High school principals disciplined

Elena Kadvany / Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto High School Principal Kim Diorio and Gunn High School Principal Kathie Laurence have been issued formal disciplinary notices by the district, the administration has confirmed. 

Laurence, the former assistant principal at Paly under Diorio until last fall, received a warning letter in November for her handlingof a Paly student's report of sexual assault in 2016. The Weekly obtained the letter through a Public Records Act request.

The district has confirmed it has discipline records for Diorio, but has neither produced the documents nor indicated what prompted the disciplinary action. Diorio has objected to the documents' disclosure, with her attorney suggesting that their release would "violate her privacy interests" and that "the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure," Komey Vishakan, the district's legal request specialist and compliance manager, wrote in an email to the Weekly Friday. The newspaper has objected, citing well-established legal precedent that requires the release of complaints of misconduct of school officials and any related disciplinary records or notices.

Vishakan responded Tuesday that the district will release the requested disciplinary documents pertaining to Diorio by the end of day next Tuesday, March 13, providing Diorio time to seek a court order to prevent the disclosure if she wishes. 

Diorio suddenly announced to staff on Friday, Feb. 23, that she was taking a medical leave effective immediately, citing health reasons. She said she plans to "return to work" in the spring. 

Diorio has not returned multiple requests for comment from the Weekly. Laurence declined to comment for this story, but according to Vishakan did not object to her disciplinary letter being released in response to the Weekly's request.

Paly administrators were faulted by an external law firm for their response to a female Paly freshman who said she was sexually assaulted in a campus bathroom by a male junior in 2016. Diorio was also criticized by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rightslast year for failing to report concerns about inappropriate behavior by former Paly principal Phil Winston while Diorio was vice principal. The Office for Civil Rights spent more than three years investigating allegations of sexual harassment and assault involving students and staff at Paly.

On Monday, the district provided a Nov. 16, 2017, warning letter for Laurence that was placed in her personnel file. 

The letter, from interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Anne Brown, states that Laurence's violations of district policy and federal law "adversely impacted" the female Paly student "by failing to protect (her) rights."

The letter cites the law firm's findings that Laurence did not connect the female student's subsequent reports of bullying to her sexual-assault report, of which Laurence had been aware.

Several weeks after the alleged incident, the female student reported to Laurence that other students were harassing her. While Laurence "took timely action to address the concern, spoke with the students whose behavior was at issue, and admonished them to stop the conduct," lawyers from Cozen O'Connor found that she did not communicate this to other administrators, nor the district's Title IX officer at the time, Holly Wade.

Laurence "failed to identify the subsequent behavior reported to you as potential harassment, retaliation, or continuation of a hostile environment under Title IX," Brown wrote in the warning letter.

Laurence did follow up with the female student about a week later but did not inform Paly administrators about it, document the conversation contemporaneously nor inform the student of her right to file a complaint under the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure, according to Cozen O'Connor.

And when Laurence was copied on an email that described the female student's intention to leave Paly because of the impact of the incident and "subsequent rumors," Laurence again did not share information about the harassment to which she had responded, the Cozen O'Connor lawyers found. 

Laurence later told interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks that she "had shared information with other members of the administrative team" about the case, but there was no documentation to confirm that, Brown wrote.

In an email to Brown, Laurence said that because she shared this information verbally, there was no documentation.

"I want to clarify that I was honest in my communications with Ms. Hendricks," Laurence wrote in the undated email, provided to the Weekly through a Public Records Act request. "I recognize the importance of documenting conversations."

The law firm found "systemic" problems with how Paly administrators handled the case. They initially acted promptly and in compliance with the law and district policy but their response then devolved into legal and policy violations: poor, and in some instances nonexistent, record keeping; a neglect to communicate sufficiently with either the female or male student or their parents; and a failure to launch a required Title IX investigation and to investigate a potential pattern of behavior by the male student, the firm found.

The Office for Civil Rights also found last year that Diorio, as Paly's assistant principal from 2007 to 2013, was not prompt in reporting sexual-harassment allegations about former principal Phil Winston that she had received from numerous staff over the course of three years. 

As a "high level district employee," Diorio "did not discharge her responsibility to take immediate and appropriate steps to address them when they were reported to her," the Office for Civil Rights wrote in a formal letter of findings.

Diorio was named principal after Winston resigned in 2013, citing health and "work-life balance" reasons. The Weekly later reported, citing documents it obtained through Public Records Act requests, that Winston had been disciplined for sexually harassing and behaving inappropriately with both staff and students.

Since June 2017, the Weekly has made three separate Public Records Act requests for complaints and discipline and/or unsatisfactory performance records for eight Paly and district administrators who were potentially involved in the Paly sexual-assault case. In July, the district produced a 2016 letter of reprimand for former chief student services officer Holly Wade (for altering a memo from one of the district's former law firms by removing the name of an attorney who the district had asked to no longer work on school matters.) Wade resigned at the end of the last school year.

It was not until Feb. 23, in response to the Weekly's third request, that Vishakan said the district had identified new responsive records to the request. She said that the district was "providing the employees with time to review given the privacy interests involved."

The district has apparently not, at least as of Wednesday, taken disciplinary action against the other administrators involved in the case: former superintendent Max McGee and Paly assistant principals Victoria Kim, Jerry Berkson and Adam Paulson. The school board has held numerous closed-session discussions regarding employee discipline over the last several months, and as recently as last week's board meeting.

Read the original article here.

Carolyn Pires