PAUSD surveys students on sexual assault

Palo Alto Unified School District administrators continue efforts to revamp how cases of sexual harassment and assault are reported. A new survey is giving them insight on the culture on high school campuses. Before the school year began, administers released results of a survey on sexual assault reporting.

It shows over the previous school year, the vast majority of students -- 89 percent -- have not been the victim of sexual harassment at school. However, over the same time period, 85-percent say if they saw sexual harassment they wouldn't report it.. And one-third say the school's response to sexual harassment is not effective at all..

"This survey is excellent baseline data. it was informative. and it's really guiding our work this year," said Dr. Glenn "Max" McGee, the superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District.

He says on-go training in sexual assault reporting is complete at all high schools, and is now extending to middle school teachers and staff. But students remain the priority..

"How can we really spend time with these students and convince them that it is so important to report any instance whatsoever."

The issue of sexual assaults at PAUSD campuses came to the forefront after the Office of Civil Rights completed a four year investigation that found this district failed to take appropriate steps in a prompt manner in cases of alleged sexual assault. In May, our series of 2-Investigates reports detailed how a Paly 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 launch a Title-9 investigation as required by federal law. District critics charge all the training in the world won't solve the underlying problem..

"I think this survey confirms what most of us knew already. that there is a problem. there is a problem of lack of reporting. that there's a problem of tolerance of wrongdoing. I think that nothing will change until we have a change of leadership," said Rebecca Eisenberg, an education law expert and outspoken critic of the district.

The district board meets tomorrow in open session that could include discussions of missteps by McGee.. including revenue projections that were incorrect, and raises for union employees when the district was trying to cut spending. meanwhile efforts to reform and improve  title-9 reporting here could be impacted by actions in Washington. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is weighing whether her department will continue or curtail Obama administration guidelines for cracking down on campus sexual violence. The move is drawing pointed criticism from democrats, such as 14th District congresswoman Jackie Speier..

"She now wants to turn the whole program on its head, and give perpatrators grater status than the actual victims. and I find that repulsive, and I think women across the country do," Speier said during an appearance in Daly City.

McGee promises nothing done at the federal level will impede his efforts to reform reporting policies in this school district. But next week, an outside report on how the district, and McGee, handled at least two instances of sexual assault on the Paly campus will finally be made public.