who no longer works there
gave bad advice in 1 case

then PAUSD's new law firm is controversial for having several lawyers bill PAUSD $900,000 last year for the work its predecessor charged PAUSD < $100,000 to do.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by just sayin'
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2019 at 8:25 am

The School Board is missing the forest here.

It was up in arms that staff asked for $25,000 for the law firm staff wants to work with

but the Board

was silent when Superintendent Austin, right after he got the Board to OK a $200k in house attorney, told it that he needs > $800,000 more to spend on outside lawyers again next year.


9 people like this
Posted by Consnet
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 18, 2019 at 9:20 am

I agree in theory that we should be able to focus on Boards policy setting and if they hold people accountable. We differ on how doing that works in reality in Palo Alto.

Have you ever attended these meetings? Not minor details. They are are democracy. Board Retreats are 1-2 days meetings where the GOALS for the year are set. The Superintendent is given instructions for the next year. The Board reviews what they and the Superintendent accomplished. That is crucial. That is where they set priorities and hold leaders accountable. By the time goals are voted on in general meeting, it is too late. Board members have said they talked about it in retreat and do not want to discuss it.

Board Policy runs this District. This is government.. Board members site them -for example when no RFP was done for the law firm - when for the third time a lawyer who ran up bills, couldn’t work well with parents, or whom the Board told Administrators not to use- were renewed. The Board policies in expelling children, in allowing the disabled to be bullied. And the same Law Firm chosen advises and gets revenue for writing the policies. Multiple times in the past 4 years the Board told the District not to work with an attorney who caused problems. Ignoring this has brought federal findings of violating children’s civil rights and preventing them from attending school. Staff has altered legal documents.

I wish I could feel comfortable focusing on the general meetings and board goals. That is how it should work, you are right. It just hasn’t so far. My hope is one day we will get there as a district.


3 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2019 at 11:58 am

@Consent, yep, I've watched a lot of board meetings.

Here's the most recent board "retreat" (really just a planning session, held at their usual location). Web Link Three and half hours (not 1-2 days), most of which is reviewing the first draft of "The Promise" which has been reviewed ad infinitum in regular board meetings for the last six months.

The one before that in August is also on video (Web Link ). Five hours total, about 1 hour on goals (no goals were set, it was put off till January) and 4 hours on board meeting conduct, committee work, board/supt communications, etc. Really critical stuff!

Don't confuse these talk-fests with things that really matter. The most important things are student outcomes - learning, graduation, college & career readiness, health & well-being. You (and many of the board members at times) are just confused by all the fancy word salad in these over-long meetings. If they are doing their jobs, they are setting clear goals (related to the above outcomes), aligning actions and budgets behind them, and making sure stuff gets done that helps students. If they aren't doing that, you need new board members - no amount of deck-chair re-arranging (board policies, law firm choices, agenda refinement) will change the results.


6 people like this
Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2019 at 12:14 pm

Sorry, one correction - in the August meeting, about 10 minutes was spent on goal setting (to put it off till Jan), not an hour.


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Posted by PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2019 at 4:53 pm

@BW2

"The most important things are student outcomes - learning, graduation, college & career readiness, health & well-being. "

Are you saying the most important things are not being done? I missed your point.


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Posted by BW2
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2019 at 5:02 pm

@PA, I'm saying that focusing on whether they get done is the main thing. Issues like which lawyers get used, what goes on the consent agenda, etc., is a distraction. Everybody, and esp. the board, needs to keep their eyes on the prize.


14 people like this
Posted by PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2019 at 10:41 pm

@BW2

Totally disagree as well as it is in opposition to most management practices. Only in start-ups do the means not matter as much. Ethics are in involved and the District's lawyers do not practice ethically, and plenty of parents have experienced the deceit and manufacture of evidence, of which no part of the Due Process has held them accountable.

When dealing with children and with special needs as well as the teen suicide capital of the world, its a pretty short-sighted to say the means don't matter to the ends.


10 people like this
Posted by AALRR's Rude Lawyers
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jun 25, 2019 at 10:26 pm

AALRR's Rude Lawyers is a registered user.

In deeply disturbing process, the Board again approved renewing AALRR on 6/18/2019. General Counsel (a District employee) Komey Vishakan stated the District is completely satisfied with AALRR's performance. That is worrisome, as she clearly did not consider:

- Input of the brave parent who spoke at the previous board meeting about AALRR's behavior of attacking parents of the disabled with false information.

- Any parent or community input at all, if other information was given to the Board (although, parents were not provided a safe time, place, or method to provide input about AALRR's behavior, maybe some tried)

- Assistant Superintendent who actually knew about AALRR's behavior, Ms. Yolanda Conaway. Anyone who says she was satisfied with AALRR and their attorney is lying. She knows the high bills AALRR created, adversarial style, and extremely slow work production, which are not normal in other school districts.

Also bothersome:
- The secret way the District conducted this evaluation, without telling families or giving them advanced notice, ensuring families could not provide input or submit documentation of AALRR's deficiencies unless they were:
a) able to see the Board Agenda at the last minute and
b) could come to school board meetings after the school year ended.
Perhaps that was better for families, since the AALRR attorney respond with more attacks on families of the disabled. At least, AALRR's attorney can be satisfied she made Partner at AALRR using tax dollars to earn wealth for herself and her firm by harming disabled children and their families, the people least able to afford to fight back.

Ms. Vishakan, under the direction of the Superintendent Austin, said the District was completely satisfied with AALRR.
Families of the disabled and disadvantaged, that tells you one thing - Ms. Vishakan and Superintendent Austin are against the disabled children and on the side of AALRR. Why on earth they ever created sides is unimaginable, but it is the way AALRR works.

As far as AALRR's rude attorney and the false information she writes about families - as the parent stated at the previous Board meeting blaming parents for a child's disability - these are tried and true tactics of Special Education attorneys. Previously the Board wanted a change. Know now that Ms. Vishakan and Superintendent Austin are telling AALRR they approve of these tactics, and that they do want AALRR to continue them.

And that they will pay AALRR tax payer money to continue doing it.

Ms. Vishakan and Superintendent Austin did more to create a sense of distrust among disabled families than anything in the past year. They can talk endlessly about the Palo Alto Promise and print pages of nice plans, but it is in the hiring of a law firm, and the attorney at that firm, that their true intentions are conveyed.

The values of the Board who approved AALRR's renewal are also now clear. Their values are in the money the Board just voted to spend on AALRR.

Be forewarned. Never speak to PAUSD Special Education, Ms. Vishaken or Superintendent Austin without obtaining an attorney first. It is crushingly expensive for families, but parents must first protect the children. Base your decisions on the District's actions, not words.


6 people like this
Posted by Ps
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 22, 2019 at 9:33 pm

promise is vaporware!

When asked for help for a student denied and IEP @ Paly , noone couldn't articulate one benefit from the ‘promise’ to help struggling students. They said they, “ Didn’t know anything about it.” Nor did they may offer to look into it.

Follow the advice given above, go by what they do and not what they say don’t let them bully you into signing any documents.


7 people like this
Posted by Discrimination Finding
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 23, 2019 at 10:11 am

A CDE audit found Palo Alto Unified in non-compliance for disproportional numbers of African American and Latino students in Special Education. Doesn't this amount to discrimination, placing minorities in Special Education instead of teaching them? (See Superintendent's Board Report August 16, 2019, under "Disproportionality Finding" Web Link

This is the same finding the Board of Education and Special Education supposedly fixed years ago. It is the second year in a row with the same finding. How did PAUSD let this happen again?Wasn't the Board of Education's conducting the most basic oversight?

Where was the Special Education law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo (AALRR)? Why didn't AALRR ensure PAUSD was monitoring this, and then when the problem was apparent, to correct it immediately?

PAUSD needs a law firm that looks after the best interest of disabled and minority children.

Let's reconsider where we spend our legal money. Stop using a law firm which bills taxpayers to attack parents and makes misleading statements about families. PAUSD cannot even ensure students at NPS and NPA schools are eligible for reduced price lunch, when PAUSD pays for these schools.

Let's do something positive that helps students. Stop using a law firm that creates crushing legal expenses for the most vulnerable children and families in our district.


7 people like this
Posted by Discrimination Finding
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 23, 2019 at 6:48 pm

AALRR billed PAUSD $453,716 last school year ending June 30, 2019. It looks like almost the entire legal budget goes to AALRR. Web Link

@Ps -Parents and students need to remember that the Title IX Officer is not on their side. This is a legal employee there to protect the district. You only have to read the gloating report of winning all appeals filed to CDE in the Board Packet Web Link

"CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION (CDE)
During the 2018-19 school year, three (3) claimants appealed PAUSD decisions to the "California Department of Education. The Title IX Office responded to these appeals and was successful in our responses. The CDE upheld our investigations process and conclusions in all of the matters."

Also, look at Title IX Office's priorities for this school year:

"TITLE IX INITIATIVES 2019-20

Besides day-to-day operations, the Title IX Office is implementing new, important initiatives during the 2019-20 school year, including the following:

Continuing responsiveness to regulators (OCR, CDE) to ensure good relationships into the future;...

...Partnering with the Special Education Department on matters involving students with disabilities from initial complaint through conclusion;..."

By "good relationship" with CDE, PAUSD means winning cases that the District discriminated against, ignored, or treated students unfairly or did not follow rules. Remember, PAUSD has a highly trained Title IX Officer PLUS unlimited access to Special Education lawyers at AALRR, spending nearly half a million last year, PLUS the cost of the Title IX Office PLUS the cost of PAUSD's General Counsel, a PAUSD employee. The true legal expense PAUSD deploys is much higher than it appears.

CDE rules tend to favor Districts, first, because it is CDE's responsibility to regulate and monitor district compliance so the problem did not happen to begin with. If the CDE finds the District at fault or in non-compliance, it is saying the CDE did not do its job regulating the district. Second, CDE complaints may allow the District to investigate itself first. Surprise: district usually find themselves not at fault. The CDE process also delays or prevents students and families from filing complaints with real agencies that actually enforce rules, such as the OCR. These delays can endanger students.

The finding of discrimination CDE just made against PAUSD involved review of numbers. It likely did not give PAUSD much opportunity to investigate itself. Discrimination based on numerical analysis are the only instances I have seen CDE find a problem or make an impact.

It is important for families to know Title IX and CDE processes are not there for the children, or for the purpose of improving PAUSD. Improvement in PAUSD have only come through student's reporting problems outside the CDE such as to OCR, through press reports and Palo Alto Online, and parent protests.


8 people like this
Posted by Toast
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 1:58 pm

@Discrimination finding. THANK YOU! For explaining the situation so well. I hope families can support each other better and go public with the corruption. PAUSD has destroyed our family and has kept legal action barring support for 3 years - even when they are wrong. BUT they have a solution for that. They lie and create fake IEP documents which the CDE don't care about so they let the District slide.

THERE IS NO JUSTICE AND NO EQUITY FOR YOUR CHILDREN IF THEY HAVE ANY NEED TO BE TAUGHT. Those that are capable to navigate in the system, done pre-tutoring or self-study and have a strong support system will do ok. But if you depend on the school for anything - if it is material - you better leave for your families sanity and not to have regrets about destroying their childhood. (I will have until my dieing day).

Someone stated the only solution that has a chance, to GUT THE PLACE. Austin is playing games with the metrics and if you listene to the 8/16/19 PAUSD School Board meeting, first part you will hear Collins schooling Austin on the need for useful metrics, "Not just what you can show success on." I would have lost my first job if I had spent over a year on a project and didn't have the metrics worked out by then.

Parents also requested that full transparency be provided, also not just the one liner's like, "Couldn't "be better, we have an idea of how many students." But actually publish and not change the historical data. To also track what programs fail to produce results. THIS IS A BIG ONE. IEPs are written so disjointed and they refuse to be held accountable, because even if you correct it, they will remove your changes. So the school only has to say they got x hours (which they rarely ) but the quality of those hours and the details around how an accommodation would be most useful, and not when its most CONVENIENT for the school. The bottomline is IEPs provide "net zero value" after you factor out the trama, stalling, and either untrained or just plain missing (but you'll see cut and paste details that they were provided in the IEP). Protect yourself from IEP documents that have been altered or uncorrected. Unfortunately if you don't have a lawyer (a good lawyer from a big scary firm because they run over mom and pop lawyers) - you are toast.


5 people like this
Posted by Toast
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2019 at 6:40 pm

"The Board refused to listen to parents and the community members who reported bad experiences with the then law firm. The consequences were disastrous: excessive and silly legal cases against disabled families, OCR findings PAUSD allowed sexual harassment, abuse of students by staff, mistreatment of faculty and staff, bullying of disabled students, and an independent attorneys report PAUSD Administrators did not follow the law and altered documents. It lead to replacing the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent. That is how we got Austin as Superintendent now. " quoted from. Posted by $550,000 Should Not Be On Consent Calendar...This has not changed


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