District communication with community lacking

Conflict and controversy are commonplace for those in power. Oftentimes, the defining aspect of conflict is not the event itself, but the responses from those in power. The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)  has faced its fair share of unfortunate events in the past year, and its response has consistently increased confusion, frustration and misinformation within the Palo Alto community.

For this reason, The Campanile thinks it is time our district learns to communicate in a transparent and effective way by being efficient and unified in times of crisis, such as sexual assault allegations, budget missteps, major resignations and other unforeseen events. As a student body and community, we can no longer continue to subsist on information comprised of an intermingling of contradictory statements and rumors. When we do, too much room is left for speculation, which results in a harshly-divided community.

Several instances in the recent past have called into question the administration’s ability to effectively lead. Former Superintendent Max McGee’s resignation has been shrouded in mystery and uncertainty and the handling of Paly’s student sexual assault allegations remains incredibly unclear, prompting some parents and community members to demand the resignation of Principal Kim Diorio and many community members to demand an increase of transparency.  A recently published report by an outside law firm on the handling of an alleged sexual assault incident at Paly last year points to a culture of communication that is inherently non-transparent. The so-called Cozen Report performed by the Cozen law firm affirmed that “based on training and practice, a common practice was to communicate by telephone or text message to avoid creating documentation that could potentially be publicly released.”

The report said there was a minimal effort to maintain centralized and consistent form documentation in cases involving possible violations of Title IX, a law intended to ban gender discrimination in schools. The incident shed light on the secretive conduct exhibited within inter-administration communication.

The Campanile spoke to Principal Kim Diorio, and it was clear  there was never malicious intent in administration’s preference for face-to-face meetings and text messaging. Regardless, matters which so heavily concern the public should be addressed in a publicly transparent method.

According to Diorio, both administrators and teachers are instructed in training sessions  to refrain from including sensitive information in emails, since these emails can later be released to the public.

The Campanile understands  this is a practice taught to administrators and teachers across the district.

“That was a part of our regular principal meetings, just to be careful about what was to be careful [with our emails],” Diorio said.

The Campanile thinks, though, if there had been an increased public understanding of the process required by each situation, it would have been easier for the public to make the most accurate assessment of the administration’s performance. In several instances, a more adequate practice of transparency could have led to better public understanding of the situation as well as better understanding of the administration’s response.

The deafening silence of the Paly administration after sexual assault allegations was a prime example of the district lacking communication and transparency, a pattern which continued after McGee’s resignation which had little to no explanation.

While it is likely the administration’s inclination towards face-to-face meetings, phone calls and text messages was without any malicious intent, it has created an inability to communicate with community members about pressing issues.

The Campanile acknowledges the administration’s efforts to address the given situations adequately, yet in order to be prepared for any unforeseen circumstances, we think increased transparency would help further the public’s understanding of pressing issues.

While many community members have jumped to conclusions about Principal Kim Diorio and other administrators, understanding the entirety of process would help validate or alter those conclusions. After all, we are all interested in the truth.