Paly robotics team members tell school board their coach is a bully

An image from the Paly Robotics Team website.

BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer

The new head coach of the Palo Alto High School robotics team was publicly accused last night (Oct. 9) of intimidating, harassing and bullying students, even crying, swearing and hurling insults at team members.

Three team captains, two of their parents and a boosters volunteer raised their concerns about Head Coach Kathleen Krier to the Palo Alto school board last night.
“(Krier) has exhibited some really concerning behavior that has definitely affected my wellbeing and ability to concentrate in school,” said Paly junior Lawrence Chang, the robotics team’s build captain.

Krier didn’t speak at the meeting last night or return a request for comment.

Chang, who has participated on the robotics team since his freshman year, said Krier had pulled him aside on Sept. 22 and “started breaking down in front of me.”

“There was a lot of emotionally charged speech. She was in tears and kind of telling me how hard her life was coming to this new city, being a new head coach and so forth,” Chang said.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Krier last taught at Monte Vista High School in Danville, where she started in August 2014. She became the head coach of Paly’s robotics program in August.

Krier then spewed “a lot of direct insults toward me and the team in general about how we’re giving her such a hard time,” Chang said.

Student shocked by teacher’s swearing

That escalated to Krier swearing, not directly at Chang, and insulting him using words he didn’t want to repeat at last night’s board meeting.

“This took me by complete shock because up until that point, I guess I felt like I had been reasonable in having a productive interaction with her,” Chang said.

Co-captain Bryan Yang, a senior, said the team feels “intimidated, scared and bullied” by Krier and as a result has a feeling of anxiety when going to the robotics lab.
Krier also threatened to call security on Yang, and threatened to kick him off the team three times, said Co-captain Jennifer Xu, a senior.

Students have met with several administrators, including Paly Principal Adam Paulson and assistant principals Jerry Berkson and Tom Keating, but said the meetings haven’t gotten them anywhere. Xu said that every time she met with an administrator, it felt like she was starting from “square one.”

Leonard Ely III, the treasurer of the Paly Robotics boosters club, said the students were told their parents were not allowed to attend their meetings with administrators and that they were told different things depending on which administrator they met with.

Xu said she filed an official complaint against Krier under the Uniform Complaint Procedure, a written and signed statement alleging a violation of federal or state laws governing certain educational programs.

Team parent Merrilee Soohoo said that 22 students had signed a letter raising concerns about Krier.

“Honey”

“She makes the students uncomfortable, getting in their personal space and calling some ‘Honey,’” Soohoo said, noting that that kind of behavior would only be seen as friendly if Krier had built up any rapport with the team members.

Soohoo said that many students have been afraid to come forward with their concerns about Krier because they’re worried about jeopardizing their academic records.
“You need to know that the students do not feel emotionally safe at the robotics lab this year,” Soohoo said.

Team parent Min Xu said the robotics program had “taken a dramatic downturn” since Krier became the head coach.

“Our students are being intimidated and sometimes are being called with very mean names, and that’s really affecting their mental health and well-being,” Min Xu said.

Ely said Krier’s new role was throwing off the students’ dynamic.

“The word ‘team’ is a misnomer in this use. It’s a student-led club for all intents and purposes, and not a team,” Ely said.

When it comes to robotic competitions, Ely said, “She puts in the play, and nobody understands it because they’re not used to having a coach send in the play.”

Superintendent Don Austin said he would follow up on the allegations. He said he doesn’t know Krier, and even if he did, it would be inappropriate to comment on her behavior at the board meeting.

But, he said, “I do know what it’s like to be new.”

“This is not a rationalization. It’s not a defense. It’s none of those things. It’s just a thought,” Austin said. “We’re all going to be new somewhere at some point in time.”
Austin said that Krier must have “come from a place where (she was) successful.” Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been hired.

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