Palo Alto school board moves to bolster sex assault complaint response

PALO ALTO (KTVU) -- As the Palo Alto Unified School District provides updated information about two new cases of alleged sexual assault, school board members continue in their efforts to reform existing policies to protect students from harassment.

School administrators originally said two previously undisclosed assaults were reported on the campus of Palo Alto High School in May and June but officials now say only one of those alleged crimes occurred on campus while the other one did not occur on school grounds.

With soaring temperatures outside, Palo Alto school board members on Thursday sweated over updating district policy about sexual assault complaint procedures and sexual harassment reporting guidelines.

"We want to make sure the UCP policy is also aligned with the sexual harassment policy (and) the Title IX policy," said Superintendent Dr. Glenn "Max" McGee. "So this is really just aligning it with state and federal laws."

Palo Alto's review comes amid criticisms from the community and parents over how the district handled a student sexual assault complaint, which was the subject of reports by 2 Investigates.

In that case, a Palo Alto High School student-athlete was convicted in juvenile court of having oral sex with a minor in a school bathroom last October. But the district did not initiate a Title IX investigation as required by federal law.

"A company with this large budget that doesn't have an in-house counsel, makes these kinds of mistakes all the time," said outspoken critic Rebecca Eisenberg, an attorney who specializes in education law.

The unidentified mother of the victim from the school bathroom attack spoke exclusively to 2 Investigates recently.

"As parents, we all work together. We all put our kids in the same school to get the same education so they can go far," said the mother, whom KTVU is not identifying because of the nature of the crime against her child. "But my daughter had to leave because I feel Palo Alto High School failed my child."

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Since the initial reports by 2 Investigates, 19 additional allegations of sexual harassment have been made, including the revelation of a sex assault against a 16-year-old girl on the campus quad in November 2015.

Her father said the district did not conduct a Title IX investigation in his daughter's case, and accuses the district of habitually concealing such cases.

"There's a culture of let's see if we can keep it within the school," he said.

The board is revising its uniform complaint procedures by:

  • Adding language about the Title IX compliance officer to clearly delineate the staffer as the point-person to ensure district compliance with federal law;
  • Specifying a timeline that specifies the start and completion dates for investigations;
  • Codifying how evidence collection will occur;
  • Giving the complainant an opportunity to appeal an unfavorable decision by the investigating authority.

The board's revisions were expected to be submitted to the Office of Civil Rights for review. If the changes pass muster, Palo Alto school board members must vote to adopt the changes.

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Superintendent McGee said he wants the board vote to occur before Aug. 1, when Title IX compliance training for all district administrators is scheduled to begin.

"We expect better from our school district," Eisenberg said. "And hopefully they will get their act together. This is a step towards doing what they should have been doing all along."

Added McGee: "This is something everyone in the system needs to know, not just the Title IX compliance officer. So this really puts forth some reporting requirements. It's not about, 'Oh do you want to fill out a UCP?' If the situation calls for it, the parent doesn't have to fill out the UCP. We just do it.

By KTVU reporter Jesse Gary.

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