STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN
A panel of Palo Alto high schoolers urged the Palo Alto Unified School District to amend its Title IX processes to better protect victims of sexual assault and harassment at the Board’s study session last night.
Title IX is the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination and protects against sexual assault and harassment.
The District heard from student panelists, who have worked closely with the District to increase accessibility to Title IX processes, as part of its ongoing struggle with Title IX procedure having faced a 2017 federal investigation following an issue on rape culture published by Paly’s Verde Magazine.
At the meeting, panelists and students speaking in public comment urged the District to prioritize victims of sexual violence and harassment, citing incidents where victims have been forced to endure close proximity to their assaulters in the classroom and in extracurricular activities.
“This is why students are losing faith in the system,” Gunn junior Bianca said. “Victims are being forced to relive their trauma over and over again, and seeking justice is an uphill battle. They may even start to question if they were even hurt or whether they are the one to blame for what has happened.”
Student panelist Anika Rao-Mruthyunjaya emphasized that victims should be given first priority for continuing their activity in “no contact order” situations where either the victim or the perpetrator has to leave a shared extracurricular activity.
Gunn senior and panelist Rachel Sun laid out a plan to create a “friendlier” Title IX reporting system by training teacher advisers who would advocate for students throughout the investigation process.
Currently, all PAUSD staff receive Title IX training, but only school administrators receive additional training. Students expressed that they would be more comfortable discussing traumatic events with teachers instead of unfamiliar vice principals or other administrators.
Students also pushed for early consent education to be further incorporated in elementary schools. Quentin Swindells, a Gunn senior and panelist, emphasized that consent education would be separate from sex education, focusing on bodily autonomy, relationship and communication skills and courtesy.
“In our classes we don’t get any lessons on boundaries or knowing your body is your own,” fifth grader Athena Gao said. “It’s a good thing to start early with these lessons. We already learn about not being a bystander when we see bullying and how it’s ok to be different, so I think it should be easy to bring this into elementary schools.”
Sun reported that the Responsive and Impactful Safe Environment (RISE) student task force at Gunn has been developing a series of 40-minute videos for elementary schools, and the lessons are currently receiving feedback before being released.
Swindells also suggested that the District’s Title IX coordinator’s role be expanded to include consent education.
General Counsel Komey Vishakan agreed that it was the “perfect time” to expand the role by training the new coordinator, as the position is currently empty after the previous coordinator, Megan Farrell, left in mid-November. Vishakan said the District is currently seeking a replacement and that the job application is closing this Friday, December 11. She assured the community that site Title IX point persons were covering the coordinator’s responsibilities.
Students also called for greater accessibility to Title IX reporting resources, including a pamphlet and a student Bill of Rights, as well as a new informational video made for the student audience.