Law Firm: Palo Alto Unified School District Title IX Response Inadequate

A law firm’s report determined the Palo Alto Unified School District failed to adequately investigate an alleged on-campus sexual assault at Palo Alto High School.

Law Firm: Palo Alto Unified School District Title IX Response Inadequate

A report conducted by a law firm found the Palo Alto Unified School District responded promptly to an alleged 2015 on-campus sexual assault but failed to take legally required steps to investigate the reported incident.

The report, compiled by Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor and released on March 13, was conducted at the district’s request and in response to claims from the alleged victim and her family that the district mishandled her reported sexual assault, according to Palo Alto Online.

In November 2015, the alleged victim, a Palo Alto High School junior at the time, told a teacher that a male student sexually assaulted her on the quad during school hours two weeks prior.

Lawyers found the district responded promptly by providing the student with interim measures, which were redacted in the report, reported the incident to law enforcement and took “some steps” to investigate what occurred. However, the report found the investigation was overall “inadequate”.

School officials did not document the investigation and failed to determine whether the victim was experiencing a hostile environment at school as a result of the alleged assault, which is required under Title IX.

The student’s father said the school did nothing about the fact that his daughter and her alleged attacker shared a class, causing her to feel unsafe. She did not attend the class until the male student was eventually removed and her mental health also suffered as a result.

There was also no written investigation report, which the lawyers claim makes it “difficult to ensure that the context of the conduct or the requirements of Title IX are fully considered.”

Additionally, the report determined there was no indication that the school applied the legally required standard of proof in Title IX cases and that it remained unclear who determined whether the male student was responsible or not. A written notice of outcome on the case was provided to the male student but not to the alleged victim.

Furthermore, officials did not follow up with law enforcement to see if additional information had been gathered or whether criminal charges would be filed against the male student. According to the female student’s father, the police department forwarded the case to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office but it is unknown if formal charges were filed against the male student.

The report’s findings mirror a prior investigation conducted in 2017 by the Office for Civil Rights regarding the district’s handling of allegations of teacher abuse and other sexual violence.

An agreement was reached between the school district and the OCR after it was determined the district failed to promptly investigate eight Title IX complaints and did not provide required information to the students and teachers involved in the cases.

The agreement stipulated that the school update its policies regarding sexual assault and sex discrimination and launch new investigations into previous cases the school mishandled.

As a result, the school began investigating more than 20 Title IX complaints, most of which were reported in May after the OCR’s findings were released.

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About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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