OCR investigation opened at Gunn

Local high school joins Paly as the latest PAUSD school investigated into by federal agency due to unsatisfactory response to sexual harassment

Amid an ongoing investigation of Palo Alto High School, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is now investigating Henry M. Gunn High School following a parent complaint.

The OCR is a government agency dedicated to enforcing multiple federal civil rights law in public education programs.

The agency has recently opened investigations at 55 higher education schools, claiming that the schools were negligent in the treatment of sexual harassment cases. The parent complaint that the OCR received alleged that Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) did not respond to a peer sexual harassment claim satisfactorily at Gunn.

Upon receiving a complaint, the OCR acts as though the allegations were accurate and true, then acts as a “neutral fact finder” to affirm if the school district followed the correct protocol after having received the complaint.

The OCR deemed Gunn’s treatment of the sexual harassment complaint inadequate and consequently launched an investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. These amendments mandate that schools do not discriminate based on gender.

Typically, the OCR enforces Title IX by investigating any complaints alleged, then works towards the resolution of those complaints.

Simultaneous to the commencement of the new investigation, the OCR also completed an investigation of the district dating back to Dec. 2012. The 2012 case surrounded a student matter under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability.

After PAUSD complied with the resolution agreement that the OCR assigned to the district, the OCR abandoned the investigation, determining the district to be in line with Section 504 and Title II.

“While the student did not agree with the district’s conclusion, the evidence did not establish that the district failed to provide a prompt and equitable process for addressing the allegations of discrimination,” the OCR said in a letter to the district.

The district was brought under the OCR’s spotlight last year following an article by Paly’s Verde magazine titled “You Can’t Tell Me I Wasn’t Raped.” The article exposed rape culture and included accounts of two Paly students who had been victims of sexual assault.

After the article garnered national attention and local parent concern, the OCR, concerned that the district was in violation of Title IX, decided to open up a sexual harassment investigation at Paly.

This particular investigation was abnormal as most OCR cases are opened after a complaint is made to the school district, however in this case, there was no complaint to warrant its opening, Despite Superintendent Kevin Skelly’s request for the OCR to close the investigation, OCR attorneys will be visiting both campuses sometime during May.