Board revises previous agreement with police

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education listens to Komey Vishakan, the district manager of policy and legal compliance (not pictured), summarize the district’s revised memorandum of understanding at a board meeting on Tuesday. According to Vishakan, the memorandum with the police department is long overdue. “This was due back on August 14, 2017, so we are under pressure to get this completed,” Vishakan said. Photo: Benjamin Huang

The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education is modifying a previous version of its memorandum of understanding with the Palo Alto Police Department to reflect community concerns over provisions regarding mechanical restraints and psychiatric holds.

A memorandum of understanding between PAUSD and the PAPD outlines the roles of responsibilities of both parties when dealing with incidents involving sexual misconduct.

Major differences between the revised memorandum and the memorandum submitted to the board in a meeting on Aug. 21 include the creation of a separate section, Exhibit B, regarding information exclusively about PAUSD and PAPD responses to sexual misconduct.

This information had previously been a part of Exhibit A in the August memorandum and was unchanged when transferred to Exhibit B.

Additionally, sections I, J, K and L of Exhibit A, which dealt with involuntary psychiatric holds, searching students on school grounds and confidentiality of reports to Child Protective Services, respectively, were removed entirely from Exhibit A of the revised memorandum.

At the previous board meeting on Aug. 21, some community members, including former board candidate Alex Scharf, had voiced concerns about these sections of the previous memorandum, particularly with the last sentence of section J. 

The sentence stated that School Resource Officers “shall use mechanical restraints on a student being transported to a medical facility.”

“I find a problem with this, that the ‘shall use’ term kind of [implies] that it should be the automatic procedure,” Scharf said. “It should be changed to ‘may use according to the Handcuffing and Restraints Policy #306.’ This is just a policy that is targeting the mentally disabled.”

According to Komey Vishakan, the district’s manager of policy and legal compliance, the district removed sections I, J, K, and L after listening to community concerns and consulting the PAPD about them.

Vishakan also said that the board should take action on the MOU soon.

“This was due back on August 14, 2017, so we are under pressure to get this completed,” Vishakan said.

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell took issue with the final sentence of Section 5.4 of Exhibit A of the current agreement, which states that when a student is being questioned by police, the student’s parents will be notified “as soon as practicable.”

“In some cases we’re talking about middle school students, and an adult comes into the room … It’s a power play,” Baten Caswell said. “And although they may be told that they have a right to a representative, they’ve been taught all these years that you pay attention to an adult who comes into the room. I don’t think a minor, particularly a middle schooler, is going to be able to make that decision on their own. So I really feel strongly that our kids can’t be questioned without their parents or guardians knowing that that’s happening.”

Deputy Supt. Karen Hendricks noted that PAPD cannot question students younger than 15 without the notification of a parent.

“If that is true, then this last sentence needs to be changed,” Baten Caswell replied. “If we have the right to change it, I think we should take advantage of that.”

Board president Ken Dauber said that the board will likely vote to approve or reject the MOU at the next board meeting on Nov. 27.