Protecting Students From Sexual Harassment and Assault

Every student in PAUSD has a right to an education free of harassment and discrimination so that they can enjoy the full benefits of a public school education. As a school board member, I take extremely seriously my obligation to ensure that the district meets its legal and moral obligations to students. Recent reports of the handling of complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault at Paly have raised legitimate concerns in the community about whether the district’s responses comply with district policy and state and federal law, including Title IX. I share those concerns, and I’m committed to understanding and correcting any deficiencies.

In responding to this situation, it’s critical to have transparency and accountability. The board recently directed a nationally renowned firm, Cozen O'Connor, to examine how the district responded in the recent Paly case. The board has committed to release the results of this independent investigation to the public to the extent possible. The report will inform the board's evaluation of Superintendent McGee's performance and consideration of next steps to improve PAUSD's compliance. This firm is also handling a review of some past incidents as part of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Resolution Agreement.

I have been strongly concerned with respecting the civil rights of our students -- and sexual harassment and assault are civil rights issues, protected under Title IX and state law  -- since before I joined the school board. In 2013, when the community learned of OCR’s finding that the district had violated the civil rights of a disabled Terman 6th grader by failing to respond properly to her complaints of bullying, I repeatedly urged the board to conduct the type of independent review that we are now undergoing. I wrote at the time that "Shining a light on problems is a necessary first step, whether the issues affect individual students or many of them."

Unfortunately, that board went in a different direction, and refused to publicly discuss the issues and instead protected the actions of the district and staff from scrutiny. When OCR launched an investigation of sexual harassment at Paly in the summer of 2013, the board similarly denied the issues and attacked federal civil rights enforcement. That resistance was a missed opportunity to improve the district's protections for students.

By contrast, the current board recently swiftly approved a resolution agreement with OCR that commits the district to improvements in handling Title IX complaints, enforced by three years of federal monitoring. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the school board to get an accurate understanding of the district’s compliance with board policy and state and federal law, and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure full compliance. All of our students are entitled to attend our community’s schools without fear of discrimination, and with confidence that staff will follow with fidelity the district's policies on sexual harassment and complaint procedures when the need arises.

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Contact: [email protected] or 650-906-4340

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