Disciplinary letters to principals of both Palo Alto high schools released — one fires back

By the Daily Post staff

The principals of Gunn and Palo Alto high schools failed to follow school district procedures when responding to the complaint of a girl who had been sexually assaulted by another student and then bullied at school, according to disciplinary letters released yesterday (March 7).

One of the principals, Kim Diorio of Palo Alto High School, fired back with a rebuttal, saying the staff of her school was following the directions of the district office, which “provided erroneous information to the school, making it impossible to comply with the letter of Title IX.” Title IX is the federal law that bans gender discrimination in federally funded schools and provides guidance for investigations into complaints of sexual harassment and assault.

The district yesterday released to the Post a disciplinary letter sent to Kathie Laurence, who was an assistant principal at Paly in the 2016-17 school year before becoming Gunn’s principal.

Later in the day, Diorio released the disciplinary letter she received to the student newspaper, the Campanile.

The Post had previously filed a California Public Record Act request for the letter sent to Diorio. The district was going to release it, but held off after she objected. She had until Monday to obtain a court order if she wanted to stop the release. Instead, she gave the letter to the student journalists, who posted it on their website. She also gave them her rebuttal to the disciplinary letter.

The letters to Laurence and Diorio shed light on how the district’s administrators reacted to a female student, who had been sexually assaulted in a school bathroom and later bullied over the incident.

A male Paly student had been convicted of sexual assault in a 2015 incident in a bathroom at a Palo Alto church, but administrators allowed him to remain on campus in violation of district policy. The girl reported that he sexually assaulted her in a bathroom at Paly in 2016.

A law firm hired by the district, Cozen O’Connor, investigated the situation involving the boy’s return to campus and how school employees handled complaints. The letters Laurence and Diorio received reflected the conclusions of the Cozen O’Connor investigation.

Both disciplinary letters were written by Anne Brown, interim assistant superintendent of human resources.

In her letter to Diorio, Brown said Paly administrators:

• Didn’t tell the girl or her parents about her options under the Uniform Complaint Procedure system, or that she had a right to file a written complaint.

• Failed to use “trauma-informed or effective investigative practices.”

• Didn’t maintain formal documentation of their investigation, as required by school board policy.

• Didn’t interview all of the relevant witnesses, including the first witness to whom the girl disclosed the assault.

• Relied upon written summaries from witnesses rather than conducting interviews.

• Didn’t gather text messages that would have been relevant in the investigation.

• Didn’t assess the complaint to see if there had been a pattern of conduct by the accused.

In her letter to Laurence, Brown said that the assistant principal:

• Didn’t bring the bullying report to an administrative team meeting or share it with the assistant principal who had overseen the response to the initial report.

• Failed to identify the girl’s bullying report as being potential harassment, retaliation or continuation of a hostile environment under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded education programs. The letter states that Laurence didn’t connect the girl to the Title IX coordinator, who was at the time Holly Wade, or offer her the option to pursue a complaint following the uniform complaint procedure.

• Didn’t follow up with the girl within a week and didn’t keep documentation to confirm that the information was shared with other administrators.

When she discussed the situation with Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks, Laurence said that she had shared the information with other administrators, but there was no documentation of those conversations.

Brown recommended that Laurence review a slideshow entitled “Keeping Our Students Safe: Title IX, Our Responsibility” and other Title IX-related training resources, and to “continue to be a reflective administrator committed to student safety as well as ongoing professional development.”

Brown told Diorio that she too had to watch the slideshow and share with her staff materials in a digital binder concerning the proper procedures in handling Title IX-complaints.
Diorio fired back with a letter saying the district “had deficient policies, protocols and implementation.”

“Outside counsel and the Title IX coordinator (Holly Wade) provided erroneous information to the school, making it impossible to comply with the letter of Title IX,” Diorio wrote.

“School staff should not be held personally or professionally responsible for implementing district office directives,” she wrote.

Diorio concluded her letter with the following: “The District’s Title IX struggles have been a sad chapter in an otherwise successful story. The district’s reputation has been harmed and careers have ended. I understand that in an institution such as ours, we share our successes as well as our failures. The Cozen report made it acutely evidence that without training, communication and accountability, the system can break down. I wish to offer my services in whatever capacity possible to work with site-level staff and/or the district office to improve our Title IX delivery system. Now, more than ever, our students deserve better.”

9 Comments

  1. The punishment here is ridiculous — watching a slide show! These two administrators really let our kids down and allowed the school to become a very unsafe place. And think of the poor girl who is sexually assaulted, bullied and then has to deal with these bumblers. Heads should be rolling.

  2. I’m glad Kim spoke up and defended herself and her staff. As she points out, it’s hard to follow the Title IX law when you’re getting contradictory instructions from people like Holly Wade at 25 Churchill. Kim had the best of intentions but was stuck following a difficult if not impossible process to follow. When she took her leave of absence, I thought, “Oh Boy, she’s going to retire.” And that would be a shame. Kim should return and hold her head high.

  3. What kind of disciplinary letter did Max McGee get? Was he punished by being forced to watch a slide show too? There’s a lot of problems the next superintendent will have to clean up!!!

  4. After years of constant scandal and blunders, I’m hopeful it’s all over. I suspect we’ll have new principals soon at both high schools and a new superintendent. Hopefully, both incumbents on the school board whose terms are up this year (Dauber and Godfrey) will decide not to run again, in order to bring in some new blood. This district needs broad, sweeping change. These administrators and board members are failing our students. This should be one of the nation’s great school systems. God knows we pay enough money in school taxes and donations. Time for a change.

  5. This story doesn’t address the key issue, as I see it: Who allowed a convicted sex offender to return to Palo Alto High School? Who made that decision? McGee? Diorio? A lawyer? The board? How come nobody will say?

    I’m outraged that this student would be allowed back into school, only to allegedly commit a second sex crime a year later. The district and Paly administration seem to be more interested in shuffling paperwork and checking boxes rather than preventing harm. Common sense needs to enter the picture. You don’t let a convicted sex offender on a school campus. Why isn’t the school board demanding an answer to this question? Or do they already know and aren’t willing to say? I get the feeling that there’s a lot of CYA going on.

  6. I’m struck by the fact that Diorio doesn’t take personal responsibility for anything that happened under her watch at Paly. If she felt she was getting bad advice from Holly Wade, she could have taken it up with the superintendent or counsel. In her letter, she shows no remorse for what happened. She needs to go. Things can’t improve with a leader who constantly passes the buck.

  7. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions based on what you read in the papers. Because this is a personnel matter, there is likely much more to the story that isn’t being told. Some people hear that the district isn’t releasing everything it knows and they cry “coverup” but in fact the state’s personnel laws prevent a lot of information from being disclosed. At some point, you have to have faith in the board and the staff.

  8. I think there is a positive take-away in all of this. Obviously mistakes were made. They’ve identified the mistakes and meted out appropriate discipline so that these mistakes are not repeated. This is a complicated issue and these principals had a hard time following the somewhat confusing protocol. Now that this has been cleared up, everyone can move forward in a positive direction.

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