Palo Alto school programs aimed at bolstering student social and emotional health have ignored the connection between academic stress and student depression, a Gunn High School parent told the Board of Education this week.
Ken Dauber, father of five, said school district efforts to identify and assist students who suffer from depression and mental illness solve only half the problem. The other half would be to do something about academic factors -- such as testing and homework policies -- that cause stress, he said.
"The connection between stress and depression and other mental and emotional issues, and also to suicide, is well-established," Dauber said Tuesday night.
Dauber's comments followed a presentation by school officials on a long list of programs aimed at bolstering student "social, emotional and physical health."
Those include a survey to measure resilience among students, school "climate committees" on all secondary campuses, a later start time at Palo Alto High School and a new "small learning community" at Gunn.
At the urging of parents, administrators are making a greater effort to place "social and emotional health" on the school board agenda, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
School Board President Melissa Baten Caswell said "many schools are addressing activities around general student stress."
She cited the work of several Palo Alto schools with Stanford University's Challenge Success program and changes to the daily schedule at Paly.
Caswell also pressed school officials to clarify how interested parents can gain access and participate in the activities of Project Safety Net, a community-wide coalition aimed at bolstering teen well-being that was organized following a series of student suicides in 2009 and 2010.
Dauber said Project Safety Net's own recommendations made note of a "growing concern over the degree of stress and distress within Palo Alto's teen population."
A Project Safety Net report also said "all elements of the educational system, including core principles, curriculum, policies, training, strategic plans, hiring and other practices must align in the development of a supportive school environment," he noted.
Dauber said the district, which participates in Project Safety Net," "isn't following its own recommendations to itself."
Citing a Project Safety Net report issued last summer, Dauber said, the district should specifically address "finals prior to winter break, revised test and project calendars, revised homework policies addressing purpose and volume, tutorials and advisories, and so on."