Another sexual assault reported at Paly

Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

A female Palo Alto High School student who said she was sexually assaulted on the school's quad by a male student in November 2015 and reported it to school authorities has become the latest person to accuse the school district of mishandling her report and failing to immediately initiate a legally required investigation.

The female student and her father, whose names are being withheld to protect their privacy, are now speaking out about their frustrations, adding another voice to growing concerns about the school district's failure to properly respond to sexual misconduct involving its students on and off its campuses.

The male student in this case, who was a senior at the time, is not the same Paly student who has been accused of other assaults that have recently come to light

Two weeks after the November 2015 alleged assault, the female student, then a junior, reported the incident to a Paly teacher, according to her father. The teacher notified the administration, which immediately called the Palo Alto Police Department. The father found out about the incident when police called him that day to pick up his daughter from school.

Parallels between administrators' response to this incident and to more recent accusations of sexual assault made against a now-former Paly student, which have roiled the community since they were disclosed publicly two weeks ago, seem to indicate persistent lapses in the administration's handling of sexual misconduct allegations. 

In the 2015 case, the Paly administration's primary failure, the father said, was in not conducting a Title IX investigation into the incident and not informing him of his right under district policy and federal law to file a complaint through the Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP), a district process for investigating discrimination-based complaints.

Paly Principal Kim Diorio declined an interview request, directing questions to district Communications Coordinator Jorge Quintana. Quintana declined to answer specific questions about the case -- including whether Paly had notified the district office and whether the incident was reported to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which was investigating the district at the time for Title IX violations at Paly and Gunn High. 

In a statement, Quintana said that the district "previously resolved the matter, with full cooperation from the parents and students involved, as well as concerned school site personnel, to ensure that the best interests of students were served. 

"If it is determined that other sources raise any new information that was not part of the district's prior review of the matter, the district will fully and promptly investigate the matter according to the provisions of the law, including Title IX and the Office for Civil Rights directives related to the district," he said.

On Nov. 10, 2015, the male senior allegedly assaulted the female student during school, according to a letter addressed to the male student that she posted on the website Medium last week. 

"In a split second, your hand was down my pants and the other one was holding onto my shirt so I could not get loose," she wrote. "Then you moved from my pants to inside me. I tried to tell you to stop weather (sic) that be hitting or yelling, but no motion or words came out."

She did not immediately tell anyone what happened, she wrote, but later "broke down crying and confess(ed)" when someone at school brought up his name.

The district's first error in its response, her father said, was a misunderstanding that the two students did not share any classes. They had a first period class together, which the father said he had to point out. Feeling unsafe after the incident, his daughter did not attend that class until the student was removed, her father said. 

On Dec. 1, the father sent an email to Paly Assistant Principal Adam Paulson, copying Principal Diorio, discussing the first-period class transfer. Also frustrated by a lack of information about the incident, he requested a meeting with the administrators. 

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of information for us to go on to determine how safe she really is at school," he wrote in the email, provided to the Weekly. "I have yet to get a full account of what actually transpired between the two of them. I'm not going to force (my daughter) to recount the incident another time, but I also haven't received anything from the school as to what occurred. 

"Had this been a fist fight between two students, I'm pretty sure I'd have received much more detail about what transpired," he wrote.

That evening, Diorio responded. Paulson had been updating her about the situation, she wrote, and she would "be in touch soon to meet." The father said he never heard back from her after that.

Paulson informed the father that the male student was suspended the week of Thanksgiving, he said. Quintana declined to answer any specific questions about student discipline, citing confidentiality.

No Paly administrators informed the father of his right to pursue a formal process under the Uniform Complaint Procedure, he said. It was not until he met with a school board member this weekend that he learned of that procedure, which directs all allegations of unlawful discrimination, based on legally protected classes, to be handled at the district level. Under current district policy, a formal, written complaint is not required to launch a UCP investigation, however; an oral report made to any employee or administrator should immediately start the same process in sexual harassment or assault cases.

The district's 2015-16 UCP log does not show any investigation was opened in the fall at Paly. 

The police department forwarded the case to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, according to the father, but no formal charges were filed against the male student. 

Over the course of the next few months, the female student's mental health worsened, the father said. She began cutting herself and expressed suicidal thoughts. In her Medium piece, she connects the campus incident with thoughts of blame, self-doubt and suicide. 

In November, the student's Individualized Education Plan team suggested that she might benefit from leaving Paly for a smaller learning environment at other local public or private schools, according to a letter a special-education coordinator sent to her parents in January. They declined this option at the time, her father said. In the fall, the district also offered a weekly regimen of specialized academic instruction, speech and language and therapy services that could be provided at Paly under Free Appropriate Public Education, an educational right provided to children with disabilities, according to the letter.

The father expressed frustration at the fact that alleged victims are often the ones who bear the burden of disruption to their educational environment. Later in his daughter's senior year, she left Paly temporarily for a treatment program. Similarly, in the most recently reported sexual assault case, the female student left Paly and moved out of the Bay Area after being unable to secure the remedies she felt she needed to feel safe at school.

It wasn't until May 17, that the family heard from Diorio, after the female student expressed an interest in having Paly student publications print her Medium post. Diorio met with the student and her guidance counselor. 

They discussed with the student the "unintended consequences of disclosing such personal information online," Diorio wrote in a May 17 email to her father, "and suggested she make sure that she had people who could support her in place before she made a decision either way." 

The father perceived this as a desire to sweep the incident under the rug -- "an attitude of managing the message," he wrote in a response to Diorio, with copies sent to the Board of Education and Superintendent Max McGee. In the wake of the district's handling of separate sexual assault reports, the father said he is concerned a failure to properly respond to such complaints is entrenched within the "culture" of the school.

Understanding and empathetic to the fact that schools are unable to completely prevent sexual violence, he said he's hoping for more transparency and a statement of responsibility from the district. He believes Diorio should be held directly responsible and has joined other parents calling for her firing. The school board has directed a national law firm to investigate administrators' handling of the more recent Paly sexual assault reports and will use it to inform an annual performance evaluation of McGee next month.

"I look forward to the day when (my daughter) walks across the stage at graduation and puts Paly behind her," the father wrote to Diorio on May 17. "Sadly, the memory she will carry with her forever is the day she was assaulted in the quad."

For immediate in-person crisis assistance and counseling services, contact the YWCA of Silicon Valley's 24-hour Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Support Line at 800-572-2782. For more information, go to ywca-sv.org.

Read the original article here.

Carolyn Pires