Proposed 2021–2022 PAUSD bell schedules face criticism

STORY BY MELODY XU, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY

The Palo Alto Unified School District’s proposed bell schedules for secondary schools in the 2021–2022 school year came under fire at tonight’s board meeting, with many community members voicing concerns about the late end times.

Through the pandemic, PAUSD high school classes have begun at either 9 a.m., 9:40 a.m or 10 a.m. depending on the day, with the end time at 3:05 p.m. The need for a new bell schedule comes as a result of the state’s reversion to pre-pandemic standards for instructional minutes.

While the board is not ultimately tasked with approving schedule proposals, a bell schedule committee on the job includes over 30 students, parents, district staff members and local teachers union leaders. The committee is “on schedule” to finalize 2021–2022 bell schedules in the next couple of weeks, according to a May 7 Superintendent’s Update.

In the latest community survey regarding the new schedule sent on May 5, the committee offered two models of high school schedules, with both setting the start and end times at around 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to fall in line with the state’s requirements.

Speakers in the open forum section of tonight’s board meeting included Gunn junior Athina Chen, who focused on the potential impact of the proposed later end times on athletes.

“Athletes already have to leave school early anywhere from 2:30 to 3 for matches and games,” Chen said. “Any options for the schedules mean that athletes would miss an entire class period of either fourth or seventh period, twice a week during the season. Not to mention our multi-season athletes.” 

Gunn parent and bell schedule committee member Heidi Volkmar also spoke during the open forum.

“I know all the intricacies — from being on the bell committee — that go into that schedule,” Volkmar said. “But one thing that you have in your control that you can do though, as board members and the superintendent, is you can change the start time back to 8:30 … 8:30 is enough time for students to get that extra sleep.”

Gunn Student Board Representative Thomas Li urged the board to reconvene with bell schedule committee members, citing concerns about ending at 4 p.m. like the later end time preventing students from working after school jobs or caring for younger siblings whose schools in the district end at earlier times.

“I’m absolutely positive that the teachers, the parents, the students and everyone else on the committee would be willing to reconvene if it means that they can speak freely about the concerns regarding later start times,” Li said. “If this is going to be the bell schedule for the foreseeable future, let’s get this done right.”

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