Palo Alto School District accused of mishandling sexual harassment case

There are new allegations of wrong-doing by the Palo Alto School District in relation to how it handles cases of sexual misconduct. 

A female student at Gunn High School alleges Palo Alto’s school district mismanaged portions of a sexual harassment case. The girl says she was a victim of sexual assault off campus, and then taunting at school. 

In response, part of the district’s punishment was to remove the male student from a robotics team, where his victim also participates.

“Once a school district knows or reasonably should know that a child is in danger, they need to take all steps, take action to protect that child,” said Lauren Cerri, a child sex abuse attorney based in San Jose.

According to a filing with the Santa Clara County Superior Court, the victim says the PAUSD allowed the alleged abuser to return to the robotics team. The girl and her parents are asking the court to reinstate the original punishment, barring the boy from the robotics team.

“It not only sounds like the district hasn’t learned anything from it’s past, well-known, well-documented errors,” said Rebecca Eisenberg, a lawyer and Title IX expert.

She has been a constant critic of the PAUSD. In May of 2017, KTVU began airing a series of reports detailing the district’s failures in a sexual assault case on the Palo Alto High School campus. At that time, a 14-year-old freshman told school officials she was forced to perform oral sex on an upper class male student-athlete in a school bathroom.

“I was just very shaken. Like, I couldn’t speak. I was very confused as to what I just let happen,” she told KTVU exclusively on May 10, 2017.

But the district failed to follow required Title IX guidelines and allowed the student to continue playing on the Paly baseball team. Following our reports, the male student was taken off the team, and voluntarily switched to another district school. The superintendent and Title IX coordinator at the time both left the district. The new allegations make attorney Eisenberg question if the district has truly reformed.

“Once again the perpetrator rights would be valued over that of the victim. Especially when the law is so clear to the contrary,” said Eisenberg.

A Superior Court judge issued a stay in the case, meaning the male student can’t return to the robotics team until the courts decide this issue. KTVU reached out to the PAUSD for comment, but we’re told the superintendent is out of town, and the Title IV coordinator did not return a phone call from Fox 2 for comment.