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U.S. agency investigates peer sexual harassment at Paly

Original post made on Jul 11, 2013

A federal civil-rights agency is investigating whether Palo Alto High School has complied with legal requirements designed to ensure an "educational environment free of sexual harassment, and whether it responds promptly and effectively to complaints or other notice of sexual harassment."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, July 11, 2013, 2:26 PM

Comments (94)

Posted by Enough is enough
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Thank goodness we have a federal government that is interested in making sure that civil rights laws are followed.
The most disturbing part of this story to me is that it is more evidence that Kevin Skelly and school board members, who undoubtedly knew of this investigation, are actively engaged in withholding information from the public. Claiming that the public has no right to know about a federal investigation into how sexual harassment allegations are handled is ridiculous. Hiding behind rape victims -- whose stories were broadcast by the school's newspaper and on the radio, with Skelly's approval -- is really shocking. The fact of this investigation does not violate the privacy of victims. Hiding the investigation does violate the right of the public to know what is going on its schools.
Shame on Skelly, and shame on the school board -- and in particular on Dana Tom and Barb Mitchell, who as board president and VP have been in charge of keeping all of this off of the public board agenda. We would be much better off if these elected officials would put half the effort into working on behalf of students that they do colluding to make sure the public doesn't get the facts.
At least the OCR investigation will bring some sunshine in, albeit involuntarily.

Posted by Shocked again
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

How can it be the case that going on a national media tour to publicize the idea that Paly is infected with "rape culture" be fine while merely disclosing the fact of an OCR investigation into the systemic issues reported in that media coverage is "confidential." This is just mind boggling. Our district leaders and board apparently only saw the Verde story and coverage as one more opportunity for Paly and the district to receive honors, prizes, and attention. What they didn't count on was that what they saw as a chance to absorb praise for the student journalism was reporting on events that are very problematic -- no sexual violence policy, no training, no investigation -- no real recognition that sexual violence and related bullying are civil rights issues. When it turned from another chance to praise the schools into another "oops," then they cynically said it was all confidential.

Kandell and his students were on NPR. They were in HuffPo. They took a victory lap and got an award from PTAC. It is too late in the day, and also infuriating, for anyone to say that now they can't disclose that those stories and radio spots caught the attention of the feds. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Shame on you board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

This is the board's fault at this point.

Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I just read the letter from the US Education Department linked from the article. It has nothing confidential in it.
The previous writers are right. I read the Verde articles because I have a daughter at Paly (a freshman) and I am worried about this. The idea that it is OK to write articles like that but no followup about what is going on and then burying a federal investigation? It is not OK to be asleep at the switch about this, whether you are the principal or the school board or the superintendent. We need to make sure that our girls don't have their educations harmed because of harassment or rape (god forbid).

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Was there ever an era when parents were not worried about their teenage daughters?

Posted by Chris Kenrick Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Paly mom --

We don't know that there was "no follow up (by Paly) about what is going on." The letter from the OCR said: "Please note that opening an investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to its merits."

Posted by Ohhhhhh Yeahhhhhhh
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I have known the sexual harassment problems to be a fact of life at Paly since at least1994. I would be surprised it if had not been a problem for decades before that.

Another long-term problem at Paly: lack of or lesser discipline for teens of prominent parents, as well as "excessive gift-giving" to teachers and counselors of students who do not perform very well by their prominent parents!

The question is: does this occur at Gunn, also??

Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Dear Chris Kenrick,
Thank you, but I read in your article that Supt. Skelly has no comment about the review and he is trying to not talk about that it is even happening? Also we never heard from Mr. Winston about it before he stopped being principal that day.

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

It is unlikely that this inquiry was "initiated" by the OCR.

Palo Alto residents on this forum have been threatening to turn Paly into the feds for months and sure seems that they finally followed through on it. (Note that the victims are not named because they felt Paly handled the situation just fine.)

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Remember the media parade about what "racists" Paly math teachers were, followed by parent events "educating" parents on how to turn their schools into the OCR?

This group appears with something new and all-consuming every other month or so.

The resolution of these cases has been pretty easy and straight forward, but all the misinformation and noise they generate at the beginning is enough to force principals to put their day job - i.e. running our schools - on hold for months at a time.
[Portion removed.]

Posted by Chris Kenrick Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Paly mom --

Superintendent Skelly said the Title IX investigation is "a confidential student matter and the student's privacy interest far outweigh the disclosure of a pending investigation."

I was trying to make a different point, which is that just because there's an investigation we cannot assume that Paly did not comply with the law. That is what the investigators are trying to determine.

Posted by rofl
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Shame on you board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

So Dana Tom said Kevin Skelly's work was satisfactory during his June 18 evaluation even though a letter was sent June 3? In what district is Kevin Skelly's performance satisfactory? I would love to hear from Retired Teacher and other Skelly and board supporters how great this district is because in my view, great districts do not have the multiple OCR complaints and investigations. To say that we are like other districts is to admit that we do not have a district of excellence. This district is now officially leaderless. Skelly's six-year tenure has been extraordinary, but each reader can fill in the descriptor of how extraordinary it has been. The last two years with Charles Young have been disastrous. And now that the Weekly has revealed that Skelly received a letter investigating Paly on June 3, it makes me believe that the investigation played a small part, at least, in Winston's decision to be "reassigned."

It is clear by Skelly's latest email to the Weekly that Skelly had no intention of living up to his promise of transparency. The board, notably silent, appears corrupted to me. They all have to go. The Santa Clara County Office of Education or the state Department of Education needs to come in and provide leadership, and yes I know how mediocre they can be, but that is how low our district has slipped

Posted by grateful parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 11, 2013 at 4:57 pm

The reason we have a federal government is to protect us from incompetent or corrupt local officials. Thank you federal officials, and thank you community members trying to bring some reform to a system that while it has a lot of good points is suffering now from poor leaders.

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Just found an earlier Weekly article on this and a few things popped out:

"[Michelle] Dauber said the district was 'legally obligated to ... ensure that the victim was free from retaliation and additional harassment.'"

How is it possible for schools to "ensure" that students on their campuses will never, ever harass someone else? The law says that federally-supported agencies, like public schools, "may" act to overcome these kinds of things. But is has to "ensure" success? Really?

"Dauber said she had little information on how the district was following up on her call for a Title IX investigation [and] suggested that the district seek 'technical assistance' from OCR... [and engage] experts in the federal government."

Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Dear Chris Kenrick,
Thank you for answering me. I think you are not understanding me though. I read the letter from the US and it does not say anything confidential. So I do not think that Dr. Skelly is really trying to protect a student? That makes me worried that he is not really trying to fix the problem at Paly.
You are the reporter so do you know anything they are doing at Paly? Did they do the right things with the law? Did everyone say no to talking to you like Dr. Skelly is? I understand they are investigating it in Washington DC but do you know of anything from what you found out to write this story?

Posted by Paly Parent too
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I am a Paly parent, with daughters attending Paly, who also cries "enough is enough." But I direct my cries at the Palo Alto Weekly and at the individuals who are hell bent on crucifying the school board and superindendent. As Chris Kenrick says above, just because there is an investigation does not mean there is wrong doing. The i"nvestigation", I feel certain, was prodded by the same people who have objected loudly to nearly everything 25 Churchill has done in the past two years.
The story written about by the Verde is a vitally important story. Clearly this is not something that is unique to Paly or PAUSD. It seems to be frighteningly widespread, and I'm certain recent news stories are just the tip of the iceberg. We need to refocus on re-educating our daughters and our sons. Schools, perhaps everywhere, need to have frank discussions and education about sex, consent and rape. Victims must be respected, perpetrators must face justice.
But after the suicide of the high school girl from Saratoga HS, and the abuse of the victim Ohio, I applaud school officials for making this PAUSD high school victim's privacy paramount.
And really, enough is enough. If you are among those who feel our elected board members are delinquent (and I do not), then please, please, please run for School Board yourself. The slingshots from sidelines are hurting our district more that they are helping.

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

If 'saw this coming' reflects the best thinking of our school district staff I can see how we got into this mess. What a ridiculous soup of resentment, conspiracy theories, and made up legal 'quotes'. No wonder our district's reputation is headed south.

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Enough, care to comment on the contradiction between celebrating an issue of the Verde about rape culture at Paly and then claiming that even mentioning a federal investigation of the same facts violates privacy?

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm

To Really?

Resentment about the time, attention, and money these scattershot claims take away from 99.99% of the students in our district perhaps, but there are no "made up legal 'quotes'" in my post.

Earlier article I cited from the Weekly: Web Link

Sex discrimination regulations:

34 CFR 106.3(b) Web Link ("[a public school] MAY take affirmative action to overcome the effects of conditions which resulted in limited participation.")

34 CFR 106.31 Web Link1 (public schools cannot "limit any person in the enjoyment" of an opportunity, which is quite different than saying schools must "ensure" that no harassment happens on their campuses).

Even the OCR's April 2011 Russlynn Ali letter, viewed by many as overly expansive in its reach, does not require schools to get rid of student-to-student harassment.

Professor Dauber said in May 2013 and again this July that Paly's Verde articles should have triggered an "investigation" by the school district.

That is based on Russlynn Ali's letter. Ali was the head of the US Office of Civil Rights until last December when she resigned after having set off a firestorm all around the country because her positions in that letter violated the US constitution ("Under Fire for Sex Directive, Dept. of Education Russlynn Ali Steps Down.")

Her abrupt departure in 2012 effectively discredited the guidelines contained in that letter.

Even if that had not happened, schools look to federal law for guidance not an individual's interpretation of it that had no public vetting.

What the federal law relating to sex harassment investigations says is that a "responsible Department official" must conduct an investigation if it receives a credible complaint; the "official" referred to is someone from the Department of Education, not from the school. 34 CFR 100.7(c).

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm

STC is lifting the rock on the rationale that has evidently animated much of the district's response to this situation, and that inspired school board members Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom's editorial defending the district and attacking OCR several months ago: the idea that OCR's authority to enforce federal civil rights law is somehow illegitimate.
STC's legal quotes are frankly laughable. The first one allows schools to use affirmative action to redress gender inequality even in the absence of evidence of discrimination, after they conduct an investigation. It does, however, contain a passage that she left out, "If the Assistant Secretary [that is, the head of OCR, until recently Russlynn Ali] finds that a recipient has discriminated against persons on the basis of sex in an education program or activity, such recipient shall take such remedial action as the Assistant Secretary deems necessary to overcome the effects of such discrimination."
The second section STC cites includes the statement that "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any academic, extracurricular, research, occupational training, or other education program or activity operated by a recipient which receives Federal financial assistance." That obligation falls to the school.
At root, STC is playing the same game that Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom did in trying to call civil rights law into question rather than complying with it. I'm referring specifically to their editorial (Web Link in which they falsely suggested that federal and state civil rights laws are in conflict, and cited a National School Board Association opinion in calling OCR's legal authority into question that turned out to be based on a misunderstanding of Ali's DCL. Their citation, in turn, followed a similar false statement by Laurie Reynolds, an (actually discredited) attorney from Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost who made numerous false and misleading statements to the public at a school board meeting, presumably at the behest of the Superintendent). (On the NSBA letter, see Web Link
Ali left at the end of the first Obama term. There was no firestorm of criticism. STC's quotation saying otherwise turns out, upon Googling it, to come from a website that is run by men fighting against domestic violence laws, and is full of "press releases" about men falsely accused of rape and women beating up their own babies. (Web Link
No one except right-wing Tea Party adherents, unfortunately including our school board trustee Barb Mitchell, believes that the DCL letter (which actually just restated positions going back to the Clinton administration) violated the Constitution. The statement that Ali's leaving "discredited" the DCL is thus just ridiculous. But unfortunately STC is obviously not alone in her hostility to federal civil rights law.

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Could any of these be related?


- "It is unlikely that this inquiry was 'initiated' by the OCR."

- "Dauber [called] for a Title IX investigation [and] suggested that the district seek 'technical assistance' from OCR... [and engage] experts in the federal government."


- "Professor Dauber said in May 2013 and again this July that Paly's Verde articles should have triggered an 'investigation' by the school district...based on Russlynn Ali's letter [former head of the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Education who in 2012] resigned after having set off a firestorm all around the country because her positions in that letter violated the US constitution"

- Michelle Dauber and Russlynn Ali, both civil rights attorneys, attended Northwestern Law School at the same time.

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 11, 2013 at 9:30 pm

STC's prior post nicely illustrated a key idea held by some people who have achieved authority in the school district, notably Barb Mitchell -- OCR's authority to enforce federal civil rights law, and perhaps even the law itself, is somehow illegitimate. STC actually hints darkly that it violates the Constitution, a typical if baseless Tea Party claim.
Her last post is based on another, closely related idea: that there is something fundamentally wrong and unfair about OCR's enforcement of civil rights law in Palo Alto.
Her first quote, incidentally, is of herself from an earlier post: "It is unlikely that this inquiry was 'initiated' by the OCR". Perhaps her next post will cite herself as authority for the idea that civil rights enforcement violates the Constitution
Unfortunately for STC, the idea that the federal government -- which the large majority of use are citizens of, support with our taxes, and probably voted for the current leader of -- is somehow an alien force makes sense only at 25 Churchill Street, and among the Mitchell-Munger Tea Party crowd.
Russlynn Ali is a long-time advocate for children's rights, founder of the Education Trust West, which advocated here in California for equal educational opportunity for all California children, and was nominated to her post by President Obama on the recommendation of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. STC may think she's the bogeyman, but the large majority opinion in Palo Alto supports civil rights, wants the federal government to step in when local agencies fail to do their job, and don't buy Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom's call to reject civil rights laws.
I suspect that the growing recognition of that fact might be behind some of the hysteria showing through in STC's posts.

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 9:31 pm

To Really?

No debate here on the OCR's right to enforce civil rights laws, just on its power to write its own laws without regard to the US constitution and without Congressional blessing.

I am not alone on that but I guess the American Association of University Professors' concerns about how Russlynn Ali's letter violates due process is not of concern to you (reported in TIME magazine).

Nor are the same criticisms voiced by Georgetown constitutional law professor Jon Turley, a graduate of Ali's alma matter Northwestern Law School, who observed that the Ali letter forces schools to either (i) strip students and faculty of basic due process protections, or (ii) be declared discriminatory. Web Link

Or even Stanford's Berkowitz, who holds a JD and a PhD in political science from Yale University and reads the Ali letter as obligating schools "to curtail due process rights of the accused" and "institutionalizing a presumption of guilt." (Wall Street Journal Web Link

Lots of well-educated folks who are not "right-wing Tea Party adherents" have serious problems with Ali's letter which does a 180 on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and curtails citizens' due process rights among other things.

These are just a few who popped up in a quick search. There are more.

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Sorry, I actually should have noted STC's authority for the idea that Russlynn "resigned after having set off a firestorm all around the country because her positions in that letter violated the US constitution." It comes, as I found from Google and noted in my earlier post, from a website set up by domestic violence perpetrators to fulminate against the unfairness of laws about sexual violence and assault. Here's the link to the site:
I am not suggesting, I hasten to add, that STC supports domestic violence and sexual assault, just because she gets her legal information from this site.

Posted by Almost done with PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Our school district is not problem free, just like many other school districts. However, it has been delivering a high level of education that has benefited the overwhelming majority of its students.

I am afraid the all out onslaught on our school district by a small group of disgruntled and strident Palo Alto residents (some of whom don't even have children in our schools) might spell the end of excellence for our schools. If the district has to be consumed with confronting lawsuits, actual and potential and has to use huge amounts of its resources to placate a few people,something will have to give and it will probably be the quality of education. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 11, 2013 at 10:01 pm

It is absolutely possible to find people who don't like federal civil rights law as actually enforced, even if they claim to appreciate it in the abstract. Libertarian law professors and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal are fertile hunting ground, as STC is demonstrating -- though even they don't throw around the idea that it is contrary to the Constitution, or that somehow federal agencies aren't allowed to enforce the law.
We'll see where the majority opinion in Palo Alto lies on this question. As I said, I suspect that it doesn't lie with STC, and I also suspect that she agrees with that diagnosis.
As to damage to the school district: I can't think of a more damaging course than the one we are on right now, with incompetent leadership bent on hiding facts from the public and thumbing its nose at the federal government. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Paly Parent too
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

For those of you that are concerned that Paly has a problem, just google "rape high school" and you will see that this is something that occurs in probably every high school across the country. The numbers are huge. Also google Stanford and rape. You'll be surprised. Instead of blaming the school district, why don't you try parenting your kids. Teach them about alcohol, consent, etc. Don't expect the schools to raise your kids. On another thread someone stated that PAUSD better get serious about drinking, bullying etc. A better thought is that parents better get serious about these issues and start taking responsibility for their children's behaviors.
It would be so much more helpful if the Weekly focused on why these behaviors occur instead of blaming the schools and their responses to these incredibly complex problems. Again, just google Stanford and rape.

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Shame on you board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I am not a member of any small group, except maybe the small group of parents who don't blame the schools, we blame the people we have elected and have paid to run our schools to make them high-functioning, safe places. The other small group is the handful of supporters of the current regime which has appeared to be woefully ineffective in leading this district: Skelly, Young, the board, and others. The vast majority of parents are simply just not that interested. The Skelly supporters are fearmongering and fingerpointing at those of us parents who would dare criticize these incompetent politicians and administrators. They claim that criticism is ruining the excellence of PAUSD. Well, lets look at the evidence of this excellence in thr six Skelly years, we had several of our children commit suicide followed by an ineffective response, we had almost a complete turnover of adminstrators (which continued just a few weeks ago), and we got caught violating the civil rights of a child. Throw in no accountability and no transparency, and it is easy to see how a rape culture environment was allowed to continue and how our district has been made so vulnerable to lawsuits. The victims are not trying to weaken the district, the critics are not trying to weaken the district, the elected board, Skelly, Young, Wade, Baker, Grierson, and others have already done that.

Posted by Oh, Please
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 11, 2013 at 11:51 pm

No wonder Phil Winston was so stressed and resigned. Parents expect him to keep their children safe during off-campus activities too?! Ridiculous.

The school can only do so much about bullying and how students interact. Agree with "Parent" that parents need to start parenting their children instead of blaming the schools. Google many of these types of stories and find that most of these incidents occur when there is excessive drinking by the victims. Parents should teach their daughters to avoid those situations! But then, students who excessively imbibe are disconnected from their parents anyway, otherwise, they'd listen to their wishes.

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:04 am

This story reports that the Office for Civil Rights has initiated a Compliance Review of Paly's Title IX compliance. As reported this review concerns the question whether PAUSD responded appropriately to peer sexual harassment based on sexual violence. Such a review will examine PAUSD's policies, procedures, and practices; whether Paly responded promptly and effectively to stop the peer harassment and whether the victims of such harassment are protected insofar as possible from any negative educational effects. The Verde story reported on "Rape Culture." "Rape Culture" in the vernacular of civil rights means a potentially hostile educational environment -- something that the district must intervene to prevent and remediate.

The story is very well reported and written. To it, I would add only this. It would be very unlikely given OCR's general practice of working cooperatively with districts that OCR would simply unilaterally and without warning launch a Compliance Review against a district before first offering a district the opportunity to work cooperatively with OCR through a technical assistance process on a voluntary basis.

It is only an educated guess but I think it is very likely that OCR became aware of the media coverage regarding the Rape Culture at Paly, contacted PAUSD to offer technical assistance, and such offer was rejected. At that time, perhaps fed up with the district's burgeoning caseload of OCR complaints, the Department of Education launched the Compliance Review.

This seems to be a reasonable interpretation of the facts. Given that, PAUSD parents are now confronted with the fact that Dr. Skelly appears not only to have managed to ignore the urgings of community members to investigate the Title IX matter at Paly, but to have perhaps ignored an offer of free assistance from OCR that would have spared us another investigation, finding, and resolution agreement.

I shall also state the obvious. If Kevin Skelly was truly interested in protecting the rights and interests of the victims of sexual assault he would have (1) not presided over a district in which rape culture could flourish; (2) provided appropriate sexual violence training to Dr. Young, Phil Winston, and the district's other Title IX officers; (3) provided sexual violence training to high school students; (4) reacted proactively to the Verde story by initiating an approprite, prompt, and effective investigation without being prompted to do so by community members and the federal government; (5) ensured that the Paly climate is not hostile to female students as required by law.

Having taken none of these steps to protect the victim is not particularly believable that he is keeping the very fact of the investigation secret in order to somehow protect the victim. Rather, it seems he is protecting himself. That is at least consistent with his pattern of keeping such investigations secret in the past.

Posted by Oh, Please
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:18 am

Edmond and others pointing fingers, what do you suggest the school do about verbal and facial expression bullying? Suspend students because they looked at someone negatively? Then the school has the parents of the suspended to deal with. Everyone is expecting too much from the schools.

Schools can provide sexual violence training, but these incidents will continue because youth and young men cannot control themselves. The school should provide training to girls so they don't get into these situations. Then when they are victims, at least the school has a disclaimer.

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:45 am

All forms of bullying, if they are severe, pervasive, and based on discriminatory factors are prohibited by law. When students engage in this conduct, and the school knew or reasonably should have known of the conduct, then the school has a responsibility to intervene to stop the harassment, and then to prevent it from recurring and to remediate any harm.

The law does not contemplate that there will be no harassment. On the contrary, the law contemplates that there will be harassment. That is why it prescribes what a school must do in that event. What PAUSD has been found in noncompliance for in the disability harassment case is of failing to have intervened effectively. We do not yet know what the outcome will be in the Paly case, though the unexpected and swift departure of the principal shortly after the Compliance Review was launched, coupled with the obviously lawyered statement from Kandell suggests that there may well be issues for Paly to address uncovered in the audit. Doubtless Gunn will have some of the same problems as there was a highly publicized and very similar incident involving relationship abuse there just a few years ago (also prohibited discriminatory harassment under Title IX).

On the subject of district-wide policy, PAUSD's current sexual harassment policy does not include sexual violence and does not provide for training in sexual violence. (It also fails to utilize the required state-mandated Uniform Complaint Procedure for claims of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, as required by California law). See Web Link

While OCR does not mandate that the policy include sexual violence specifically, it also states that :

"Title IX does not require a recipient to adopt a policy specifically prohibiting sexual harassment or sexual violence. As noted in the 2001 Guidance, however, a recipient’s general policy prohibiting sex discrimination will not be considered effective and would violate Title IX if, because of the lack of a specific policy, students are unaware of what kind of conduct constitutes sexual harassment, including sexual violence, or that such conduct is prohibited sex discrimination. OCR therefore recommends that a recipient’s nondiscrimination policy state that prohibited sex discrimination covers sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and that the policy include examples of the types of conduct that it covers."

Thus, it appears that PAUSD's sexual harassment policy likely "violates Title IX" because student [and teachers such as Mr. Kandell] appear to have been "unaware" that the conduct described in the Verde story constituted prohibited sex discrimination.

These issues and others, including such things as whether PAUSD's TItle IX coordinators were properly trained, will all be within the ambit of the Compliance Review. This training and procedures will help to maintain a nondiscriminatory environment for our female students (in the phrasing of the Verde, it will help to reduce or eliminate the effects of Paly's pervasive "rape culture."). That is all to the good.

What is not to the good is that this had to be forced on the district. Dr. Skelly should have voluntarily sought technical assistance from OCR, or accepted it when and if it was offered. It is disgraceful that we are now the subject of a Compliance Review and appear to be resisting cooperating with OCR. How does that help our students?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:46 am

I don't have a dog in this fight, but I'm curious whether Real Estate agents must disclose these shenanigans to potential home buyers yet, in writing, since a supposedly large percentage of asking price is based on the perceived value of our school district. What is the seller's liability for leaving buyers in the dark about our "rape culture" and persistent harassment of the differently abled? How does our county tax assessor feel? Either this is a serious issue, or much ado about nothing.

Posted by Sam
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2013 at 1:01 am

My god, our Palo Alto schools are a cesspool of rape, sexual assault, violence against disabled children, bullying.

What is going on with the children of Palo Alto that make them do these things! Bad or indifferent parenting?

Just awful.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 12, 2013 at 1:04 am

We were darling little angels when I went through PAUSD in the sixties.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 1:13 am

Since rape occurs relatively frequently on the Stanford campus, I wonder what it is that they are doing to prevent it. They did change their review process but it took them three years to do so. You have to wonder why it does still occur on their campus when they have all the talent imaginable to prevent it. Again, google rape and Stanford. I'm curious as to what Edmund Burke feels about this. It seems the students at Stanford feel the same way the students at Paly, profiled in the article, do. If only they could show us the way.
Web Link

Posted by Oh, Please
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 12, 2013 at 1:32 am

Obviously, Edmond has no solution but would prefer to copy text out of books - yawn.

Sam, we have dogmatic, outspoken parents in this district. This stuff goes on at every school but isn't addressed in the media. When I attended PAUSD back in the 80s, all this occurred too but was not publicized. There are too many parents with litigious attitudes now.

Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2013 at 2:10 am

These problems, dire as they are, occur at practically every school in the nation. The climate I enjoyed at Paly over my four years was one that was above all mild-mannered and politically correct to the letter. In my four years at Paly, I don't remember hearing a single racist or ableist comment. I believe there might have been one physical aggression after school my freshman year, but that was about it.

I was involved in an international service organize in high school and had the opportunity to meet students from and visit high schools all around the state. I was shocked to find out how prevalent fights, teenage pregnancies, and jeers like "that's so gay/retarded" were at other schools. Most of these would have been unthinkable at Paly in any social circle.

I don't doubt that these instances occurred and I think it's tragic that they happened. But I think we need to stay focused on the bigger picture. These incidences happen everyday throughout the country and at much higher frequencies in less fortunate and progressive districts. It's great that they are being brought to light, but the reality is that they would have been largely ignored were it not for Paly's award winning publications and for the sue-happy Palo Altan mentality. At the schools where intolerance and a "rape culture" truly pervade, it's most often case that the parents and victims don't have the means or knowledge to file a complaint.

Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2013 at 6:23 am

Based on the OCR letter linked from the news story, they are investigating whether the district responded to the harassment of the girls reported in the Verde story. Either district staff did or they didn't. OCR is also looking at whether PAUSD has the right training and procedures. Either we do or we don't.
I myself am wondering what our superintendent is doing all day, if he is not making sure that we are complying with the law. He seems to be making a habit of getting us into these scrapes and then not telling anybody about it. Although this time I guess he told the school board members secretly?

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 12, 2013 at 7:08 am

Edmund Burke,

Disclose that the source of your authority for your statement that "PAUSD's sexual harassment policy likely 'violates Title IX'" is the Russlynn Ali letter.

As I reported above, that letter has very serious legal problems like being unconstitutional in the eyes of constitutional law experts and creating new laws that completely circumvented the legislative process and boxed the public out of both notice and comments. These criticisms concern me, a Democrat, and should concern everyone; they are not limited to those who Really? summarily dismisses as having fringe political bents and affiliations.

Ms. Ali wrote these things into a letter because she knew if she had put her points in federal regulations, where interpretations and guidance of federal laws belong and which allow for public comments before they are finalized, they would never, ever have gotten through the first stage of review without serious, crippling challenges.

Even if this boils down, as you say, to a finding that PAUSD's policy needs revamping, that's an easy fix and has zero to do with PAUSD having created an environment that allows rape/harassment (anyone who says that must not have kids at Paly or Gunn) or having to "ensure" that harassment not happen on campus (an admirable but impossible and unsupported standard, yet Michelle Dauber's and your read of the law).

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

And please, please stop the speculation that always ends with you assuming the worst of people. If you don't know, don't guess/say.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 7:28 am

Edmund Burke’s analysis for this scenario seems a bit off-the-mark. His initial point seems to revolve around the fact that “sexual violence” has occurred to one, or more, students. So far, we have no verifiable facts concerning “sexual violence”.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

And please, Mr. Burke, speak to the issue that there does not have to be any proof of “violence” for [portion removed] to expect the schools/law enforcement to proceed as if there were.

Posted by really?
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 12, 2013 at 7:47 am

"saw this coming" is back, but this morning we have some more context for her argument that OCR's enforcement of civil rights law somehow violates the constitution: Barb Mitchell, our school board VP, has been peddling that same line in secret memos and school board closed sessions (see Web Link

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Mitchell, as the Weekly is reporting, wants to roll back the district's own agreement with OCR, and prevent the federal government from protecting kids except if they receive a specific complaint.

The idea that federal civil rights law in this area (which has been consistent since at least the Clinton administration) is unconstitutional is a pure fantasy, bolstered by STC with quotes from a website that peddles stories calling domestic violence laws into question by retailing accounts of mothers beating up their own babies (look above for STC's earlier posts and my replies).

Unfortunately, STC's [portion removed] theories are shared by our school board trustee Barb Mitchell, who along with Dana Tom, our school board president, has engaged the board in a secret and quixotic effort to resist federal enforcement of civil rights laws in Palo Alto.

Why secret? Because STC, Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom know that the community in Palo Alto supports civil rights laws, doesn't see the federal government as an interloper, and will be unhappy to learn that we are spending taxpayer dollars on a program of resistance.

I hope that readers look carefully at STC's comments above and compare them to Mitchell's constitutional theories, revealed in the Weekly story this morning.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

The Weekly's editor has deleted a key portion of my post--which simply stated the facts in this case. Facts which were published by a PAUSD student publication, published in the Weekly itself, and doubtless restated widely during the various media appearances of those involved with promoting this story,

When we can't talk about facts--what's left to talk about?

Posted by mother of a daughter and a son
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 12, 2013 at 8:49 am

As a mother of a daughter at Paly and a son who will go to Paly, I am very disturbed by this story and the reactions on this board.

Have we, as a community and a district, really done our best to teach our children right from wrong in this area? Shown them how to get help? Supported them when they asked for help?

If Palo Alto is so great, I wonder why this is the best we have been able to do. Surely we can do better.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel here. We just have to be willing to listen to and adopt best practices as developed by experts in the field. Are we too arrogant to do that? To listen to the OCR?

Ashamed for us.

Posted by Town Square Moderator
online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 12, 2013 at 8:49 am

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.


Your post was edited due to our efforts to protect the individuals involved, and especially the victims of the alleged sexual assaults, from further attention and speculation. The comment removed was not factual, but speculated on the veracity of the claims made by one or more people. We will continue to remove such comments to protect the privacy of the families.

Posted by saw this coming
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:02 am


Again, no one is saying that federal civil rights laws are unconstitutional. Re-read my posts carefully.

What is troublesome is that the OCR is making up its own civil rights laws in a letter (not in the US Code where the other laws of the land are found) and which have not been debated by Congress or shared with the public for comment. That, among other things, is what people are calling unconstitutional.

Here is someone's quick overview of how the US system of laws work. Web Link

One-off letters from governmental agency heads blasted to public schools and universities overreach if they create new laws, as is clear from the OMB, the US Governmental Agency so concerned about these loose practices that it issued lengthy guidance to agencies to address these abuses:

"OMB has been particularly concerned that agency guidance practices should be more transparent, consistent and accountable. Such concerns also have been raised by other authorities, including Congress and the courts [which then lists governmental agency "guidance" letters that have been struck down.]"

"guidance documents may not receive the benefit of careful consideration accorded under the procedures for regulatory development and review [including] public participation, including notice and comment under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)... Congressional oversight and judicial review. Because it is procedurally easier to issue guidance documents, there also may be an incentive for regulators to issue guidance documents in lieu of regulations."

"rules which ...establish new policy positions that the agency treats as binding must comply with the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements."

"Poorly designed or misused guidance documents can impose significant costs or limit the freedom of the public"

Web Link

I am not a school board member ghost writing this post. I am just an informed US citizen tired of "self-professed" experts posting in black and white what they are smart enough to know are inaccurate, incomplete and misleading statements of the law and by doing so taking advantage of people who don't know better, hoping they will buy it.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:19 am

> The comment removed was not factual

I disagree that I misrepresented any information that is available in the public domain [portion removed.]

Posted by Shame on you board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:24 am

Saw this coming sounds like a self-professed expert, unfortunately, I am not buying the idea that OCR is the one responsible for our malfunctioning district. The victim whose civil rights is not responsible, nor are the other victims. The parents who sought help, including those who sought that help from a lawyer, are not responsible, either. The board is responsible. They are elected to oversee this district and direct the superintendent to act. Kevin Skelly is responsible. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] One of his acts was to hire Charles Young to ensure that Title IX and the Uniform Complaint Procedure were followed. You decide if Young deserves a raise or termination. Some of the posters are defending the district by asking us to Google rape culture so that we will see that PAUSD is just like every other school, but rarely have I heard a Palo Altan brag that our schools are as mediocre as any other school. Our homes sell because our schools are great, A-plus, but the revelations of the last 12 months have not supported that assertion. Suicides, rapes, civil rights violations, lawsuits, and corruption do not make schools great, they do not support the continued employment of our leaders, and they do not help sell homes.

Posted by Wow again
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:25 am

Past behavior patterns can easily predict future behavior patterns. It is disappointing that Skelly and the Board are hiding an investigation, AGAIN, but shouldn't come as a huge surprise.

The district was warned at the beginning of the year they needed to look into these issues, and apparently didn't work with the investigating attorneys regarding what happened.

The district is negotiating with OCR now, so it shouldn't have been a blind slap to anyone that [portion removed] the Federal Office of Civil Rights is concerned about the behaviors of administrators and FOLLOWING THE LAW.

We have laws for a reason. To protect people. The Board and Skelly, along with Young and Wade have demonstrated a deliberate indifference to following laws that protect children and themselves from investigation. They should all be questioned in public about what they knew and when from EACH OCR CASE.

Without such transparency and constant cover up, how are we (teachers, parents, and students) supposed to trust the administration is telling the truth? We can't. That's just reality.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

> I disagree that I misrepresented any information that
> is available in the public domain [portion removed.]

There is no point contributing, or reading, this topic.

Clearly the Weekly has an agenda--and they are using their publishing platform to aggressively suppress discussion, and the truth about what happened, or what should happen, going forward.

Posted by Who is Responsible?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

I find it a little disturbing that the blame for everything wrong that a high school student does falls upon the shoulders of school district. Paly is not an "Animal House" environment. Where are the parents? Values start at the family. Do you really want the school district to mandate an ethics course at home and administer an entrance exam before kids are allowed to attend?

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

I readily admit that I do not know enough of the facts to comment on this story or the other OCR related stories. However I do have a POV that seems to be lacking on this thread, as well as the others.

The anger and finger-pointing at PAUSD may or may not be justified. But what I don't see here, is the same level of criticism towards the *parents* of the transgressors.

PAUSD's role is not and should not be a substitute for parenting. Those who expect PAUSD to be your parent extension (or your nanny) are conveniently letting the those with the highest responsibility off the hook.

Posted by San Diego resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm

"Who is Responsible," "Parent," and "Oh, Please" address valid points that the culture of a school is constructed not only by the standards that the school sets for its students, but also what the kids are learning at home. While it has been said a few times that parents need to teach their daughters to be more careful with alcohol, etc, why has no one mentioned teaching your sons not to rape? Sure, women will likely always live in fear of being sexually assaulted, but that's because our nation's culture is also that of a rape culture. Instead of blaming the girls for not being careful enough, why not blame the male who is raping her?

Behavior starts at home. Quit blaming and start having important conversations with your children. If there is no sexual abuse, there's less time wasted determining who is at fault.

Posted by Nancy M.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I hope that Ken Dauber will run again for School Board. I am sorry now that I voted for Heidi and Melissa. At the time, I recall that there was a group that advocated just voting for Ken on the theory that it would make your vote count more. I didn't like that at the time, but now I am very disappointed. I now think that if Dauber had won, there would at least be one voice on the board for transparency and one is better than none which is what we have now. Dear Mr. Dauber, please run again. I can understand if you don't want to after what happened, but lots of people do win the second time. I had a sign, and donated, but not very much. I didn't talk to my friends about you because some of my neighbors in Duveneck were for Camille. I am now so furious about all this that if you run again I will put 2 signs and I will go door to door. Maybe people will be more open-minded this time. I hope you are going to run.

Posted by Vote Them Out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Let's vote out as many of the board as we can next election.
Let's get a referendum started to boot out this [portion removed] Skelly.

Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm


I agree with you, the Weekly certainly has an agenda. There is some good information, but most of this reminds me of Fox News - one sided stories, talking over people, censoring the comments with opposing ideas etc. I enjoy this (and Fox) for entertainment value but it is hard to take much of this seriously.
I think most voters/parents are intelligent enough to understand what is going on. It is not good.

Posted by Shame on you board
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I am a voter and a parent and I'm fairly intelligent, so I agree with Alphonso that most of us know what is going on: the board had its chance and blew it, Kevin Skelly's tenure is already over, no one will take his empty promises and apologies seriously anymore. It's over, Skelly supporters. Skelly will still milk at least $500,000 out of us while his $150,000 PR hack will stay on message. The victims of PAUSD will be quickly forgotten once that $20,000,000 donation gets that new Paly gym started. Palo Altans, I present to you the mediocrity that you voted for!

Posted by PalyAlum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 12, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I wouldn't be surprised if Paly's less-than-positive reaction to students' sexual assault claims came from the knowledge that, as of right now, schools can't do much in the face of sexual violence. As anyone who's been to college has learned, it is unbelievably difficult for schools to take any sort of punitive action against a student who allegedly committed rape or another sexual offense, because 1) the school itself has no legal authority, and 2) when a student reports sexual assault, it's their argument against their assailant's. Add that uncertainty to an already sue-happy community and what do you have? A silenced victim and a liberated rapist. And that's not good for anyone.

Communities around the nation are reluctant to address the everpresent elephant in the room, the most easily addressible of the many factors promoting rape culture, and that is alcohol abuse. Both of the Paly incidents involved alcohol. Nearly every sexual assault case at my university in the last three years involved alcohol. This is not to say that alcohol creates rapists (a rapist's a rapist, no matter how drunk, in my opinion), but it certainly creates environments where people are vulnerable and more likely to find themselves in dangerous situations. It also blurs the lines of consent, making it difficult for couples to know what is rape and what is not. Stopping alcohol abuse doesn't start with schools. It starts with parents.

Kids are going to drink if they want to, and have sex if they want to. The only control parents have over this is how much they know about it. Talk to your kids about alcohol and alcohol abuse. Talk to them about consent, and how alcohol blurs the lines. Talk about behaviors that could be considered sexual assault, and talk to them about how to get out of situations they don't want to be in. If your kids drink, lay out your expectations about their behavior, or even better, work together to come up with a set of expectations. Discipline them if they don't follow them, and then support them to get back on the right track. If our community begins these kinds of conversations at home, then the effects will trickle back into the schools. The people I know who are in the most trouble in college are those with parents who, either out of fear and embarrassment or excessive leniency, stayed silent.

Posted by Mad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm

It makes me vomit to think thatuch tax dollars are paying for Chad and Skelly to conspire with Mitchell and the board about how to do nothing about RAPE at our high school.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Mad - the rapes aren't occurring at our high schools. They are occurring by and to our high school students, usually when intoxicated. The schools are not responsible. They are not providing the alcohol. The kids and their parents are. The girl in question decided to leave Paly as she was being shamed by other students. There is no way the school can prevent the kids from being mean. She made the right decision to change schools. It made her life easier. She also decline to press charges. There is nothing the school can do. Sure they can give classes telling kids it's wrong to have sex when drunk, that no mean no, etc. Even Stanford hasn't figured out how to stop students from committing rape.

Posted by Just The Facts
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Fact: Ken Dauber is a Consultant for the Department of Education. Get the connection?

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Just the Facts - did you know that Michele Dauber is, by her report in a town square forum in February 2013, a close friend of Russlyn Ali "The 2010 letter (from my dear friend Russlynn Ali, the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights and head of OCR at the time)". Hmm, makes you wonder why the OCR is so involved in Palo Alto... She stepped down from her position for unknown reasons and now is at West Ed... where Ken Dauber is a consultant....Connect the ....

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2013 at 10:53 pm

parent says that the law school friendship of 20 years ago between Stanford Law Professor Dauber and Assistant Secretary of Education Ali "makes you wonder why the OCR is so involved in Palo Alto."

"facts" also wonders whether Ken Dauber's work as an educational data expert could somehow have prompted these investigations. Others have speculated as to even more hairbrained theories of how someone other than the district officials and board must be to blame for these various findings and investigations of disability bullying, failure to follow 504 procedures, failure to observe the Uniform Complaint Policy, and failing to conduct a Title IX investigation into sexual violence based harassment.

I do not wonder why the OCR is so involved in Palo Alto. The reason is that Palo Alto is a persistent scofflaw.

The right course is to stop casting about for far-fetched conspiracy theories about why Palo Alto is experiencing repeated investigations for civil rights violations. Instead of asking "why is Palo Alto being investigated?" ask "why is Palo Alto breaking the law?" I believe that will be a more availing avenue of inquiry.

Posted by I've got one!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Anybody notice that Robert Kennedy was John Kennedy's brother? And that he was also the Attorney General? And that he prosecuted civil rights violators in the South? And that Kennedy (the Robert one, not the John one) wrote an article called "Suppose God Is Black?" (look it up, it's on the Internets!)
Oops, sorry -- wrong conspiracy theory. Somehow I got them mixed up...

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 12:13 am

Edmund - considering that OCR violations occur every day in every school and workplace, yes, I do the connections as outlined above very interesting. Walk through any school and you will hear "that's so gay", "you're a retard", etc.

Posted by Ian Fleming
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2013 at 6:46 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Edmund Burke
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 8:57 am

In Palo Alto what happened is not that someone said "that's so gay," or "you're a retard" although those things are bad and if a teacher heard that I would hope that he/she would intervene.

What happened at Terman is that over a long period of time a disabled girl was hit, kicked, pushed, punched in the face and relentlessly teased to the point that she experienced mental health problems as a result. The parents consistently reported every incident and begged school officials for help. School officials did not intervene to stop the incidents. They did not do proper investigations, did not follow any procedures at all, and ultimately the child was severely injured as a result.

That is not equivalent to being called "gay," although as I said, I don't consider verbal anti-gay or disability based bullying to be acceptable.

OCR typically responds to complaints. The parents of the disabled girl attempted a long series of efforts to receive help from various school site and district personnel including board members. In every instance they did not receive effective help. In many instances they were simply ignored. Eventually they turned to OCR.

Even after OCR found in their favor, they did not receive appropriate FAPE accommodations. Their child was not receiving an appropriate education; indeed she was not even attending school. At that point they gave the documents to the Weekly. Once the documents were published other families who were experiencing identical or very similar issues began to file complaints because they learned from the Weekly story that perhaps this could be a route that helped their child as well.

Why didn't people complain sooner? I take part of your comment to be that somehow Professor or Ken Dauber must have instigated all of this because Palo Alto has been treated disabled students illegally for a long time so why are they all complaining to the government now?

To that I would respond that something has changed but it is not what you think. What has changed is that Kevin Skelly has a particular philosophy of dealing with special education, which is never going to be successful in a place like Palo Alto. Shortly after arriving here he replaced special ed director Carol Zepecki with Holly Wade (and Amy Drolette, now Brenda Carillo). Unlike Carol who was a problem solver who tried to find a way to give families what they wanted for their child, Holly has taken a very hard line. In neither case were procedures followed correctly because the district didn't really have any due to site based control.

The difference is if you are going to behave lawlessly, but you give people what they hope to have or at least much of what they hope to have, then they won't complain about the lack of procedures. If you are going to hardball everyone as Skelly/Wade do, then the lack of procedures is a fatal flaw in the system, particularly where the system is made up of highly educated parents who know their rights and are not likely to be willing to accept second-class treatment for their disabled students.

The families involved have filed their own complaints, doubtless given hope by the media coverage of the first complaint. OCR is responding to their complaints about their children. OCR is a federal agency subject to federal rules. It is not run like PAUSD where a parent with influence can just get whatever they want from a principal due to their personal relationship or because the parent cooked a few parent appreciation lunches. Do you think that the US Department of Education, one of the biggest federal bureaucracies, subject to oversight, reporting, and statutory governance, just snaps into action because a law school chum picks up the phone, regardless of the merit of complaints or the existence of legal violations?

As to the Compliance Review that is also a hell of the district's own making in 2 ways. First, if you are going to send your teachers and students on a media tour to publicize the existence of a sexual harassment culture at your high school perhaps you should ensure that you have properly followed all procedures and are in full legal compliance before the media tour. If you are looking for someone to blame there, it is not Professor Dauber, it is Michael Milliken, Charles Young and Kevin Skelly. All three of these top officials were aware of the facts reported in the Verde story. The story was circulated by Milliken to his superiors and the board. Yet no one recognized the Title IX implications.

Meanwhile teacher Paul Kandell went on a media blitz with his students advertising how invested Paly was with sexual harassment. Students are harassed on the internet, in the corridors, and on campus to the point that a rape victim was so harassed that she left school. That's illegal, but there it was in black and white and all over the media.

It does not take a lawyer of the caliber of a Chad Graff to conclude that it is unwise for a client who is embroiled in five separate OCR investigations and who has no appropriate sexual harassment policy to embark on a national media tour about how much sexual violence harassment goes on in the district's flagship high school. Was it wise in retrospect for the district to taunt the parent community and OCR in that manner?

And to be accurate, the district had ample advance warning that it might face civil rights law scrutiny for its sexual harassment problem. Both the Weekly in an editorial and Ken Dauber immediately informed the board and district officials about the Title IX ramifications of the story, months before OCR initiated its inquiry. Both were ignored. Professor Dauber also came to a board meeting and explained the matter in great detail and followed that up with a lengthy email urging the board to ensure that the proper investigation was conducted. Far from being the source of the district's problems, Professor Dauber, Ken Dauber, and the Weekly attempted to prevent the current situation by urging the district to proactively take the appropriate steps.

It is difficult to parse responsibility for these events given the secrecy and public silence of our elected officials -- silence and secrecy that is itself legally suspect and also extremely nontransparent. In such a situation all we can know is who was ultimately responsible for these things --

Kevin Skelly, as the CEO has ultimate responsibility for the legal compliance of the district. He failed to ensure legal compliance.

Charles Young, as the district's Title IX officer, was responsible for ensuring that the district's Title IX procedures were correct and also for ensuring that he was properly trained in sexual violence, and also that Title IX was followed in the Paly case. Charles Young does not appear to have conducted these duties in an appropriate manner.

Michael Milliken as the head of secondary education should, when reading the Verde story, have understood the TItle IX implications and met with Principal Phil Winston to ensure that he understood his Title IX obligations, and ensured that Charles was monitoring that situation. He does not appear to have done this.

Phil Winston appears to have been made the fall guy for the district's failure to have proper procedures or train him in them. However without a transparent account of the matter that is impossible to know.

There are also a myriad of questions about the various teachers like Mr. Kandell and counselors in terms of what they knew and when they knew it, whether they were properly trained, or whether there were proper procedures in place. Such questions will be answered in the OCR Compliance Review that is now underway.

Other issues that will be addressed are the remedies that can be put into place at Paly (and hopefully Gunn) to ensure that sexual violence, relationship abuse, dating violence, and cyber sexual harassment are properly addressed by school personnel. There will be new policies and procedures. There will be appropriate training, and there will hopefully be training for students in our secondary schools. There will be a host of other possible school climate remedies designed to ensure that the sexual harassment discrimination that appears based on the Verde story to be rampant will be addressed.

Finally you and other posters have raised the fact that our schools are better than those in high poverty areas. Why doesn't OCR look at Compton or EPA? I take these comments to mean basically that because we have high income, mostly white students with safe neighborhoods and no gangs or drugs we have fewer problems. Why pick on PAUSD? Why not look at these truly troubled communities.

Let me turn that around. A community like PAUSD should be doing a much better job at protecting student civil rights precisely because it has the money, resources, and personnel to get the job done. We have a large district staff, and our principals are not, unlike those areas you mention, dealing with gangs, crime, drugs, and lack of academic achievement and other problems. So it is particularly wrong, particularly infuriating, and particularly flagrant for PAUSD to fail to enforce civil rights law and ensure a discrimination free environment precisely because it could do it if it wanted to. PAUSD's failures can be read as intentional rather than merely overwhelm. PAUSD could be doing this right if it wanted to.

And now that we have the secret emails between Chad and Mitchell we can see that that reading was accurate. PAUSD is engaged in a secret legal strategy to resist federal regulation. Perhaps it should tell DoE that it does not want to be a federal funds recipient any longer and simply have no rules against discrimination at all other than those provided by the US and California Constitutions. I wonder how that would be received politically?

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 13, 2013 at 10:22 am

This is too long and involved for me to get fully up to speed about, I don't know the people, but anyone could say that if you are a girl who is attacked, then you should file a police report. I imagine it is difficult months later to try to know what happened, it hasn't been documented, and there will be he said/she said. This happens all over, not just at PALY, c'mon folks, so I disagree with the laser focus on PALY; it isn't good, but individual persons involved and their parents are the ones who should handle personal relationships, drinking choices, and regrettably, sometimes the police are needed if underage/non-consenting sexual activity has occurred.
I also disagree that the school (any school) can police off campus parties and social media activity.
Social media is a real poison and at a minimum a distraction to teens; I would minimize tech use on campus if possible.
The school needs to focus on what happens in school and to be work to make the on-campus atmosphere appropriate for learning in a safe and supportive environment. I do think sports teams are part of school so fall in that venue of oversight.
Student journalists are trying for ever more cutting-edge angles to attact attention to gain admissions to "top" colleges - this is one trend I have personally seen (and I do not mean only at PALY).

Posted by Drue Dilligence
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2013 at 11:40 am


You write: “The school needs to focus on what happens in school and to be work to make the on-campus atmosphere appropriate for learning in a safe and supportive environment.”

That is what is at the heart of the OCR Dear Colleague Letter dated April 2011 regarding Title IX. Schools are required to have policies and training in place to ensure a non-hostile learning environment. Educating students about consent and peer harassment is one possible intervention.

Excerpts from Title IX DCL:

Title IX protects students from sexual harassment in a school’s education programs and activities. This means that Title IX protects students in connection with all the academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs of the school, whether those programs take place in a school’s facilities, on a school bus, at a class or training program.

If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.

For example, if a student alleges that he or she was sexually assaulted by another student off school grounds, and that upon returning to school he or she was taunted and harassed by other students who are the alleged perpetrator’s friends, the school should take the earlier sexual assault into account in determining whether there is a sexually hostile environment. The school also should take steps to protect a student who was assaulted off campus from further sexual harassment or retaliation from the perpetrator and his or her associates.
Regardless of whether a harassed student, his or her parent, or a third party files a complaint under the school’s grievance procedures or otherwise requests action on the student’s behalf, a school that knows, or reasonably should know, about possible harassment must promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation. As discussed later in this letter, the school’s Title IX investigation is different from any law enforcement investigation, and a law enforcement investigation does not relieve the school of its independent Title IX obligation to investigate the conduct. See Web Link

This is not to say that Paly did not properly address the situation. I'm not surprised that OCR wants to audit our sexual harassment procedures in light of the prior investigation that showed our procedures in regards to disability based harassment were lacking.

Posted by Hey
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm

THERE IS NO RAPE CULTURE AT PALY! [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Terrible if PHil Winston was the fall guy for this, instead of Skelly.

If Skelly would leave, things could be repaired, move on, and there would have been no need for the 150,000 communications crutch hire.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Re: Edmund Burke

I always find it fascinating when someone refers to themselves in the third person. But even Bob Dole didn't refer to himself as "Senator Bob Dole"...

Posted by Almost done with PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Mr. Winston resigned from his position as principal because of his health, nothing else. He had a very serious health scare at the end of the school year and decided he needed to protect his health and have a more of a family life by going back to a less demanding position than that of principal for a high school with 2000 students. There is nothing else to it.

Posted by false
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 14, 2013 at 11:43 am

"Posted by Almost done with PAUSD, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, 12 hours ago

Mr. Winston resigned from his position as principal because of his health, nothing else. He had a very serious health scare at the end of the school year and decided he needed to protect his health and have a more of a family life by going back to a less demanding position than that of principal for a high school with 2000 students. There is nothing else to it."

False. Ask any Paly teacher or employee for the truth.

Posted by Balance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

A few Paly teaches have told me that they were not fond of Phil Winston, but that doesn't mean a majority of them, still, never underestimate the power of a small group of unionized teachers who may feel scorned.[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Almost done with PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm

@ false

What tells you that I am not a Paly teacher or employee?
Are you one?

Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 14, 2013 at 12:51 pm

"did you know that Michele Dauber is, by her report in a town square forum in February 2013, a close friend of Russlyn Ali "The 2010 letter (from my dear friend Russlynn Ali, the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights and head of OCR at the time)". Hmm, makes you wonder why the OCR is so involved in Palo Alto... She stepped down from her position for unknown reasons and now is at West Ed... where Ken Dauber is a consultant....Connect the ...."

I had been expecting something like this, since it is the only explanation that I could come up with for the OCR's intense interest in any thing in Palo Alto. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by False is right
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm

To Almost Done: if you were a Paly High employee, you would know the truth.

Obviously, by your "he resigned for health reasons" comment, you didn't work at Paly High.

If you did, you'd know.

Posted by Almost done with schools
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm

@ false and false is right

I am having a good laugh, right now!

Posted by Explanation
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jul 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Fred -

I've worked on the technical side of the computer business since the '70s, working mostly in networking, OS, and telco.

When I tell my son to be careful using social networks, he hears, "blah blah blah" and tells me, "'re only saying that because you think you know so much about it."

His data point is correct. But as a rationalization for fighting me and doing what he wants anyway, he is not using sound reasoning.

He's finding reasons to discount the message he's hearing in order to squirm away and do whatever seems convenient or desirable to him. He'd be better off trying to understand the value in what I'm saying.

Excessive attention may seem unfair, but it's only one of the consequences of our school district's current weaknesses. If the district leadership were less self-righteous, it could keep its delegation of responsibility to the sites and also be done with this whole thing.

Is it a success if the district squirms away from providing better support for those of its students who need it? Even if it did have some sort of legal grounds for doing so?

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm


I'm inclined to believe you more that the flases because who refers to Paly as "Paly High"?

unfortunately, one cannot help being suspicious, with Miliken also leaving at the same time, maybe they both got in trouble?

Posted by sleuth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 6:15 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parents
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 14, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Phil Winston had a very positive impact at Paly, re-invigorating a climate of caring about the well being and success of all students. That climate had gone downhill prior to Phil's arrival, to the detriment of many students. Both of our kids, and the student body as a whole, really appreciated him personally and his impact on the school culture. He had a significant positive impact on them during those important years.
We have spoken to many teachers since Phil took over. While we all have our strengths and weaknesses, most teachers who we have spoken with appreciated him. In particular, those who seemed to have a "students first" rather than a "teacher centric" outlook were most supportive of him.
We wish Phil well in the next few years. Students will be fortunate to have such a caring teacher. We expect that, as his own young children grow older, he will return to administration and be an even more effective leader.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by paly mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2013 at 7:31 pm

It's pitiful to see you all spinning out theories of how a Stanford Law professor might have a friend in the government legal office that might have somehow caused someone to take a look at PAUSD. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Can you not understand that families filed complaints with OCR? OCR investigates complaints from families in your schools in your neighborhoods who are being injured by illegal behavior.

You know how to have less attention from the feds? Screw up less. Follow the law. Hurt fewer students. Ensure that every child is treated with equal dignity regardless of race, sex, or disability.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Many of the posts above have been very critical of the staff of PAUSD and the schools. These comments have not been removed. So let’s see what will happen with this. Recently, students at Stanford questioned Michele Dauber’s changes on the review process for rape on the Stanford campus (she was appointed to look at it after another Dear Colleague letter from “her dear friend” Russlyn Ali) this is a small excerpt of their exchange: The student wrote: “Out of curiosity, does Jamie Pontius-Hogan have a law degree? Who vetts the training materials, and why are they not made publicly available? I think anytime the President of the University has to suspend the ASSU Constitutions section on basic rights, as students we deserve to know a little bit more. I want to know more about the training process, and more about the qualifications of people like Ms. Pontius-Hogan to set up systems that are fair and impartial.” Michele Dauber’s response was: I object to the Daily serving as a platform for attacking the credibility and competence of faculty and staff, which seems to be becoming a habit. In my opinion, Jamie Hogan is one of the most, if not the most, dedicated and competent staff members at this University. She works tirelessly to ensure fair and well-run processes for Stanford students. It is obnoxious in the extreme to me as a faculty member to see our marvelous staff subjected to this unfair attack. You can have whatever opinion you want about the ARP. If women students and men of conscience do not become activists and speak up for change then Stanford may not get a good policy. But there is no basis at all for this immature name calling against staff. Web Link You can read more at the link above. So much for listening to student voices (unless they happen to agree with yours). She also clearly doesn’t object to the Weekly serving as a platform to attack staff at PAUSD. I can only surmise it is because it is a private institution. I guess only staff at public institutions can be criticized.

Posted by paly mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I don't see the problem. Sounds like she was defending her admin. Nothing wrong with that. And why do you keep putting "dear friend" in quotes like it's some kind of indictment? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Seriously, you don't see the problem with this? Why is her "administration" any less capable of being questioned than the PAUSD administration? That's her opinion. Why isn't the student allowed to question it without being attacked? Double standard anyone?

Posted by Umm...
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 14, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I'm not really following this. Here is what we have going on:
- Dana Tom and Barb Mitchell, president and vp of the school board, [portion removed] to the public about the agenda for a closed meeting
- Barb Mitchell wrote a memo [portion removed] that secretly advances the theory that PAUSD should defy federal authority over civil rights law. When confronted about it, she asked for the memo back rather than explain herself.
- Paly teachers and staff, and district staff, published a student piece about "rape culture" at Paly including descriptions of sexual harassment directed at students, and somehow didn't understand that they had any obligation to find out what was going on.
- Toss in half a dozen OCR complaints, including a finding of violation of federal rights laws,
- And a district attorney, Laurie Reynolds of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost, who made false and misleading statements to the public (though probably not to the school board, who on the evidence of the last couple of days was probably in on it).
So we have [portion removed] school board members, asleep at the switch district staff, violations of civil rights, and prevaricating lawyers.
Any of that stimulate any outrage for you? No? Here's a couple of random facts for you:
[Portion removed.] Why is OCR investigating Palo Alto? Because that's where the violations are. If our elected leaders don't clean up their act, I suspect they will look fondly back to the time when the only investigations were of civil rights violations.

Posted by paly mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm


Who cares? So what? What does this have to do with anything? This is a sideshow. Either you are trying to distract people from talking about the civil rights violations in the district [portion removed] or you are so obsessed with this random person who has nothing to do with any of this [portion removed.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2013 at 10:28 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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