.
.
Vista Unified
School District
and the US Office of Civil
Rights
Palo Alto School District
Issues
Editorial: As district lawyers
step in, disappointing spin
begins
School board struggles to understand
bullying case investigation and depth of
district governance problem
Palo Alto Online
March 1, 2013        

As Palo Alto school officials brace for an
inevitable lawsuit stemming from its failure
to respond properly to the bullying of a
special-education middle school student,
the district's handling of the issue
became even more bizarre this week.

The school board, which
had been kept in the dark
by Superintendent Kevin Skelly
about an agreement he signed in
December with the Department of
Education's Office for Civil Rights
(OCR) and all the details of their
investigation and findings, met in
closed session with its attorneys
Tuesday afternoon and then had
their first chance to discuss the
situation in public at its regular board
meeting.






With two weeks having passed since the
story of this case became public, and
then
only after the family of the
bullied child released documents to
the Weekly,
what was the district's
plan for explaining to the board
and public what happened and
why?









Instead of asking for a
presentation from the Office of
Civil Rights
or from those in the district
responsible for ensuring that bullying and
harassment complaints are investigated
and resolved in accordance with laws and
district policies
, the board and public
heard from the district's lawyer,
Laurie Reynolds.

To hear the description of events as told
by Reynolds, a partner with the Oakland
firm of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost, the
district's experience with OCR over this
case was simply fantastic.

[The lawyer] said when the district
received the first draft last April of the
OCR's list of remedial actions it wanted
taken, the district responded by saying
they were "great" but wanted to do more
than what was being asked. According to
Reynolds, "It was kind of an amusing
moment," she said. "They were stone
silent. They said 'Wow! OK.'"

Reynolds explained to the board that
OCR only wanted training done at the
one middle school where the victim
of bullying had been enrolled, but
that the district wanted to do it at all
district schools.

But on this point and several others,
Reynolds was incorrect, misled the
board and the public and engaged in
pure obfuscation.



The first draft of the agreement, obtained
by the Weekly from the school district,
OCR's original language was "
The
District will provide annual
mandatory training on
disability-based harassment to
all middle and high school site
administrators
and teaching
staff.
OCR is available to provide
the first training."

The final agreement signed in December,
reflecting the enhancements Reynolds
described, stated "The District will provide
mandatory training on disability-based
harassment to all school site
administrators in the District. OCR is
available to provide the first training."
"District site administrators will then
train the teachers
at their school sites
within the first three months of the school
year."

It added elementary school principals to
those being trained, but r
emoved the
requirement for annual training and
for the immediate and formal training
of teachers.
Neither agreement was
limited to the one middle school as
Reynolds asserted twice in her comments
to the board.

The f
inal agreement also reduced the
requirements from mandating annual
age-appropriate instruction on
disability harassment to requiring it
for only the next three years.

Reynolds also did the board and
public a disservice by suggesting the
district had no ability to settle the
case with OCR prior to the issuance
of findings because the family of the
bullied student wouldn't agree to a
process called Early Complaint
Resolution,
which is available when a
complaint is first received.

In fact, OCR rules clearly state that at
any time during an investigation, the
district can opt to enter into a
resolution agreement and avoid
formal and possible damaging legal
findings.

The district's failure to seek such an
outcome, done without any input or even
knowledge of the school board, may have
profound ramifications, because it led to
a set of legal findings of non-compliance
with federal law that can now be used in
litigation against the district.

It is very unfortunate that the school
board is now in a position of being let
down by both its top administrators and
its own law firm, which should have
briefed the board on its legal exposure
early on in the process, and it is now
essential that the board bring in separate
counsel to advise it independently.

Credit trustee Melissa Baten Caswell
for her admonishment at Tuesday's
meeting that the district should
never again enter into an agreement
in response to an inquiry or
investigation from an outside agency
without the board's full knowledge
and approval.

As the sad saga of the district's handling
of this issue continues to unfold, it is
important that we not lose sight of the fact
that there are
real kids and real
families who have been traumatized,
first by the bullying and then by the
systemic failure of the school district
to respond properly.

While there is a board governance mess
to clean up, there is also the critical need
to ensure that district administrators
actually follow the policies that the school
board has put in place to protect children,
and to hold those who don't accountable.

Related material:

Feb. 8 Palo Alto Weekly article:
Feds:
School district violated student's civil
rights

Feb. 8 Palo Alto Weekly editorial:
Bullying case reveals systemic problems
in school district

Feb. 13 Palo Alto Weekly article:
Painful bullying stories told to school
board

Feb. 21 Palo Alto Weekly article:
School district moves to correct
civil-rights violations

Feb. 27 Palo Alto Weekly article:
School district critics, lawyer clash on
federal probe
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Board members
create a firewall
between
themselves and
their lawyers
In many districts only the Asst.
Superintendent for HR talks to
the lawyers.  I'm sure the Sup
or HR Asst Supt was getting
instructions from the lawyers
that had been specifically
chosen by the school board to
give instructions to
administrators, and to keep
board members at arm's
length.  Board chooses law
firm that will protect and defend
district when it violates the law,
rather than give instructions on
how to obey the law
Issue 1: Firewall
Yes                                                           No                         Yes
School Districts and the OCR (Office of Civil Rights):  three
bullying cases
Does Palo Alto School District handle bullying cases differently from other districts?
Here is a comparison based on three critical issues.
Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost
Chula Vista Elementary
School District
Why?

My guess is the
school board wants to
be able to say they
didn't know what their
administrators were
doing, or to say that
they didn't tell the
administrators what to
do.  
Issue 2: Secrecy
Lawyers mislead?

The idea that they misled
the board is ridiculous.  It is
true they misled the public.  
The board didn't ask to
hear from OCR
Why didn't the district want
teachers to receive training
from the OCR?  What
would the district add or
leave out that was so
important?
Posted by Fresh air , a resident of Another
Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 1, 2013 at
8:57 am

The
culture of coverup that led to this mess
is not being addressed. I commend Melissa,
but she's not nearly doing enough.

Skelly et al should be put immedately on
adminstrative leave pending an investigation.




Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of the Old
Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 1, 2013 at
9:00 am

We have a failure of leadership in PAUSD,
plain and simple. For an example of
appropriate leadership in a similar case, see
the attached article in which the
Brentwood
District in the East Bay just fired its
Superintendent for failing to discipline a
teacher who kicked a special education
student.

See, Dana, Melissa, Camille, Heidi, and
Barbara? It's really not that difficult. Grow a
spine.




Posted by Edmund Burke, a resident of
Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 1,
2013 at 9:09 am

This is a case about a little disabled girl with
pretty brown curls and a beautiful smile and a
speech and language impairment. She
wanted to go to school like everyone else.
She wanted to make friends, have fun, and
learn. Instead, she was kicked, pushed,
punched, and savagely mocked and
tormented. She was ridiculed and told that
she was stupid, retarded, and hated by
everyone.

She told five teachers but no one stopped it.
Her parents told everyone from the teachers
to district staff to the school board but no one
intervened effectively to stop it. No one even
told them how to use the state complaint
policy to get help. As a result of that, the little
disabled girl has been very very hurt. The
district's paid lawyer does not want to talk
about that. She was paid to come and change
that subject. In the process, the district's paid
lawyer told the public and the school board
some things that weren't true. But she's not
the only one who knew that some of the things
she said weren't true.

She knew that OCR never asked for training
just at the school where the little disabled girl
was hurt. She knew that OCR wanted annual
professional training at all the secondary
schools for all teachers and administrators.
The Superintendent knew that these facts
weren't true when the district's paid lawyer
said them. The Superintendent knew what the
first draft of the Resolution Agreement said.
Charles Young also knew what the first draft
of the Resolution Agreement said.

So when Dr. Skelly and Charles Young sat
silently while the district's paid lawyer told the
public and the board things that aren't true,
knowing those facts aren't true, they were
using the district's paid lawyer to tell the board
and public things that weren't true. They were
using the district's paid lawyer to mislead the
public for them.

The truth is that PAUSD negotiated against
OCR's desire for annual training for all
secondary school staff.

The truth is that PAUSD negotiated against
OCR's desire for professional training of
teachers, opting instead for having the
principals train the teachers.

Instead of OCR training the teachers, the
principals will train the teachers -- including
the principal in the school that was found to
have violated the disabled little girl's rights by
not stopping the bullying. That same principal
who told the federal investigators that she and
her staff did not need disability harassment
training because they were "very
sophisticated." That same principal who told
the federal investigators that there was no
harassment because"if it's different kids then
its not harassment." [Portion removed by Palo
Alto Online staff.]

The district resisted and negotiated against
training being conducted annually. They only
want to do this one time. It was not only the
district's paid lawyer who was inaccurate and
misleading to the public. Charles Young also
misled the public when he also stated that the
district wanted to hire a professional private
trainer, Dora Dome, rather than use the free
training provided by OCR. Charles Young
stated that a private contractor was hired
because OCR would only do training once
time. Charles Young stated to the board that
the contractor was selected because she
would "provide these trainings over a longer
period of time." (Web Link) But that wasn't
true. Because PAUSD isn't providing training
over "a longer period of time." PAUSD is only
providing it one time. The federal government
wanted PAUSD to provide annual training for
all staff, but PAUSD's paid lawyer bargained it
down to one-time training for administrators
only.

Dana Tom the school board president also
misled the public by omission. Dana Tom
wants you to believe that the first he heard of
this was when the story appeared in the
Weekly two weeks ago. But that's not true.
Dana Tom knew in March 2011 that the little
disabled girl had been hit in the face so hard
she had to go to the doctor.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Now Dana Tom the school board president,
Melissa Caswell, Kevin Skelly, Charles Young,
and the rest of the district officials have
chosen to hire a paid lawyer to try to control
the damage they have done and save their
careers and reputations.

The district's paid lawyer is pretty good. The
district's paid lawyer thinks she is very smart
about Palo Alto. She has been representing
PAUSD against special education parents for
many years, helping PAUSD to give only the
bare minimum in services to disabled children.
She knows a thing or two about Palo Alto and
its feeling about its schools. She thinks that
Palo Alto parents want so badly to believe that
our schools are wonderful and exceptional
and that PAUSD does better than everywhere
else that they will believe that even when
PAUSD is being called on the carpet by
federal investigators PAUSD received a gold
star. She thinks you will believe anything. You
have to show her that you won't. [Portion
removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
At any given time, any
Superintendent is probably   
doing exactly what the board
wants while the board
pretends to be looking the
other way.

Schools rarely try to change
teacher attitudes, largely
because officials share the
same attitudes as teachers.  
Teachers don't like to be
criticized for how they treat
kids.  It's very hard to change
teacher culture, and it would
bother the teachers union.  
The district just wants
teachers to keep kids under
control.  So it's not hard to
understand that the district
didn't want to train teachers.

Also, districts seem to like it
that teachers are ignorant of
the law.  Teachers might start
thinking for themselves if the
OCR told them they were
allowed to.  And of course,
the district feels it's job is to
keep teachers under control
just as the teachers' job is to
keep kids under control.
School boards often let the
lawyers do the lying for them.
If the board wanted to be
briefed about legal
exposure, it would
communicate regularly with
its lawyers
This is easy for Melissa
Caswell to say.  But it's just
jabber.  
Why doesn't she
say this to the lawyers?  
Because she doesn't
really mean it.
School Board to Authorize $140,000 for Law Firm
Accused of Misleading the Board and the Public
Schools & Kids, posted by Curious, a resident of the Fairmeadow
neighborhood, on
May 4, 2013

The Board of Education at its May 7 meeting is scheduled to
authorize a $140,000 contract for legal services from the law
firm of Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost
(for details, see Web Link).

Fagen is the firm of Laurie Reynolds, the attorney who spoke at a
January school board meeting on the federal civil rights investigation
of PAUSD that resulted in a finding of noncompliance with federal civil
rights law. Reynolds gave a presentation that was described by the
Weekly as "incorrect, misled the board and the public and engaged in
pure obfuscation." See Web Link.

The Weekly reported that Reynolds' statement contained several
incorrect characterizations of the law and the facts. For example,
"Reynolds also did the board and public a disservice by suggesting
the district had no ability to settle the case with OCR prior to the
issuance of findings because the family of the bullied student wouldn't
agree to a process called Early Complaint Resolution, which is
available when a complaint is first received. In fact, OCR rules clearly
state that at any time during an investigation, the district can opt to
enter into a resolution agreement and avoid formal and possible
damaging legal findings."

Reynolds also falsely claimed to the school board that OCR wanted
the district to provide staff training at only one middle school, but that
the district wanted to provide training at all schools. In fact, the
Weekly report that a public records request revealed that OCR
wanted training at all middle and high schools, and that the district
negotiated to reduce requirements for annual training.

Reynolds subsequently called public discussion
of the district's failure to protect the civil rights of
a disabled child "tiresome" and "distracting,"
advising PAUSD not to "rehash" the issue any
further in public.
. >>>


School board president Dana Tom has followed Reynolds' advice,
and the OCR investigation and compliance have not been discussed
at any open sessions of the school board since January. Tom was,
however, forced to cancel a closed session meeting, apparently on
the topic of civil rights, because it would have violated the open
meeting provisions of California's Brown Act.

According to the board agenda item, PAUSD has paid Fagen
$115,000 so far this school year, including for Reynolds' work in
negotiating with OCR and her appearance at the January school
board meeting. Over the last four years, PAUSD has paid Reynolds'
firm $420,000. Fagen leads in total billings for PAUSD this year and
over the last four years.
March 12, 2013, 9:29 AM                                             

School lawyer: 'We are not rehashing
this any more'
School district's attorney calls discussion of bullying case
'tiresome, distracting, unproductive'

Calling the controversy over a federal civil-rights
investigation a "tiresome, distracting and an
unproductive loop," the attorney for the Palo Alto school
district has advised her clients to "send the message
that we are moving forward."

Attorney Laurie Reynolds, a partner with the Oakland
law firm of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost, made her
suggestions in an email to Superintendent Kevin Skelly
on Feb. 28 after repeated attempts by the Weekly to
contact her for additional information after her Feb. 26
presentation were rebuffed.

Skelly forwarded her advice to each of the five
school-board members. The Weekly obtained the email
through a Public Records Act request.

"I've been rolling around in my head how we break free
of this tiresome, distracting and unproductive loop,"
Reynolds emailed Skelly.

"I'd like to see the district send the message that we are
moving forward. We are focused on the important work
of developing policies, conducting training and providing
necessary education. We are not rehashing this any
more; we won't let it distract us from this important work,"
Reynolds wrote.

School board President Dana Tom and Vice President
Barbara Mitchell appeared to follow Reynolds' advice
with the publication last Friday of a guest opinion piece
in the Weekly.

Reynolds' email was sent to Skelly as the Weekly was
attempting to obtain clarification from her on several
assertions she made at the board meeting that were in
conflict with documents related to the case of a middle
school student who had been repeatedly bullied.

After four efforts to reach her after the meeting by phone
and email, she replied to Weekly publisher Bill Johnson,
"Thank you for your email. It is our firm's practice not to
speak with reporters on behalf of clients or regarding
client matters."

(At its meeting tonight, the school board will consider a
proposal to immediately hire a district public relations
person at an estimated salary of $150,000 a year as
part of a package of new expenditures made possible by
an improving financial picture. Read more about
tonight's meeting.)

In the only public presentation on the Office for Civil
Rights (OCR) inquiry into the school district's handling of
the bullying case, Reynolds told the board Feb. 26 the
district offered to do substantially more training and
other actions than the Office for Civil Rights had initially
requested.

She said when the district received the first draft last
April of the Office for Civil Rights' list of remedial actions
it wanted taken, the district responded by saying they
were "great" but wanted to do more than what was being
asked. According to Reynolds, "It was kind of an
amusing moment," she said. "They were stone silent.
They said 'Wow! OK.'"

Reynolds explained to the board that the Office for Civil
Rights only wanted training done at the one middle
school where the victim of bullying had been enrolled,
but that the district wanted to do it at all district schools.

But first draft of the agreement, obtained by the Weekly
from the school district, the Office for Civil Rights'
original language was "The District will provide annual
mandatory training on disability-based harassment to all
middle and high school site administrators and teaching
staff. OCR is available to provide the first training."

The final agreement signed in December, reflecting the
enhancements Reynolds described, stated "The District
will provide mandatory training on disability-based
harassment to all school site administrators in the
District. OCR is available to provide the first training."

It continued: "District site administrators will then train the
teachers at their school sites within the first three months
of the school year."

It added elementary school principals to those being
trained, but removed the requirement for annual training
and for the immediate and formal training of teachers.
Neither agreement was limited to the one middle school
as Reynolds asserted twice in her comments to the
board.

District administrators who were present at the meeting
and familiar with the original draft offered no correction
to Reynolds' comments.

The final agreement also reduced the requirements from
mandating annual age-appropriate instruction on
disability harassment to requiring it for only the next
three years.

Reynolds also left the public with the impression that the
district had no ability to settle the case with the Office for
Civil Rights prior to the issuance of findings because the
family of the bullied student wouldn't agree to a process
called Early Complaint Resolution, which is available
when a complaint is first received.

In fact, Office for Civil Rights rules clearly state that at
any time during an investigation, the district can opt to
enter into a resolution agreement and avoid formal and
possible damaging legal findings.

The district's failure to seek such an outcome could be
costly because it led to a set of legal findings of
non-compliance with federal law that can now be used in
litigation against the district.

Related material:

Feb. 8 Palo Alto Weekly article: Feds: School district
violated student's civil rights

Feb. 8 Palo Alto Weekly editorial:
Bullying case reveals systemic problems in school district

Feb. 13 Palo Alto Weekly article:
Painful bullying stories told to school board

Feb. 21 Palo Alto Weekly article:
School district moves to correct civil-rights violations

Feb. 27 Palo Alto Weekly article:
School district critics, lawyer clash on federal probe

March 1 Palo Alto Weekly editorial:
As district lawyers step in, disappointing spin begins

March 8 Palo Alto Weekly editorial:
The path forward for Palo Alto school board
Issue 3 The board
pretends it was misled
by lawyers,
 Board
intentionally misled the
public.  Board made sure
to claim it had not
bothered to read anything
or ask questions
Yes                                                    ___                               Yes
.
Issue 3: The board
pretends it was misled by
lawyers
Yes                                                    Yes                              Yes
Adult to child
bullying in SDUSD
SAN DIEGO COUNTY
GRAND JURY
2012-2013
(filed May 16, 2013)
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