Palo Alto school board mulls reform amid new reports of alleged sexual assault cases

PALO ALTO (KTVU) -- School board members of the Palo Alto Unified School District heard Tuesday about changes the district is considering regarding how administrators respond to sexual harassment complaints.

Amid increased scrutiny from parents and students, Superintendent Doctor "Max" McGee assured the public that steps were being made to reform how the district's sexual assault reporting is handled.

"We have a sense of urgency about this because we do start our training sessions Aug. 1," McGee said.

The training sessions come amid the revelation of two more alleged cases of sexual assaut at Palo Alto High School, on May 20 and June 2. Since May 19 cases of sexual assault have been reported at the school.

The law firm of Ellis Buehler Markus is investigating the two new cases. The district has now retained two outside firms to investigate the alleged sex assault cases.

"So far we have spent $50,000 of taxpayer money trying to investigate something that we already know where the chips should fall," said parent Samira Guccione, whose child is a freshman high school student in the Palo Alto district.

2 Investigates reported in May that a 14-year-old girl at Palo Alto High School was sexually assaulted in a school bathroom last October.

The student-athlete accused in the case was convicted in juvenile court of having oral sex with a minor. But the former Title IX coordinator for the district did not launch an investigation into the attack as required by federal law.

Late last month, a 16-year-old girl came forward, saying she was sexually assaulted by a different male student on the campus in November, 2015. And yet, the district did not launch a Title IX investigation.

Heavy criticism from parents and the community prompted district officials to hire John DiPaolo as an interim Title IX coordinator while officials looked to hire a permanent administrator for the role.

"He's just been a great resource whenever we've had questions," McGee said. "Whether it's a Title IX complaint or student discipline, he is there and brings a great depth of knowledge."

DiPaolo has been on the job for two weeks and told KTVU that he's trying to change the district's culture when it comes to reporting sexual assaults.

"I think the district is clearly under much greater scrutiny during this time," he said. "That's probably not a bad thing because as I said before, this is the time to work on the problems and make things better."

Some parents are still fuming over the way how multiple cases have been handled.

"We have, according to (school board member) Ken Dauber, a problem of non-compliance by certain school board members," parent Kathy Jordan said. "Perhaps we should start by addressing that."

 

The district is set to spend $800,000 next school year on legal services with more than a quarter of that targeted for Title IX sexual assault investigations.

The board has a special session scheduled Thursday where members will discuss adopting policies covering a wide-rage of items, which may including policies for alleged sexual assaults.

By KTVU reporter Jesse Gary.

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