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Palo Alto middle school accused of mishandling bullying case

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have found that a Palo Alto middle school mishandled a bullying case in which a disabled student was chronically victimized by classmates.

Kevin Skelley, superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), agreed to enter a resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights in December to avoid potential government intervention in response to any issues uncovered. While the agreement did not require the district to admit to violating the law, it mandated the creation of new anti-bullying policies and the institution of anti-bullying training programs.

The case reached the Office for Civil Rights after the bullied student’s family filed a complaint. Investigators concluded that the school district’s inability to adequately resolve the issue had become a civil rights problem. The bullied student, who was in special education, developed mental health issues as a result of the bullying and was eventually taken out of school at his doctor’s recommendation.

The Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that the school could not be held responsible for the student being bullied but said that school administrators should have thoroughly investigated the bullying and taken disciplinary action against the bullies. The school also failed to keep records of the harassment, interview student witnesses or inform teachers about the bullied student’s complaints.
The investigators, who interviewed students, teachers, administrators and counselors at the school, found that many of the students had not received training on how to interact with students with disabilities, though the school held training events about social kindness and cyberbullying.

Dana Tom ’83 M.S. ’84, president of the PAUSD’s Board of Education, said that the district already has policies in place to combat bullying and that the civil rights issue arose because these policies were not correctly implemented.