PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) - More than halfway through the Fall semester and the Palo Alto School District continues making mandated changes to its Title IX policies and procedures. Four months ago, John DiPaolo wasn't ready to weigh in on the state of the Palo Alto school district's adherence to Title-9 reporting. Now, for the first time, the interim compliance officer says the floundering district is finally pointing in the right direction.
"The district has been in crisis over this issue. and we're at the pivot moment where it's a question of, do we fix the crisis and come out of it as the district that's the best at doing this in the country? or do we get consumed by the crisis?" said John DiPaolo, the PAUSD interim Title IX compliance officer.
This crisis was encapsulated last month in a 70-page report compiled by outside law firm Cozen-O'Connor. It found the district's response to an October 20-16 sexual assault at Paly high school, "did not comport with key aspects of Title-9, state law, board policies, and administrative regulations." Last May, in one of a series of "2-Investigates" reports, we talked the 14-year-old girl at the center of the case. She detailed how an upper class boy and student-athlete at the time, forced her to perform oral sex in a school bathroom. The district investigated, but the Cozen-O'Connor report found the Title-9 coordinator at the time didn't tell the girl's parent she could file a claim under Title-9, for sexual discrimination at school.
"The palo alto school district has a fundamental misunderstanding about the purpose and rule of the law," said education law expert Rebecca Eisenberg. She adds, "The palo alto school district would receive a lot fewer complaints, if they actually just responded to problems as they exist."
DiPaolo says a new computerized system is now operational, allowing consistent reporting of any and all acts of discrimination or assault be reported to a school's principal, and then to his office within 48 hours. Last year at this time, there were just three reports, this year, 57.
"The understanding that was out there was that it was only incidents of some degree of severity would be reported in. and what we've said is everything, any unwelcome contact, gets reported in," said DiPaolo, who also points to changes in leadership that will also help drive that message home.
Former Title-9 coordinator Doctor Holly Wade left in June. And superintendent Doctor Max McGee abruptly resigned in September, well ahead of his announced retirement at the end of the school year. The district is due to pay McGee six months worth of pay, about $150,000, which is part of his separation agreement. A successor likely won't be named until the Spring...
"there's some more review going on and based on that the district is gonna make as to whether it needs to take any other personnel actions anywhere," said DiPaolo.
He says the crystal clear policies and procedures now being put in place will take hold, even after he leaves the interim compliance officer position.. which he hopes will be before the thanksgiving holiday.