Palo Alto school board revises policies on sexual assault and harassment

With less than a week before students return to school, the Palo Alto Unified School Board took a step forward in reforming its policies on sexual assault and harassment. The changes come on the heels of a 2 Investigates report that revealed the district failed to launch legally required investigations into complaints of at least two sexual assaults, one that allegedly occurred on campus.

On Tuesday night, the school board spelled out three goals that it wants to attain in the 2017-18 school year: high quality teaching, equity and access, and wellness and safety. The latter covers issues that include proper handling of harassment claims.

The Palo Alto Unified School District is also working on the wording of revised policies surrounding reporting and investigating sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints. It is part of the district’s effort to comply with its agreement with the U.S Board of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). In March, OCR completed a four-year investigation into PAUSD. Investigators concluded that the district failed to take appropriate steps in a prompt manner to investigate and report cases of alleged sexual assault, dating back to 2013.

“Once this three year monitoring period is finished that OCR will feel that we've met all of their requirements and that we have built a compactly to handle all the Title IX issues,” said PAUSD Superintendent Max McGee.

The OCR findings were released just weeks before 2 Investigates’ report revealed a student convicted in juvenile court of oral sex with a minor was still attending class and playing sports at Palo Alto High School. The district did not initiate a Title IX investigation in that case, as required by federal law.

Since that first report in May, the district has tallied at least 29 new Title IX complaints, including allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate comments, and sexual touching.

McGee says the district’s high school faculty will be Title IX-trained and prepared for the first day of school on August 14. Middle school and elementary school teachers will be trained throughout the fall.