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.”