Palo Alto school district making changes to sexual assault related policies

The Palo Alto Unified School District continues making strides to reform policies and procedures related to cases of sexual assault. 

It's part of an agreement the district signed with the Office of Civil Rights, following a four-year investigation into allegations of mishandling such cases.

For the past two days, the Palo Alto Unified School District leadership has been immersed in training as part of the push toward "systemic improvements" in handling Title IX discrimination cases.

Superintendent Doctor Max McGee and legal counsel retained by the district are leading the retreat.

McGee said, "We are talking about Title Nine training, Title Nine reporting, being in line with our board policies."

Those board policies are supposed to protect students from harassment and make criteria for reporting incidents or crimes crystal clear. 

But four months ago, the Federal Office of Civil Rights completed a four-year investigation that found the PAUSD failed to take appropriate steps in a prompt manner in cases of alleged sexual assault, dating back to 2013. 

In May, our series of 2 Investigates reports detailed how a Palo Alto High School student-athlete was convicted in juvenile court of having oral sex with a minor in a school bathroom. 

But the district did not initiate a Title IX investigation as required by federal law. 

McGee says the summer break has allowed significant progress on amending existing policies and procedures to be in compliance. 

"We've gone back and forth with the Office for Civil Rights, with the policy revisions and now they're really in place for the board approval. They're in final form. We just haven't had a board meeting this summer," said McGee.

Summer vacation schedules made it impossible to have a quorum for a board meeting. Doctor McGee believes that problem will dissipate by later this month. Additionally, one of the law firms investigating the district's handling of sex assault cases will give an oral report at the next board meeting.

"It took them a while to actually start to make the changes that the Justice Department required that the make, and it looks like they're on their way," said education and civil rights attorney Rebecca Eisenberg.

An open critic of the board and its leadership, she questions the effectiveness of this initial training less than two weeks before the start of the new school year.

"I do think it's really important that everyone at the school district understands what the response and approach to these types of issues is and how actually to comply with the law," Eisenberg said. 

The district recently introduced on-line reporting of sexual harassment. District officials say the Office of Civil Rights has signed off on the use of current draft materials for training purposes, which begin district-wide after the school year begins.