As part of the Board’s commitment to transparency, the Board plans to update the community weekly via this page, “The Board Report” email, the Superintendent’s Weekly Report and/or Board Meetings (open session) on progress toward understanding and improving PAUSD’s response to sexual harassment, assault and discrimination.
10/19/17: Message to the PAUSD community from PAUSD Board President Terry Godfrey:
The final report developed in response to the Board’s direction last Spring that the firm of Cozen O’Connor conduct an investigation of how district staff handled the issues surrounding the events at Palo Alto High School in the Fall of 2016 can be found here. The Executive Summary is below:
In May 2017, the Palo Alto Unified School District (the District) engaged Cozen O’Connor to conduct an external review of the District’s response to a Title IX report at the Palo Alto High School from the 2016-2017 academic year to determine how the matter was handled, and whether it was handled in accordance with applicable federal laws, state laws and Board policies.
The Title IX report in question concerned a Fall 2016 report by a Palo Alto High School (PAHS or the School) student (the Complainant). In the fall semester of the 2016-2017 academic year, the Complainant reported a Title IX-related incident to members of the PAHS Administration. PAHS employees immediately reported the incident to the Palo Alto Police Department and, later that evening, to Santa Clara County Child Protective Services. The School also notified the Complainant’s family, conducted an initial investigation into the incident, imposed interim and ongoing remedial and supportive measures for the Complainant and, within several days of the report, imposed protective measures and disciplinary action against the Respondent, another PAHS student. In short, the School took immediate steps to respond to the reported conduct, care for the welfare of both students, and ensure that external authorities were notified in accordance with state law.
The School did not, however, provide the Complainant with information about procedural options under the Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP), complete the investigation into the incident, or provide the Complainant or Respondent with written notice of the outcome of the investigation, all of which are required under both Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the UCP. Several weeks later, when the Complainant subsequently reported concerns about harassment by other students, the School again took immediate steps to address the Complainant’s concerns, but did not identify the reported conduct as potential harassment or retaliation under Title IX, did not coordinate all available information, and again did not provide the Complainant with information about procedural options under the UCP. The Complainant transferred from the District for the second semester. Despite concerns that the withdrawal may have been tied to the impact of the reported Title IX-related incident, the School again did not provide the Complainant with information about procedural options under the UCP.
The Complainant’s parent/guardian subsequently filed a UCP with the District at the end of March 2017. In early April 2017, the School engaged an external investigator to address the issues raised in the UCP. The UCP investigation was concluded in August 2017 and the findings were communicated to the parties in writing by the District’s Title IX Coordinator. Relevant documents regarding the School’s response to this report were also shared with the U.S.
Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
In sum, we find that the District’s response to the 2016 Title IX report did not comport with key aspects of Title IX, state law, Board policy and the District’s administrative regulations. While School administrators took timely action to respond to the Complainant’s report, they did not provide the Complainant with the full range of procedural options available under Title IX, state law, Board policy and administrative regulations. The initial steps, which included a limited investigation, the provision of support and remedial measures, and the imposition of a disciplinary sanction against the Respondent were insufficient to meet the District’s obligations under Title IX, state law and Board policy. While the steps taken reflected care for the welfare of both students, the response to the report by the School and the District reflected systemic concerns about the application of Title IX and Board policy given our observations about the role of the Title IX Coordinator, the level of supervisory authority exercised, the coordination of information and personnel and the failure to follow written policies in practice.
On October 10, 2017 Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks announced the formation of a special Superintendent’s Task Force focused on combatting sexual harassment and assault.
The firm of Cozen O’Connor presented the results of their investigation in an open session, televised Special Board Meeting on September 21, 2017.
7/13/17: Message to the PAUSD community from PAUSD Board President Terry Godfrey:
Dear PAUSD community,
Over the course of this past school year, our district has been confronted with very real concerns of sexual misconduct among students both on and off campus. The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education and staff are committed to understanding and improving our district’s culture and response in order to ensure a safe, welcoming, and productive learning and working environment for all students and staff.
In May, the Board engaged the law firm of Cozen O'Connor to investigate the PAUSD’s institutional response to a specific case on the Palo Alto High School campus last fall. The interim findings from this investigation, feedback from our community, and our work with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on the Resolution Agreement (RA) reached earlier this year regarding cases dating back to 2013-14, have led to some immediate systemic improvements. We realize that a change in culture and in processes are needed, and that we need to devote our resources to these important changes. We appreciate the engagement of community members who have advanced productive ideas as we engage in this critical work.
In an effort to keep our community informed, I would like to provide you with details on immediate steps:
- Historically, the role of Compliance Officer was a component of another job, which included several other responsibilities. Our commitment to improvement will now include employing a full time Title IX/Civil Rights Coordinator whose full time duty will be to help us build a culture throughout PAUSD in which all members of our school communities respect the civil rights of others; and to lead us in implementing of processes by which we can respond to potential violations of civil rights promptly, vigorously and effectively. The announcement for this role was posted this week and can be found here. In the meantime, we have engaged an interim Compliance Officer, Mr. John DiPaolo, a member of the Cozen firm. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The district has historically maintained a Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP) Log. Since we released the UCP log on May 31, we have been alerted to 10 new cases, some current and some involving delayed reports from prior months, some off campus and some on campus. All have been added to the log and will be investigated. The log includes both complaints which have been filed through the UCP and other complaints and matters that are otherwise being investigated by the District. The log is posted at the bottom of this page and the procedures for filing complaints can be found here. Again, the Civil Rights Compliance Officer can be reached at: email@example.com.
- Cozen O’Connor is completing its aforementioned investigation of the district’s institutional response to reported conduct involving Palo Alto High School students and will share its findings with the Board in the coming weeks. To the extent permitted by state and federal privacy laws, the Board intends to share Cozen O’Connor’s findings and observations in an open session of a Board meeting upon return from the summer break of staff and community.
- Our Board Policies (BPs) and Administrative Regulations (ARs) related to sexual harassment, UCP, and non-discrimination are undergoing revisions as part of our Resolution Agreement with the OCR. These revisions will be completed and approved this month in preparation for training of our staff in August.
- Our team, the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud, & Romo (AALRR) and Mr. DiPaolo will conduct training outlined in the Resolution Agreement (section C. 1-5) related to Special Education, 504 plans, Memorandum of Understanding with the Palo Alto Police Dept., temporary restraining orders, and non-retaliation issues. The focus of the training will be how to align the Title IX requirements with the state law related to sexual harassment and sexual violence, with a practical look at how to effectively respond to reports, complaints and/or observations of discriminatory or harassing conduct based on sex.
- Cozen O’Connor’s broader review pursuant to the OCR Resolution Agreement continues. Cozen O'Connor, in accordance with the OCR resolution agreement, will conduct investigations into reports (outlined in the RA) the District received in prior years. The interim Compliance Officer will also manage the investigations of newly reported incidents and open matters from 2016-17.
- PAUSD’s Manager of Policy and Legal Compliance, Ms. Komey Vishakan, is working with the OCR on fulfilling the other provisions in our OCR RA. She can be reached at KVishakan@pausd.org should you have questions.
Over the course of the summer, in partnership with the OCR, our law firm AALRR, and subject matter experts from Cozen O'Connor, we are putting into place the processes needed to ensure a culture of care and compliance. Importantly, our next work is around internalizing the unifying messages already in use by our students; the Gunn Titans say "We're all in this together" and many of the Paly Vikings wear on their blue rubber wristbands "I stand with victims of sexual assault." Our students are all in this together and do stand together. It's time to ensure those messages permeate all of their interactions both in and out of school. We must talk openly and frankly about consent, caring and respect, about how to stand together, and how to seek help when needed. There is a role for all of us - students, staff, families, community - to play in creating the school environment in which our students will thrive.
6/27/17: Update from Cozen O'Connor:
Consistent with the scope of the engagement, Cozen has been actively engaged in gathering documents, interviewing witnesses, and synthesizing information to inform their assessment of the PAUSD’s institutional response to the reported conduct involving Palo Alto High School students.
Cozen has completed most of the employee interviews, and consistent with staff availability, expects to complete remaining employee interviews this week. Within the next two weeks, Cozen will seek to complete the remaining non-employee interviews.
Cozen has also completed its review of documents received to date, including email correspondence and relevant policies. Cozen has identified additional relevant information (text messages and other personal notes) and is working with the District to obtain those documents.
To date, the District has been fully cooperative and provided access to both personnel and documents, and the review continues to move forward promptly.
Gina Maisto Smith
6/15/17: Update from Superintendent McGee's Weekly
Working with our temporary Title IX Compliance Officer, Mr. John DiPaolo, who is advising us on current investigations, helping us improve our systems, and working with us to develop a job description for - and then hire - a permanent Civil Rights Compliance Officer.
6/7/17: John DiPaolo is named temporary Title IX Compliance Officer. He will be in the District Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 6/13-15 to work on the cases that were reported at Palo Alto High School in May and will also assist in preparing a job description for a full-time Civil Rights Compliance Officer.
5/30/17: Starting 5/30/17, Board President (Godfrey) and VP (Dauber) meeting with Cozen O’Connor weekly or more.
5/23/17: Agenda item in Regular Board meeting open session.
5/17/17: Cozen O’Connor engaged and started the investigation with an onsite visit 5/24/17. They expect to conclude their investigation before the end of June. At that time we expect an oral report out with a formal written report to follow. The engagement letter for this investigation can be found in the Additional Training & Information section below.
5/17/17: The Agenda Setting Committee of the Board (Board President, Board VP and Superintendent) has added an informational agenda item entitled “District policies on sexual harassment and discrimination” to the 5/23/17 open session for any available updates.
5/16/17: The Board met in closed session which included public comment from ~20 speakers at the outset. At the close of the meeting the Board issued the following statement.
“The Board met in closed session to evaluate the performance of the Superintendent. The Board directed that the firm of Cozen O’Connor conduct an investigation of how district staff handled the issues surrounding the events at Palo Alto High School that have recently been reported in the media. The firm will provide a report to the Board to assist in further evaluation of the Superintendent’s performance, and to aid the district in addressing any Title IX or other issues. The Board plans to conduct the annual evaluation of the Superintendent in June as scheduled. Consistent with the Board’s commitment to transparency, the Board will share the results of this investigation to the extent possible.”
Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP)
The Palo Alto Unified School District maintains a uniform complaint procedure for investigating complaints of: (1) discrimination, including discriminatory harassment, intimidation, or bullying on the basis of actual or perceived characteristics of age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnic group identification, race, ancestry, nationality, national origin, religion, color, or mental or physical disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or any other characteristic identified in Education Code 200 or 220, Penal Code 422.55, or Government Code 11135, or based on association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics, including retaliation; and (2) complaints of violations of the laws and regulations governing consolidated categorical aid programs, Adult Education, Career/Technical Education, Child Development, Special Education and Nutrition services, or Federal and State Categorical Programs (No Child Left Behind, Title 1, McKinney Vento, English Language Learners, Foster Youth, other programs) and the prohibition against requiring students to pay fees, deposits, or other charges for participating in educational activities. Any individual, public agency or organization may file a written complaint of noncompliance. PAUSD’s form can be found here.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681 et. seq. (Title IX) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities that receive or benefit from Federal financial assistance. Generally, a provider may not exclude, deny or provide different or lesser services to applicants or beneficiaries on the basis of sex.
The following Board Policies (BPs) are under revision per the OCR Resolution Agreement (RA) approved by the Board 2/28/17. Per the RA the District must revise them and submit the revisions for OCR review and approval by 6/30/17. These BPs have been revised by staff and legal counsel, reviewed by the Board Policy Review Committee (BPRC) on 5/4/17 and submitted to OCR for comment. Staff is awaiting (as of 5/17/17) input from the OCR. If input is received in time these BPs will go to the full Board for approval on 6/7/17.