For over a year now, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) has been struggling to agree on a concrete policy to handle bullying and harassment complaints. The district took a great step forward in the drawn-out process on Feb. 11, when it finally agreed to adopt a policy that targets “protected” bullying, a procedure that helps bullying victims with cases based on legally protected characteristics like sex, race and disability. However, on March 12, the district rejected yet another proposal addressing “non-protected” bullying, which would have laid out a procedure on how to deal with complaints about bullying that the law does not extend procedural rights to.

The beginning of the process dates back to late 2012, when the parents of a disabled student attending Terman Middle School claimed their complaints to the school about bullying were not dealt with efficiently, or at all. After a lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found that the district’s weak approach in handling the severe bullying of the student had violated the student’s civil rights. More so, the investigators found that PAUSD had absolutely no complaint policy for disabled discrimination, which violates many state and federal laws. After these findings, it was clear that the district’s complaint procedure was in desperate need of  re-examination, and PAUSD agreed to revise and approve its policies by March 15, 2013.

However, over a year later, the policies are still unfinished. In an email sent in November 2013, PAUSD Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who has since announced his resignation, attempted to clear the district of criticism by defending its actions.

“Let me reassure you that this delay in board policy and regulation has in no way affected our compliance with laws intended to keep students safe,” Skelly wrote.

Seth’s Law, passed in July 2012, also mandated the adoption of the same procedures and added that all school personnel must intervene to stop discrimination bullying and harassment that they witness.

“We’re not violating Seth’s law: we just don’t have policies about Seth’s law,” Skelly said at the Board Policy Review Committee in December 2013, according to the Palo Alto Weekly.

In fact, according to Skelly, the procedures are not important.

“As long as we’re following the law, that’s the most important thing,” Skelly said.

Still, it was clear that PAUSD’s lack of policy and procedure to address complaints of discriminatory harassment was in direct violation of Seth’s Law, as well as any state civil rights laws passed prior to Seth’s Law. As a matter of fact, the PAUSD’s violations were abundant and often obvious. To take just one example, the district, as uncovered by the Palo Alto Weekly, left many protected classes out of its procedures. Until last month, the official Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP) under PAUSD failed to include bullying by religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation as protected cases. Nondiscrimination policies did not include gender identity, gender expression or association with a person with actual (or perceived) characteristics of any of these groups. A policy banning hate-motivated behavior failed to include disability, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, color, genetic information or age.

In February, over a year later, the district finally approved policies that defend “protected” students. The new policies include a timeline for reviewing complaints, and guidelines for decision making based on evidence. However, though several versions have been presented in the last year, an “unprotected” student bullying policy has not been approved. Although the PAUSD District Office claims to be pleased with the steady progress the district has made, they blame the slow development of policies on the vast amount of comments and assessment they receive.

“In the days right before and at the BPRC meeting on March 12, we received a significant amount of feedback from the community,” the District Office said. “We are reviewing all the pieces of feedback and expect to have a revised draft [of the “unprotected” student policy] in a few weeks.”

The District Office wants to remind concerned parents that reviewing and rewriting policies that reflect the opinions of the community takes copious amounts of time and effort.

“It is important to note that drafting this important policy has been an iterative process where feedback is valued and actively considered, therefore it is expected that documents would evolve over time,” the District Office said.

While the district believes a bullying policy is a priority, it admits that are also lots of other issues to be dealt with. As Skelly mentioned in December of 2013, providing safety and security for the district’s student is the PAUSD’s greatest concern.

“The most important thing we can do is make sure our schools are the safest places possible,” the District Office said. “We are continuing to focus our attention on refining the policy while maintaining our efforts in providing academically challenging and supportive environments for every student.”

“We’re not violating Seth’s law: we just don’t have policies about Seth’s law,” Skelly said at the Board Policy Review Committee in December of 2013, according to the Palo Alto Weekly.

In fact, according to Skelly, the procedures are not important.

“As long as we’re following the law, that’s the most important thing,” Skelly said.

Still, it was clear that PAUSD’s lack of policy and procedure to address complaints of discriminatory harassment was in direct violation of Seth’s Law, as well as any state civil rights laws passed prior to Seth’s Law. As a matter of fact, PAUSD’s violations were abundant and often obvious. To take just one example, the district, as uncovered by the Palo Alto Weekly, left many protected classes out of its procedures. Until last month, the official Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP) under PAUSD failed to include bullying by religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation as protected cases.

Nondiscrimination policies did not include gender identity, gender expression or association with a person with actual or perceived characteristics of any of these groups.

A policy banning hate-motivated behavior failed to include disability, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, color, genetic information or age.

In February, the district finally approved policies that defend “protected” students. The new policies include a timeline for reviewing complaints, and guidelines for decision making based on evidence. However, though several versions have been presented in the last year, an “unprotected” student bullying policy has not been approved. Although the PAUSD District Office claims to be pleased with the steady progress the district has made, it blames the slow development of policies on the vast amount of comments and assessment they receive.

“In the days right before and at the BPRC meeting on March 12, we received a significant amount of feedback from the community,” the District Office said. “We are reviewing all the pieces of feedback and expect to have a revised draft [of the ‘unprotected’ student policy] in a few weeks.”

The District Office wants to remind concerned parents that reviewing and rewriting policies that reflect the opinions of the community takes copious amounts of time and effort.

“It is important to note that drafting this important policy has been an iterative process where feedback is valued and actively considered, therefore it is expected that documents would evolve over time,” the District Office said.

As Skelly mentioned in December of 2013, providing safety and security for the district’s student is the PAUSD’s greatest concern.

“The most important thing we can do is make sure our schools are the safest places possible,” the District Office said. “We are continuing to focus our attention on refining the policy while maintaining our efforts in providing academically challenging and supportive environments for every student.”

 

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