Board, superintendent should not support current bell schedule plan

When PAUSD announced the bell schedule for the 2020-2021 school year in May 2020, students were thrilled to see their mornings wouldn’t start until 9 a.m. or later. Accounting for distance learning and the loosening of state regulations regarding instructional minutes, the district shortened class periods to 70 minutes instead of the usual 90 minutes, so school days still ended at the familiar and convenient time of 3:05 p.m. 

But to adjust for schools returning to what will likely be full in-person school in the fall, class periods will revert back to their traditional 90-minute length in compliance with state requirements for instructional minutes. However, the bell schedule committee was hamstrung by a board of education that demanded a 9 a.m high school start time, resulting in school ending next year much later than it has in the past. 

The new bell schedule, released by the district on May 14, calls for the high schools in the district to end between 3:30 and 4:10 p.m. depending on the day, compared to this year’s end time of 3:05 p.m. These end times are too late in the day and will cause numerous negative issues for students next year.

A 2014 sleep study by Harvard University found sleep helps with focus and thinking skills. While the Campanile agrees benefits exists to sleeping in, an extra 30 minutes of rest in the morning is not worth the school day ending significantly later than usual. 

The late end time poses several issues. First, student athletes will have to miss more class time to attend games. Students participating in sports already have to deal with missing classes at the end of the day, but with the pushback of the school day, they will miss even more valuable class time. Sports practices will also be forced to start later to accommodate the new schedule, leading to athletes having to practice in less daylight and later into the evening. 

Other after-school commitments will be interrupted as well. In the best case scenario, students might miss some of an after-school activity, but it is likely they will be forced to pass up opportunities that conflict with later school hours. And students are more likely to skip signing up for activities because of the late end to the school day. Activities or not, all students will arrive home later than usual, leaving less time for completing homework and studying at night, increasing stress levels.

Additionally, students with jobs will have more difficulty finding work because of limited afternoon hours, and students with family members to take care of at home will have less time to help. The late end time will also likely further widen the district’s equity gap because disadvantaged students will be unable to fully support themselves or their families.

The choice to extend classes to as late as 4:10 p.m. on some days should be reconsidered. The impact of having later end times is far greater than getting 30 extra minutes of sleep in the morning.

The 2021-2022 school year bell schedule also features the continuation of seven-period Mondays, a wildly unpopular day for students in the past. A previous bell schedule committee made the transition away from seven period days for this very reason back in 2018: students found the short periods unproductive and struggled to bring all of their materials for each of their classes to school at once. 

Supporters of a seven-period Monday say the alternative, having rotating odd and even days on Mondays, is inconsistent and often confusing for students and teachers, who have to plan out their lessons in advance. While this is true to an extent, the brief 45-minute periods often result in rushed lectures shortened units nearing the end of the year, and stressful Sundays where students can have homework due for seven different classes on on one day.

The recommendation for the new bell schedule does include language about teachers not being allowed to test students on Mondays or make homework due then. But The Campanile speculates some teachers will take this as a suggestion and not as protocol.

The Campanile thinks the district should have asked for more meaningful feedback from students on the bell schedule before deciding on a plan instead of asking for ideas through a survey that did not convey the consequences of choices such as late start times. If they care about student mental health as much as they say they do, the board of education and Superintendent Don Austin should not support a bell schedule with a 9 a.m. start time at Paly and Gunn or a schedule with a seven-period day.