Following complaints of bullying involving a special needs sixth grader at David Starr Jordan Middle School, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and the Board Policy Review Committee (BPRC) are working together to improve upon the District bullying policies to further align them with California’s Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP).
Currently, PAUSD follows a two-tier policy which divides cases of bullying into two categories. Tier I is for cases unrelated to the discrimination of protected classes such as race, gender, or disability which are handled at the site level. Tier II uses UCP, for cases involving students in a protected class. However, the two-tier policy has proved inadequate due to its fairly ambiguous nature that relies on administrators’ judgement rather than explicit rules.
“It is not always apparent whether the bullying was based on a protected class until after the investigation is underway.” said Ken Dauber, Chair of the BPRC. “If we choose Tier I, where there does not need to be an investigation, then we would let into a situation where we have violated board policy and federal law by not using the UCP for a case where discrimination really was at play.”
“What we have now is not acceptable, we need to be compliant with the law.’’
PAUSD Board Member
In a survey conducted by The Campanile, 50 percent of participating Jordan students have observed bullying, and out of the 35.5 percent of students who have personally been bullied, 14.7 percent experience it on a daily or almost daily basis.
Many students called for stricter actions against bullying. An anonymous student responded that Jordan staff are aware of the bullying, they did not “make it so that the people who did [bully others] were appropriately punished.” While the Jordan administration is attempting to ameliorate the bullying problem, many are concerned that the policy depends too heavily on interpretation of each case, often resulting in incorrectly categorized cases and ineffective solutions.
“The Jordan case was not handled according to District policy [which says] that any complaint of bullying involving a student in Special Education should always trigger a UCP complaint,” Dauber said. “The District report concluded that harassment was not discriminatory, whereas it is hard to conclude based on the facts that the student did not suffer discriminatory effects since he ultimately ended up leaving school because of the bullying.”
The BPRC is also concerned about the slow response from the administration, delaying the investigation by several months after the first harassment complaint. Additionally, the staff did not strictly adhere to the bullying policy, and seemed to have violated both tiers.
Alarmed by the District’s handling of the recent bullying case, the BPRC looks to improve upon PAUSD’s current bullying policies and work to enforce the implementation of the new procedures in their next meeting on Dec. 9.
“I am pressing for the improvement of our implementation of the procedures,” Dauber said. “What we have now is not acceptable, we need to be compliant with the law. I’m also going to be working towards changing our two-tier bullying policy so that all cases of bullying are handled under a single policy that uses the UCP.”
Dauber hopes that by altering the two-tier policy, future bullying investigations will be handled in a more streamlined manner.
“I was very disappointed to read about how the Jordan case was handled,” Dauber said. “When we have a student with special needs who suffers this kind of bullying that’s severe enough that they ultimately transfer to a different school, and I see staff not correctly following our District’s policy and also not being responsive to the parents, that’s a serious management issue that we need to address.”