The Campanile believes that the Palo Alto Unified School District’s (PAUSD) decision to stop offering academic zero period classes at their two high schools inappropriately disregarded the expressed wishes of students and staff.
Beginning in the 2015-16 PAUSD school year, only Physical Education and non-graded courses will have zero period classes available. Released April 10 in a letter from PAUSD superintendent Dr. Max McGee, the decision is in reaction to concerns discussed in the March 10 school board meeting regarding student sleep deprivation and its ties to adolescent depression and suicide. Citing this apparent connection, Palo Alto Weekly responded urging the school board in favor of the period’s dismissal in an editorial released on March 13. Further support for the decision was given in a letter sent to the board and McGee March 18 from 35 local and regional health professionals.
The motion met little debate, and ultimately a compromise to only retain non-academic courses during zero period was rapidly decided upon, with McGee remarking in his letter that he didn’t want the question to “fester.” While Palo Alto High School only offers P.E. during zero period, Henry M. Gunn High School currently offers 10 academic courses during zero period, including Advanced Placement and high-level math courses. The decision to get rid of academic zero periods and the conduct of the decision have faced major resistance from the Gunn student body.
“This decision angered many students,” Gunn sophomore Chloe Sorensen said. “The decision was not meant to be made this way; it was going to be discussed and voted on at the April 21 board meeting. Many board members were in favor of student choice and wanted to keep the option of zero period, perhaps with some changes. However, it never came to a vote, because McGee was forced to make an executive decision.”
In a survey conducted by Sorensen on March 14, 90.82 percent of students enrolled in zero period do not want the option to be removed, and out of all the students surveyed, 89.46 percent of them did not want the option to be removed either. The survey was publicized by class officers at Gunn, surveying a total of 370 students (as of March 23) with 196 of the student responders enrolled in a zero period class.
It is evident from this information and from the reactionary social media campaign, “My Voice Matters” (gunnvoicesmatter.tumblr.com), that students at Gunn feel their voice is undervalued and misrepresented in the district’s policy. The Campanile believes that despite the apparent pressures the district faced to make this decision, they should have had a holistic approach to decide this matter. Interviewing students and staff seems like a baseline to understanding the effects of a period’s start time on students; however, this was inexplicably absent McGee’s decision.
The Campanile further believes that the most important factor in making a decision about school and schedule choices should be the opinion of the students, faculty and parents, not of the school board. The fact that approximately 90 percent of students disagreed with the decision yet McGee’s statement has not been reviewed. The Campanile suggests that McGee and other district staff hold an open forum where students and community members can suggest new options and that the superintendent and school board respects the choices of students.