A federal government investigation of a middle school student’s struggles with bullying found Palo Alto Unified School District mishandled the problem, violating federal anti-discrimination laws.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights found despite repeated, detailed and persistent appeals by the student and the family, the school district “ did not conduct any organized inquiry into the reports of harassment.”
Supt. Kevin Skelly entered into a resolution agreement in December that admitted no violations of law but pledged to undertake trainings regarding the districts obligation to provide a nondiscriminatory environment for students with disabilities.
According to the federal investigation, “School officials showed a lack of understanding that harassment of a student based on behaviors that are the product of a disability is a matter of discrimination, and a lack of understanding of what constitutes a hostile environment.”
The bullied student was in special education with a speech and language impairment that affected the student's social skills, according to a school resource specialist quoted in the report.
The report also indicated the student and family often complained that the student was called “stupid,” “slow," and “annoying,” and that students made a game of avoiding contact with the student.
Skelly declined to be interviewed on camera by NBC Bay Area. But he did issue a statement: “We are profoundly sorry that a student was subject to bullying at our school. We take the safety of our students extremely seriously and work hard to provide the best school climate for students possible. We worked closely with the Office of Civil Rights to design activities and policies that will help us improve the environment for our students.”
The bullying happened at one of the district’s middle schools during the 2010-2011 school year.