Report: Palo Alto conducted "inadequate" investigation into campus sex assault

Palo Alto School District dropped the ball and conducted an “inadequate” investigation into a sexual assault on a high school campus, according to a report from an outside law firm hired to investigate the district’s response.

The report was commissioned by the Board of Education and conducted by the law firm Cozen O’Connor. It was previously presented to the board, but only released to the public this week.

The report examined how the district responded to the case of a female student sexually assaulted on the campus quad of Palo Alto High School by a male student in 2015, as first reported by 2 Investigates. Investigators found that although the district promptly took the correct responsive steps in the beginning, it later dropped the ball on the investigation.

The report found “that the investigation conducted by the District was inadequate, that there was no coordinated oversight by the District’s Title IX Coordinator of the investigation, and that there was no written notice of outcome provided to the Complainant.”

The father of the female student spoke to 2 Investigates last year about his frustrations with the way the district handled his daughter’s case.

"We received verbal confirmation from the school, mea culpa, our fault kind of thing," he said. "They know what should and should not be reported.”

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

2 Investigates first discovered that the district’s Title IX Coordinator at the time, Holly Wade, failed to launch a Title IX investigation into the campus attack as required by law. The law “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

The report’s authors found similar issues with the district’s response. It says the district did not properly document the investigation into the allegations, did not effectively coordinate with law enforcement, and did not properly communicate with the victim’s family about the outcome of the investigation.

The school district also failed to notify the victim’s family of their right to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which handles Title IX complaints.

The 2015 attack is one of several sexual assault reports that were mismanaged by the school district, and first uncovered by 2 Investigates.

KTVU first reported last year about a high school student who was previously convicted in juvenile court of oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace, or fear, but who is still attending class and playing sports. 

Yet school district officials failed to alert parents or properly report and investigate the claims, blaming a federal law meant to protect the privacy of student records.

At the time, the district was already under federal monitoring by the U.S. Department of Education for mishandling similar complaints in the past. Last year, the government concluded a four-year investigation into the district’s response to sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. The department found that the district violated federal anti-discrimination laws by failing to “promptly and equitably” respond to and investigate reports of alleged sexual assault.

As part of its agreement with the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Palo Alto Unified School District was required to revise its policies, create an anonymous reporting system, and provide more training for employees.

Since 2 Investigates began looking into the issue, PAUSD’s Title IX Coordinator has been replaced and the Superintendent resigned abruptly. A new superintendent was hired, Don Austin, was hired last month.

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