BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
The parents of an eighth-grader with special needs have filed a lawsuit against the Palo Alto Unified School District, alleging that district employees’ lack of supervision at Jordan Middle School led to the boy being bullied and threatened with a knife by other students.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court on July 13, claims that starting in January 2016, the boy was harassed, bullied and physically assaulted by other kids.
The alleged abuse included cyber-bullying, having his money stolen and having his pants pulled down in public, humiliating him.
The boy has since transferred to another middle school in the district. His lawyer, Seth Rosenberg of the San Francisco firm Emergent Legal, did not specify the amount of money the boy is seeking for the emotional injuries that he suffered from being harassed at school. “It’s about changing the culture, changing conduct,” Rosenberg told the Post. “The money hopefully will persuade the school to take this stuff seriously.”
The suit follows a complaint that the boy’s parents filed with the district on May 20, 2016.
In that complaint, the boy’s parents allege that five other students had discriminated against, harassed, intimidated and bullied him based on his ethnicity, disability and age.
According to a letter from then-Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Markus Autrey, three other students who saw a boy brandish a knife at the plaintiff pulled him away to protect him. The plaintiff and the three witnesses reported the incident to then-Assistant Principal Jim Cox and then-Assistant Principal James Lubbe, whose title is now the Dean of Students for Eighth Grade at Jordan Middle School.
Incident reported to police
After an investigation by administrators, the brandishing was reported to police. According to Autrey’s letter, the boy’s parents complained that they were never provided with a police incident report after they requested it.
At one point, a student pulled the boy’s pants down in public, humiliating him. According to a July 11, 2016 response to that complaint by Autrey, the student responsible was disciplined and apologized to the boy.
Autrey’s position was eliminated at the end of December.
In that letter from Autrey, he concluded that the district had found that the five named students had acted in a bullying and intimidating manner, but that they had not acted in a discriminatory manner based on ethnicity or disability.
District’s processes faulted
In the course of the investigation, Autrey notes, “it was clear that certain processes and protocols regarding student discipline and investigations need to be reviewed and clarified.”
The boy’s parents also filed complaints with the district against the boy’s student attendant, Jane Miller, and Cox, who is now a science teacher and the instructional supervisor for the science program at Terman Middle School. Student attendants in the district are instructional assistants who work with classroom teachers to provide specialized instruction and supervision to special education students.
In Autrey’s letter, he notes that the complaint about Cox regarding interactions he had had with the boy on a field trip and afterward, would be addressed specifically in a report from the district’s human resources department after an investigation. Cox did not return a request for comment.
Racial discrimination claimed
The boy’s parents also filed a complaint about Miller, alleging that she had discriminated against the boy on the basis of race. The boy has a Hispanic last name.
“Although I did not find that Ms. Miller’s actions toward (the boy) rose to the level of racial discrimination, I did find that many of Ms. Miller’s interactions with students in general were unacceptable and unprofessional,” then-Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers wrote in a letter to the boy’s parents on Aug. 2, 2016. “I found that Ms. Miller’s approach in dealing with a variety of student situations were sometimes harsh and not supportive and understanding of the students. I also found that Ms. Miller would, at times, physically contact the students to redirect their efforts, which is unacceptable.”
Bowers wrote that he had met with Miller and told her to “deal with all students in a more respectful manner and to address those students who may be off-task or in need of redirecting in a more supportive and friendly manner and without any physical contact.”
Bowers wrote that he had also told administrators at Jordan Middle School, as well as the teachers in the classes where Miller supported students, to monitor her interactions with students to make sure that his directives to her were being followed.
The lawsuit alleges that Miller was not adequately trained, monitored or supervised prior to the bullying, leading to severe emotional distress for the boy.
The lawsuit names the district along with Miller, Lubbe, Cox, former Interim Principal Tom Jacoubowsky and former Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers.
Superintendent Karen Hendricks, school board President Terry Godfrey, current Jordan Middle School Principal Valerie Royaltey-Quandt, Jacoubowsky, Lubbe, Cox and Bowers did not return requests for comment.
A case management hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today.