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PAPD aims to reduce student mistreatment

Following a push from the Palo Alto School Board, the Palo Alto Police Department (PAPD) has agreed to remove four sections from the memorandum of understanding between the two groups, in an attempt to address concerns over the  alleged mistreatment of minority students during their interactions with police on PAUSD campuses.

This memorandum of understanding is a contract that provides guidance for  how the School Board and PAPD should act and collaborate when incidents of sexual misconduct involving students, teachers or staff are reported. 

The existing agreement recognizes the importance of the way student sexual misconduct is handled, stating the following: “It is important for the PAUSD to clarify its working relationship with the PAPD to ensure an effective, prompt, coordinate, and fair response to sexual misconduct. The purpose of this (memorandum of understanding) is to coordinate PAUSD and PAPD processes in response to reported sexual misconduct and to increase collaboration when such matters arise.”

However, with the implementation of four specific changes, the School Board and Parent advocates for Student Success (PASS) both said they hope to improve conditions for students who engage with the PAPD. The changes will specifically alter the way handcuffs are used on students during medical transports, on-campus student searches, involuntary psychiatric holds and finally, the confidentiality with regards to reports to Child Protective Services.

“When we passed our resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights, part of that required we lay out our procedures and protections when there are alleged violations of Title IX,” School Board member Jennifer DiBrienza said. “The PAPD has its own procedures in place that are their regular policies regarding safety and best practices. They follow those procedures whether they are in our schools or anywhere else in town.”

According to DiBrienza, the board must respect the PAPD’s existing practices and find a way to come to an agreement over campus interactions.

“As a school district, we are limited in what we can require of (the police department). We appreciate the partnership, but we can’t ask them to violate their best practices. So how they do their work aligns with how all PAPD officers do their work.”

The concerns that arose from the community after a KTVU Fox 2 story regarding sexual assault allegations against a former Paly student in 2016 contributed to the initiative to reform the memorandum, according to a Palo Alto Online article.

The video revealed statements from two alleged victims of sexual misconduct. At the time, the news came as a shock to the community, and many PAUSD parents expressed frustration with the lack of transparency surrounding the incident. 

This was not a stand-alone case; a 2014 Office for Civil Rights case filed by the family of a Gunn High School student made public that a high school girl had been victimized by her former boyfriend, also a Gunn student.

Parents’ primary concern was that in the District’s recent history there have been “gaps in coordination and communication in PAUSD’s response to reports of sexual violence,” according to an article by the Palo Alto Weekly that was published on Aug. 20. Parents also worried that the structure of the current memorandum of understanding could have a significant effect on students with disabilities and mental illness, as well as students of color. 

Parent Advocates for Student Success is a parent network that advocates for PAUSD students, aiming to eliminate the racial and ethnic academic opportunity gap through their actions. The group, which is a  voice for many minority students, had significant involvement in the controversy regarding the memorandum, and encouraged the District to make police interactions with students more open and accessible.

Sarah Woodham wrote an email to the School Board in August addressing the issue. 

“Anecdotally, HUR (historically underrepresented) students seem to be more vulnerable to profiling and mistreatment in their interactions with PAPD,” Woodham wrote.

The School Board will vote on the changes in December an the proposed contract runs through June 30, 2020, with the option for a one-year extension.

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