Palo Alto School District Attempts to Address Student Sexual Assault Issue

The Palo Alto school district reports an alarming number of open student-involved sexual assault and harassment cases from the 2016-2017 school year. According to school officials, there are currently 20 open investigations. These statistics were revealed in May after the district came under fire for the way they were handling cases of sexual violence incidents involving students.

School board members only learned of the of the investigations during a meeting scheduled to discuss Title IX gender-based discrimination cases. Title IX is a federal law which requires all school districts to follow up on any allegations of sexual violence and bullying. Under the law, districts are supposed to thoroughly and promptly investigate any incidents, regardless of whether the victim requests it or if there is a separate police investigation.

The members were given a Uniform Complaint Procedure log and discovered just in the month of May, the district had 18 reports of Title IX, sexual harassment, and sexual assault cases. They also found that during the months of August through April, there were 19 complaints filed under Title IX, as well as allegations of several other classifications of discrimination.

Most of the investigations involve high school students who allege they have been sexually harassed or assaulted on the Palo Alto High School grounds. There were several complaints of incidents occurring off campus. One case involves a staff member from the Gunn High School, and another investigation involves a staff member from Paly.

The current Title IX coordinator left in June, leaving the board with the job of filling the position. The board also announced that they would be creating an assistant superintendent position who would be in charge of staff training, as well as provide oversight of all sexual harassment reports.

There was much debate during the meeting on what is the right way to approach this apparent growing issue. Compounding the issue includes parents and school administrators who fail to follow up and fail to notify the community when serious incidents occur – something the school district itself was found to be in violation of in a multi-year federal investigation by the Office for Civil Rights.

Attorney Scott Glovsky of the Law Offices of Scott Glovsky said of the issue, “Students have the fundamental right to be able to go to school without the fear of being targeted, harassed, or assaulted. The school board needs to solve this issue quickly.”

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