Regular readers of this message know that I usually keep this column upbeat, but this week we have serious matters to address following the Cozen O’Connor report. Their report, along with the volume of backup details, indicates that the handling of the specific incident of sexual misconduct beginning last October was indicative that our district was not at the level of legal knowledge, awareness, safety, and accountability it should have been at the time and where it must be now. I make no excuses, and while we took actions these past few months, there is much more to do. We have to do better. Below you will read about steps we have taken already – but all the training, all the policies, all the personnel will not matter unless we can assure that our students feel safe in reporting any sexual harassment incident and confident in knowing it will be handled in a manner that serves them well. In addition, we cannot tolerate or accept any behaviors that are not welcomed and make our students uncomfortable. We cannot accept normalization of what too often is overlooked – “teasing,” jokes, texts, snapchats, bottom slaps – when it unsettles a student. This will change as we work together to support ongoing education, when bystanders observing must be upstanders reporting, and when we give our students the resources and tools to learn, model, and demonstrate respect, strength, and compassion all day, every day. Again, we have come a long way, but we still have much to do.
We will take more steps in the next days, weeks, and months, and I am asking everyone and requiring staff – myself included – to take personal responsibility for doing their part as individuals and as members of their stakeholder groups: to foster awareness; to assure reporting through the many available channels; to maintain strict compliance with policy; to report and document all related communications; to participate in education sessions such as the Paly PTA-sponsored event last year; to engage deeply and responsively in mandated training (staff and students); to assure understanding of the legal definitions and critical concepts of “affirmative consent,” “unwelcome,” “uncomfortable,” “mandated reporting,” “UCP,”; and focus on strengthening related aspects of our climate and culture, including safety, wellness, and respect.
As noted above, over the course of the last few months we have made some important improvements to our system. These include:
- Making it easy to file an anonymous complaint with a link under the Explore PAUSD tab of our website.
- Creating a tracking system (ROOTS) for administrators to log all Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP) and Title IX complaints immediately, thus creating a ticketing system that goes directly to the Compliance Officer and central office to assure timely response and follow-through. Administrators have been trained in this required system, have practiced using it, and have already begun logging issues as they arise.
- Holding required Title IX training sessions from an expert attorney. Dating back to May 24, 2017, administrators have had 8-12 hours of training on Title IX, and we have provided a first round of 2-hour sessions for all high school and middle school staff, and four elementary schools. Training for the other schools, the rest of the staff (including non-certificated support staff), and follow-up sessions, will continue through the fall and the rest of the year. Unlike past training sessions that were basically a review of district policies, these sessions involve simulations and both teaching and live practice in interviewing, documenting, reporting, and follow-through. They describe in detail the legal concepts, specific timelines, and clear responsibilities of everyone in the system.
- Placing the UCP log on the website and updating it weekly.
- Contracting with Cozen O’Connor to provide a Title IX/Civil Rights Compliance Officer, John DiPaolo, who has been with us since August 1. Following an unsuccessful search for a full-time staff member, we have reposted the position and seek to fill it as soon as we find a qualified, experienced candidate.
- Rewriting our memorandum of understanding with the Palo Alto Police Department that ideally will ensure better communication and collaboration during and following investigations.
- Developing a digital resource for the leadership team which will include training materials, and pertinent district and Office for Civil Rights (OCR) documents.
- Hiring trained investigators for complex and/or serious allegations.
Collaborating with OCR to develop and administer student, parent, and staff climate surveys. The results from these are being used to inform our training with special emphasis on the reporting of sexual misconduct, how and with whom to file a complaint, and what to expect from the school as follow up to the reporting and subsequent investigation.
- Working extensively with the OCR to revise our policies regarding the Uniform Complaint Process, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination. These were approved at the last Board meeting.
- Implementing a system for centralizing reporting of Restraining Orders and Court Documents. In the past, these would go to the schools but not always to the district. Now our Manager of Policy and Legal Compliance, one of my direct reports, receives, logs, and assures compliance with these documents.
- Restructuring our mail processing system to assure the superintendent and/or his executive assistant receives ALL mail addressed to the superintendent prior to its distribution to staff.
- Making district-level personnel changes, including moving civil rights compliance from being one of an Assistant Superintendent’s duties to being a full-time position.
- Strengthening reporting requirements so that any school staff member receiving a report of possible unwelcomed sexual conduct or other discriminatory activity must report to the principal within 24 hours, and the principal is to log the incident into the online reporting system within one day.
In addition, most recently we have been working with a group of parents on a promising initiative that proposes using proven facilitators with the highest level of expertise and evidenced-based methods to train and support student leadership, education, interactive training, and peer mentoring. As I learned in my recent Outdoor Open Office session with Gunn students, “sit and git” is not the way to educate our students on matters related to sexual misconduct – they need interactive opportunities with peer leaders and support similar to our successful Sources of Strength efforts at our high schools.
Finally, we have to work together to address what happens off campus but impacts kids on campus. The vast majority of the most serious incidents of sexual misconduct happen off campus and when alcohol is involved. We will be looking at changes we can make in our Living Skills curriculum, as well as when it is taught. We will be working with our students and staff for other ways to address this problem, and working with our PTA and others on community education sessions. As we often say and truly mean, “We are all in this together.”
On a more personal note, our grandson, who has been very close to Jan and me since he was a baby, turned 14 this week. As we support him and his parents as he grows into a young adult, we have renewed firsthand appreciation for the challenges of parenting and for what it takes to raise boys to be kind, gentle, respectful, confident, self-aware young men. It is hard, and it requires enormous persistence. We realize that as he becomes more independent, the same nurturing family and caring teachers he had going back to preschool are just as important now as they were ten years ago. I am so appreciative of all you parents, teachers, coaches, and child advocates who devote such love and attention to the children in your care throughout their many stages of growth and development. While is not always easy, it always makes a powerful, positive difference. Thank you!