Palo Alto schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly openly admits he "blew it" by waiting to share the outcome of a federal investigation into allegations that a disabled student's civil rights were violated, but his bosses, though unhappy, appear willing to forgive his apparent lapse in judgment.
The investigation by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights was completed in December, but only came to light when the family of the student shared the results with the media last week. The federal agency concluded that district officials failed to respond promptly and effectively to complaints the student was being bullied because of her disability.
"My responsibility was to share it with you and share it with the community and say, 'Hey we've got an issue and let's get after it,'" Skelly told the school board Tuesday. "From a transparency level, I blew it."
Board members reached by The Daily News for this story said they were unhappy that Skelly waited more than a month to tell them about the outcome of the investigation, but were more concerned about preventing a similar omission from happening again, and addressing the overall problem of bullying.
"He has apologized. As board members, we would all like to be ahead of the curve on issues that create a lot of upset in the community," Board Vice President Barb Mitchell said. "The important thing in all of this, I think, is not how we feel today and what we wish we had known, but
Board Member Melissa Baten Caswell credited the superintendent for owning up to his mistake.
"He's been upfront," Baten Caswell said. "I would be alarmed if he wasn't willing to talk about the situation and rectify it."
To that end, Skelly has asked to meet with the board behind closed doors on Feb. 26 to discuss the matter in depth.
"I think it's important to discuss how this happened, how board members are feeling and how we avoid it next time," Skelly said in an interview Friday. "I don't want to make the same mistake twice. They want assurances I won't."
Asked to explain what caused the delay, Skelly pointed to the relative rarity of such an investigation.
"We haven't had these things before. But that doesn't change things," Skelly said. "I should've sent it. Period."
The board, however, wasn't completely in the dark about the investigation. Trustees were briefed on it when it kicked off in 2011, Skelly said.
But Baten Caswell said the board should have been looped back in when the investigation wrapped up. Based on the federal agency's findings, Skelly signed a settlement in December that didn't admit wrongdoing but committed the district to a series of corrective actions, including anti-bullying training for students.
"From my perspective, we should know these things," Baten Caswell said. "When we resolve something, the board needs to be behind it."
As far as stamping out bullying in the district, the board is in the midst of finalizing a new, more comprehensive policy that could serve as a template for other schools in Santa Clara County.
Board President Dana Tom declined to discuss whether Skelly would be disciplined over the mistake, saying it was a personnel matter between the board and the superintendent. But he indicated that Skelly's positive record over the past six years would be a major consideration.
"I've been happy with the contributions Dr. Skelly has made to our district and I have confidence he will continue to do good things for our district," Tom said.
"I view this as he made a mistake. I view this in the context of all the other work he has done. I wish he hadn't made that mistake. I know he wishes he hadn't made that mistake."