News

Health professionals urge board to consider later school-start times

Medical community weighs in on debate over zero periods, schedules at Palo Alto's high schools

Thirty-five local and regional health professionals sent a letter to the Palo Alto school board and superintendent Wednesday, urging the district to align itself with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation that high schools students start their days no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The number of signatures has since grown to 80.

Calling it a "necessary public health measure," these pediatricians, psychiatrists, therapists and professors from private practices, the Stanford School of Medicine, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and elsewhere (and many with children in the school district) wrote that they endorse this recommendation, described by the AAP as "an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss" that "has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement."

"The Academy notes in an accompanying technical report a nearly threefold increase in the risk of suicide attempts among adolescents who sleep less than 8 hours per night, even when controlling for confounding factors," the letter reads. "The policy statement concludes that 'both the urgency and the magnitude of the problem of sleep loss in adolescents and the availability of an intervention that has the potential to have broad and immediate effects are highly compelling.'

"We agree with this conclusion and recommendation and urge that our high schools begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for all students."

Both Palo Alto and Gunn high schools moved to later start times in 2010 and 2011, respectively, but now have additional courses offered during earlier zero periods. Just under 300 Gunn students are enrolled in both physical education and academic courses that begin at 7:20 a.m. and 102 Paly students have physical education at 7:10 a.m. The regular school day starts at Gunn at 8:25 a.m. and at Paly, 8:15 a.m.

The debate over the role that school-start times play in teen health and well-being has come front and center after the last school board meeting on March 10, when board member Ken Dauber proposed that the board develop a policy that prohibits academic classes during zero period.

Board member Camille Townsend said at the March 10 meeting that "options and choices in our school system is a great thing" and she plans to be a "strong proponent" for maintaining flexibility for students and families.

"I strongly believe in options because there is also research to show that when people feel they have flexibility in options, they feel more in control and there's less stress," Townsend said.

The board ultimately decided to place zero periods as an information item on the April 21 meeting agenda.

"What's important about this is that we have very clear, I would say, universal advice from the medical community, both locally and nationally, that starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later is a very effective intervention to increase sleep for kids," Dauber said Thursday. "It has a direct effect on a whole set of health and learning benefits including very significant reductions to suicide attempts, depression and so forth. To me, it's really clear that we should be taking that advice and providing that benefit to students."

Dauber said the letter sent Wednesday "resulted organically" after he both reached out to and was contacted by local doctors and health professionals who wanted to weigh in on the topic.

Naomi Bardach, assistant professor of pediatrics at UCSF, told the Weekly Thursday that the letter was shared with her by several Palo Alto pediatricians she trained with, and she felt compelled to support it, despite not being local.

"The evidence shows that they tend to have better mental health outcomes, meaning lower rates of anxiety and depression" with later start times, Bardach said. "It also shows that better sleep quality and longer duration is associated with lower rates of obesity and also better test scores. There's a good story to be told that really, it's going to be better for adolescents given that all those things are really important for us as a society, whether it's Palo Alto or other places."

Bardach added that as adolescents' physiology, as they go through puberty, makes it so they "tend to have a natural tendency to stay up later and sleep in later."

Some of the health professionals provided comments along with their signatures.

"I enforce the importance of sleep to my kids and patients daily," wrote Patricia Chang, a Los Altos pediatrician and mother of four children in the district, including one at Paly. "I am saddened when my teen patients tell me they sleep 4-6 hrs. Their brains and bodies are growing, memory is formed during sleep, and moods are affected by sleep. Thankfully my son didn't ask to take zero period PE and I would not have signed the form. The sleep in the early AM is critical to the well being of our students."

Psychiatrist Adam Strassberg, who has a local private practice and two teenagers in the district, however, wrote that he supports zero-period PE.

"There's a difference between getting up and taking economics exam and getting up and going for a beautiful run in the early morning air with your friends," he told the Weekly Thursday.

Kathleen Dong – a clinical associate professor at Stanford, Northern California Psychiatric Society Professional Educational Committee chair and mother of a current PAUSD student – wrote: "Also recommend decreasing stress & increasing autonomy by letting students exercise judgment to sleep in when necessary as long as work (is) kept up & taking attendance from noon on."

The ability for students to exercise their own judgment – and choice – about their school schedule has been defended by some high schoolers who want to keep zero period. Gunn sophomore Chloe Sorensen wrote in a Palo Alto Online guest opinion this week that zero period "allows many students to create balance in their lives rather than disrupt it," explaining that many students choose to and like taking the early-morning classes for the scheduling freedom they provide later in the day.

"I understand the research behind sleep, and I appreciate the actions of AAP, as well as the local medical community," Sorensen told the Weekly Thursday. "However, the majority of my peers are greatly distressed by the increasing removal of choice."

Sorensen circulated an online survey on zero period this week at Gunn and said that of the 356 students who responded, more than 90 percent do not want the early-morning option removed. Of those 356, 176 are currently enrolled in a zero-period class, Sorensen said.

Sorensen said 6 percent of the responders enrolled in zero period are taking an extra eighth class and around half of them noted that this class is a blended or after-school course such as stage tech, jazz band or chamber choir.

"Many students wake up earlier than others, and appreciate having the option to finish school earlier," Sorensen said. "If zero period is removed, I think the schools should look at other alternatives for students to have flexible schedules."

Dauber appreciates the student perspective on zero period, but said "we have to make policy based on what's healthy for all the students in our schools.

"When we have such clear medical advice on what the healthy choice is, I don't really see any reasonable alternative or any responsible alternative to making sure that the choices we do provide are healthy choices."

Makoto Kawai, a clinical instructor at Stanford's department of sleep medicine, psychiatry and behavioral science, said education on such choices will also be critical.

"I'm not saying a later school-start time will solve everything, but that is a first step and (teenagers) have to be educated on good sleep habits," Kawai said. "I think taking some action like that will give good information to them that we are taking this seriously."

Superintendent Max McGee said Thursday that "the science is indisputable," but hopes the conversation about teen health and sleep can be a holistic one that also includes discussions about the role that parents play, students who see zero period as a way to reduce their stress and the benefits of regular physical exercise.

"I don't think it's a good idea to have a start time for the whole school before 8:30 a.m. but if there are a few -- I'm going to emphasize a few -- students who do get their eight to nine hours of sleep and are ready to go earlier in the morning, frankly, and this reduces their stress, I think we ought to listen to their voices," McGee said.

"This issue is important, so let's give it the time it deserves for an inclusive, holistic conversation and discussion," he added.

Related content:

Gunn High School explores scheduling possibilities

Guest opinion: In defense of zero period – and choice

Guest opinion: Keep Calm and Parent On

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture the numerous voices, opinions and our news coverage on teen well-being. This page will continue to be updated. To view it, go to Storify.com.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:38 am

Honestly, moving Gunn by 5-minutes and Paly by 15-minutes is going to make that much of a difference?


12 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:05 am

@Crescent Park Dad

This is about "zero period" classes before the start of the school day. At Gunn, several hundred students have classes starting at 7:20. It is not 5 minutes we are talking about, it is an hour and 10 minutes. The school switched to a later start time 3 years ago. It's time to make sure that all students get the benefit of that.


32 people like this
Posted by PSN Mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:12 am

Thank you doctors for banding together to tell the truth to our leaders. We cannot thank you enough for your courage, honestly, and dedication to our kids. Thank your for your ethics and your love for your patients.


29 people like this
Posted by paly parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:13 am

Shifting Paly's start time by 15 min to 8:30 would help our family a great deal. Every morning we struggle to get our sleepy teen out of bed and to school; most days he doesn't make it on time.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:19 am

I tend to agree that there is a big difference between getting up early to focus on an academic class and getting up early to do exercise i.e. sport or P.E.

I have myself as a school volunteer noticed a big difference in the first hour of school between students who have been driven to school (or drove themselves) and those who have walked or biked. Those who have had the opportunity to use their major muscles, whether it be from how they get to school or whether they have been exercising before school, seem to be much more ready to focus on academics than those who seemed to have just rolled out of bed, into the car and then sat in a classroom still feeling that they have just woken up.


31 people like this
Posted by PSN Mom
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:19 am

I feel compelled to comment on this part of the story:

"Sorensen circulated an online survey on zero period this week at Gunn and said that of the 356 students who responded, more than 90 percent do not want the early-morning option removed. Of those 356, 176 are currently enrolled in a zero-period class, Sorensen said."

This survey is not meaningful. [Portion removed.] [W]hen more than 50% of the subjects in a survey are in a zero period class, the results are biased. All we know from her survey is that people who take zero period want to keep taking it. 9/10 smokers surveyed like smoking. People in New Hampshire did not want seat belt laws. People hated mandatory infant seat laws, and motorcycle helmets. There were mass protests against mandatory immunization in the 19th century for smallpox. But "freedom" isn't free. It comes with responsibility.

I think Chloe should take a moment to reflect on the medical evidence and whether she wants to continue advocating for this. Sometimes your doctor does actually know what is best for you. That's why they went to medical school.



3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:20 am

I tend to agree that there is a big difference between getting up early to focus on an academic class and getting up early to do exercise i.e. sport or P.E.

I have myself as a school volunteer noticed a big difference in the first hour of school between students who have been driven to school (or drove themselves) and those who have walked or biked. Those who have had the opportunity to use their major muscles, whether it be from how they get to school or whether they have been exercising before school, seem to be much more ready to focus on academics than those who seemed to have just rolled out of bed, into the car and then sat in a classroom still feeling that they have just woken up.


13 people like this
Posted by Choice or None
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:51 am

Make zero period 8:30 am then. Every one gets what they need. And we will live with later school end time and later after-school activities. We can change the school calendar to accommodate good reasoning. Right? Just do not do this in the name of majority. Good reasoning, yes. Tyranny of the majority, no.


5 people like this
Posted by Choice or None
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:54 am

Then make zero period start at 8:30am. We will live with later school end time. We changed the PAUSD calendar to end the school year early and lived with it, didn't we?


23 people like this
Posted by PSN Mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:09 am

Back in 2008 when Paly did the last WASC they surveyed students on how much sleep they were getting. They had over 1000 responses every year for 3 years. Only 15% of students at Paly from 2005-07 reported getting 8 or more hours of sleep per night. Around a third were getting 6 or fewer hours per night of sleep.

Web Link

I don't know why it would be different now. If anything homework has exploded and kids are doing more and taking harder classes since that time. If anything it's probably worse. Our kids are seriously sleep deprived. Is it any wonder this community has experienced since 2005 the horrible string of tragedies? This is merely what you would predict when 85% of the student population is getting less than the recommended amount of sleep.

We need help. The medical profession is sending a clear message, so school board and Dr. McGee, it's your turn to step up.


2 people like this
Posted by Choice or None
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:24 am

One for all. All for one. Be respectful and considerate.


11 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:28 am

As a parent of two Paly graduates, my opinion may not matter when it comes to current HS parents. I get that.

But if you think that moving the start from 8:15 to 8:30 is going to make a difference in your daily routine --- well, you don't know teenagers as well as you should.

The teenage logic will be simple: "Cool, school starts at 8:30 now...so that means I can stay up until 12:45 instead of 12:30!!!"

Lipstick on a tardy pig....


36 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:34 am

I'm glad to hear the local medical community is speaking up about this.

I'd say kids killing themselves and 85 percent of high-school kids getting less than the recommended amount of sleep around here outweighs the convenience of a 7:20 a.m. calculus class.

It's worth noting that this huge kerfluffle isn't even over eliminating zero period, but eliminating academic classes during zero period.

When there's such a clear link between mental well-being and sufficient sleep and reduced stress levels, this insistence on "choice" comes off as self-absorbed. I'm not sure what "choice" principle Camille Townsend thinks she's protecting. High school is full of requirements and limitations. I don't see why starting school at 7:20 a.m. is due extra-special protection given its association with teen *suicide.*

I mean, seriously, this is so simple that I'm astonished by the debate here. Well, okay, the debate is the blather of a school board member and a 15-year-old being given a public platform to tell us that she doesn't think there's a connection because she asked her friends--peer-reviewed research be damned.

I'm sorry, but hello?


8 people like this
Posted by Former Gunn dad
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:10 pm

An idea for prevention and an idea for protection.

- Require a class for parents, on suicide risks and prevention, hopefully for everyone but at least when their kids enroll in more than (some number of) AP classes or in (some number of) school sports. Make it a two-part class with one part for parents only, the other for parents and kids together so they each know what the other is learning about suicide.

- Add a soft cow-catcher-shaped bumper to the train's lead engine or car. Even if it's not certain whether it would save the life of everyone who tried to take his or her life, it would add doubt. We're told that one reason kids use the tracks is because there is no doubt that it will work. Other advantages include that the bumpers are a reminder that the community is trying all it can, and that it would start some conversations among kids that they might not otherwise have.


5 people like this
Posted by Sw
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Thank you to all the health professionals who took the time to write this letter. I hope the school board and district will implement this ASAP and push Paly's start time to 8:30am. If the district feels it is necessary to offer choices, then let those who want their kids to start at 8:30am to do so. Those parents and teens who feel totally comfortable starting earlier can continue to do so with zero period. That would give parents and teens be a true choice, to either follow the AAP recommendations or not.


5 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent of 3
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:28 pm

All well and good but now coaches will hold practice at 6:00am. The unintended consequence of eliminating zero period and starting the school day later will be far more sleep-deprived kids than there are now.


26 people like this
Posted by Teen Lives Matter!!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:35 pm

There should be no athletics before 830 either until the district can assure parents that early practices, classes, and activities played no role in the suicides. Why isn't that information being released? Some played sports. Did they have early practices? Did any take zero periods? This is a public health crisis and there is no way anything should be at 730 until we are promised that it was not a factor in any death. No one from the distrixt has said that so far.


7 people like this
Posted by C. Wilson George
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:44 pm

> This survey is not meaningful. [Portion remove]
> [W]hen more than 50% of the subjects in a survey
> are in a zero period class, the results are biased.

What a bizarre thing to say. In this case, students are either in zero-period, or they aren’t. If they aren’t, then they have never been in zero-period, or they have being in zero-period and no longer are.

How can anyone who has never been in zero-period comment meaningfully on something that they only know nothing about?

Every decision we make ultimately is biased, one way or another. To suggest that because a group of people (in this case students) has made a conscientious decision of which one does not approve makes the decision of the group invalid, or biased, defies the imagination.

BTW—if people are going to dismiss the student opinions on this matter—then they need to dismiss all student opinions on all matters.


11 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Now the school has to make sure that EVERYONE including athletes, theater students, and GRT students, finish his homework to ensure his sleep time, otherwise they endanger the youth. Therefore all the teachers who give too much course load, many projects, homework, spontaneous homework and take-home tests as unrecorded homework, too many tests, too-hard tests due to not covered in class will be prosecuted from now on.
I wonder if the families who lost their students to suicide can sue the school due to three years of zero period. Actually all these past years including the current start at 8:25 have endangered ALL the students. What is the school's consequence now?


15 people like this
Posted by Dad
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Please ban all athletics and extracurricular activities at our Palo Alto schools. They contribute to stress and the unhealthy culture of winners and losers. We know this is a cause of problems with the children of Palo Alto.

No child should have to get up early to attend a 6 am. athletic practice or other activity!


37 people like this
Posted by really think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Just make a decision. Public schools should be able to make a decision based on the well being of the students. Gunn ran fine for many years without academics in a zero period. Taking it away does not harm anyone. Students have only been offered zero period for three years. This should not be a decision based on any poll. This should be a decision based on what is best for PAUSD as a whole. Please make a decision for the school and student well being rather than what the parents and the students think they want.


10 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 2:12 pm

C. George,

Your logic does not follow. Why do we need to be enrolled in a zero-period class to know that peer-reviewed medical research shows that early start times correlate with a greatly increased suicide risk?

How are Ms. Sorenson's views being dismissed? I'd say they're being addressed and countered. How does it follow, even if they were dismissed, that all teen views should be dismissed?

How is giving greater weight to a wide array of peer-reviewed medical research done over several years over a quick survey by an untrained teen of 100 students showing bias?

Please be specific, thank you.


8 people like this
Posted by transparency please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:05 pm

"Dauber said the letter sent Wednesday "resulted organically" after he both reached out to and was contacted by local doctors and health professionals who wanted to weigh in on the topic."

It always seems odd when board members are making decision on communications that aren't made public.

Ken, as part of his election, pledged to make all communications public via the web. Unfortunately that hasn't happened.

Now we find not only does Ken unable or unwilling to execute on his election pledge but he is also soliciting local doctors to support his position.


18 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Thank you to these medical professionals for speaking up in support of best practices for the health of our students. I hope the the school board will act decisively to correct a practice of 7:20 AM start times that was clearly intended to circumvent the later start schedule enacted in 2011.
It's sad the Townsend has continued to be the leading opponent of measures that will help move us toward healthier school environments. She is trying to fight the battle against reforms that the former board and superintendent clung to for five years. At the last board meeting Godfrey and Emberling voiced an appreciation of the need to correct this practice, then backed away from clear leadership, as they too often do. They are our elected representatives and they need to more fully embrace the roles and responsibilities of governing. It remains to be seen Whether Caswell will show real leadership on behalf of the students.
I'm becoming more hopeful that the tides of change are occurring under McGee and community sentiments, despite some opposition from a powerful minority of parents teachers and teachers who exert their influence behind the curtains. I hope that our very many outstanding and progressive teachers will step up on this and other issues on behalf of their students and support the medical research and the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.


3 people like this
Posted by Opar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Transparency Please,

Not sure what concerns you here. Dauber said he reached out and was contacted and said this at a public meeting. Are you saying that all letters sent to him should be made public w/o the sender's consent? That goes beyond my understanding of the Brown Act.

The letter from the medical professionals who were part of this discussion was presented publicly at a meeting.

As I say, I don't quite get your concern here. What do you think should have been done instead?


9 people like this
Posted by really think
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:49 pm

The facts are before us from medical professionals. The decision was made to start the high schools later. I am confused as to why more study or discussion is needed. Responsible adults should make responsible decisions. Please make a decision.


1 person likes this
Posted by transparency please
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm

@Opar,

It does, but it doesn't go beyond Ken's pledge: Web Link

"Transparency. A core principle of our government is that the public's business is done in public, so that we can be fully informed participants in the governance of our community and our schools. That means that closed meetings, at which the public is not present, are kept to the minimum legally required. It also means that the public has the same access to documents and communications that school board members do, except for matters that are genuinely confidential. Our school board has increasingly resorted to closed meetings and private communications for issues that would better be aired in public. I pledge to work to reverse this trend. I pledge myself to make available to the public, via the Web, all of my communications with district staff and other board members that are not legally confidential."

This was an election pledge. Ken's above statement is clearly breaking both the spirit and letter of his pledge.

I know it's naive to expect candidates to hold to the principals they claimed before they got elected but here's hoping!


4 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Re: Parent

Whether or not a zero period option is a good idea or not is certainly debatable, and worth debating. Whether eliminating it or not - especially for those not using it to take extra classes - is an empirical question. It is also unlikely to have very much effect. But again, lets have the discussion.

What is not OK is for posters to demonize those who do not agree that the latest "sliver bullet" theory being advanced as the solution to a serious issue. For example, the actual research being cited by Dauber shows that both too little and too much sleep is a serious indicator of an issue. Within the range of 7-8 hours, there isn't any significant difference in serious mental health impact. As the doctors point out, there may be other benefits.

But just read other posts. Some commenters want to do away with the "PE exemption." Is this a good idea? Wouldn't some facts be useful?

The problem with pet theories is that it distracts from the real issues at hand.

Everyone is trying their best to solve this problem. There are no shining knights storming the castle of resistance.






1 person likes this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Transparency Please,

I still don't see the issue here--Dauber wasn't holding a meeting with other board members or district administrators, nor does this involve communications among them. He says he was contacted by local healthcare providers and reached out to them--i.e. people who are not elected officials and do not work for the district.

He then said this at the board meeting and the opinions of those healthcare professionals was presented and made public at that board meeting.

I just don't see a violation here--in either letter or spirit. But thanks for answering my question.


5 people like this
Posted by Zero for Zero
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:17 pm


VOTE NO ON MEASURE A.

Despite the unified opinion of all these doctors and McGee's own statement that "the science is indisputable," he supports retaining zero period on his unproven theory that some group of students that doctors do not think exists are fine to start school early. He says the group is small. I guess by small he means 300 including many who are taking 8 classes.

I'm here to say that I'm voting NO on Measure A, and I always support everything for money for schools. The school board and McGee are not taking suicide seriously. All these doctors and Stanford Med profs and McGee is saying no? Well, I hope Terri Baldwin has a cool 15 mil for you Max. Since you are already in her pocket maybe you can fish around for it. Measure A boosters: tell Max to stop zero period or prepare to lose.

Send a message about zero period and suicide and vote no on A.

Am I the only one who feels this way?


20 people like this
Posted by Patricia Chang
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:36 pm

I find it interesting that Dauber et al, are making what may be a spurious connection between zero period and health outcomes. We can all agree that students need 8-10 hours of sleep as one factor supporting mental health. Sorensen does not disagree with this. The assumption, based on no evidence at all, is that people who take academic courses during zero period do not get that 8-10 hours of sleep. There also seems to be an assumption reflected by Dauber and others that students who get up at 6 am for rowing, swimming, water polo, jazz band, prayer meetings, etc. are getting 8-10 hours of sleep? You can't have it both ways. Plus, what Sorensen argued is that most of the kids who do zero period enjoy zero period and do it out of choice because they are early risers, or it allows them a break in the afternoons. There is absolutely no evidence that kids who take zero period aren't getting enough sleep. Before you make this assumption we need to do a survey and find out how many hours of sleep kids get and what they do with their time. I find the most efficient kids are the busy kids and they know they need sleep to function.

And lets not ignore the fact that the best people to insure that kids get enough sleep are parents. Why can't parents do their job and make sure their kids get enough sleep? If your kids aren't sleeping enough adjust their extracurriculars, tutoring, sports, or class selection-don't impose a one size fits all rule on everyone else!

Ken Dauber wants to make decisions based on data yet he is advocating districtwide policies based on what is probably a spurious relationship-as Sorensen said, "correlation is not causation." Lets do a sleep study and find out. We may find that students without any extracurriculars are playing video games and hanging out on social media when they should be sleeping. Parents do your jobs!


4 people like this
Posted by Cubberley Cougar '75
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 19, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Speaking of DATA: Since teenagers have more driving accidents, let’s do away with 16 yr old licenses all together! Since AP classes are proven to be harder and more work, let’s limit how many each student can take! Since HS football is dangerous, let’s discontinue it!

My point is just that we as a society frequently make or allow decisions that are contrary to the best data. That does not mean we don’t present the data, it just means we still have to decide, and not let the data decide for us. Letting data decide got us the vaccination hoax.

I don’t know why Gunn faculty want to teach AP courses first thing in the morning. The courses are optional, the data says the students won’t do as well on average, so why do it? On zero more broadly, other electives, particularly those that students are enthusiastic about might make sense in zero.

Marching Bands rely on zero period rehearsal. ROC classes at zero align more closely with working responsibilities in CTE type fields. I closely read Chloe’s guest opinion. In this case specifically, if the only two choices were her letter or the AAP info, I’d have to accept her letter, based on my own experience as a student, as well as those of my children.


20 people like this
Posted by Helicopter anyone?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Seriously, Patty? You wrote that post without disclosing that Chloe is your daughter? And referred to her as "Sorenson" as if she was not related to you?

The issue with teen sleep and early start time is that numerous scientific studies have found that teen circadian rhythms do not allow teens to fall asleep early and wake up early. There is no way to tell who will be affected, or who will sleep adequately and the risks are too high to take chances. Some kids can probably text and drive safely. Which ones? We don't know. So we pass a law for the safety of all.

The proposal by the board member and all these doctors who are advising the district on suicide prevention is to follow the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as dozens of your colleagues from Stanford medical school who have all signed a letter against zero period. These doctors, many of whom have students at Gunn, did not advise that it was medically sound to do a survey first, and did not advise that if a teen gets 8-10 hours they can take zero period. Obviously they could have advised that had they wanted to, but they advised eliminating it.

The doctors of the AAP and of Stanford could have recommended a survey and they didn't. They could have recommended allowing certain select kids (even presuming there is a way to identify them) and they didn't. Patty, do you know for sure that zero period was not a factor in any of the recent suicides? If you do not know that, then are you doing something responsible right now?

I can understand that as a mom you want to support your daughter but this is really over the top.


8 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 19, 2015 at 5:12 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I have always believed that athletics should be banned in schools. Schools are not the place for them. Kids who want to participate in athletic activities can do it after school hours, away from schools. School athletics contribute mightily to the culture of excessive competitiveness, winners vs losers, popular vs. unpopular, etc. Most countries don't have high school athletics, only PE.


2 people like this
Posted by LMAO
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 5:13 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 5:29 pm

I sure am glad we are now done with schools here. They worked very well for our children, but parents are getting more and more hysterical in my opinion.


1 person likes this
Posted by Helicopter anyone?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 5:33 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by umm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2015 at 5:49 pm

I can appreciate everyone's professional or unprofessional opinions. As a parent of two teens, the school start time is irrelevant to when my teens sleep. They will simply stay up later :) In addition, we did an experiment in our house two years ago. We took away everyone's computer, phone, internet, etc. from 8-12 for 3 months except when they need it for HW. The result was astounding! Both teens finish their HW within reasonable hours and had plenty of free time before going to bed by 12. I am so glad that we had the opportunity to do this. My kids now ask for tech free hours :)


9 people like this
Posted by Willikers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:05 pm

If STANFORD doesn't have any classes before 10:00 a.m., why should Paly or Gunn?


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:22 pm

And let's ask the average Stanford student what time they go to bed...before midnight when you know you don't have class until 10? Yeah, right. Try 1 or 2am.

[Portion removed.]

Eliminate extra-curricular activities altogether? They cause too much stress? Playing games, playing music and/or having fun is stressful? Honestly.

Anyone who seriously thinks that changing the start times by such a minuscule amount is going to make a significant difference in a student getting a full night's sleep is just not connected with today's kids at all.

As for morning practices...you do realize that the sports mentioned above also have club options. Those kids will just go to swim or polo practice with their clubs in the morning if the school is not allowed to do it. Again - people are just not being realistic about choices and alternatives.


4 people like this
Posted by What??
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:33 pm

[Portion removed.]

Of course sleep deprivation directly diminishes one's--anyone's--judgment, mood, physical perceptions and reactions. DUH. Really? This is news? Or is it wishful thinking, desperate hoping that a relatively easy change in morning school routines will stem the tide of teen suicide?

My kids went to Paly and it is not that simple. Please let us clearly remember and effectively correct the impossible, meaningless, defeating expectations and demands we put on our kids. Let them be who they are--not who we wish they were. Let's focus on that now, so we can all sleep better.


11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 6:44 pm

@Transparency
I've appreciated greater openness and transparency by the school board since McGee and Dauber came on board. Despite pressure from Caswell and Townsend otherwise, Dauber has pushed to bring important issues like this one into the open for public discourse and, for the most part, McGee has seemed aligned with that approach. The board is no longer having a succession of legally questionable closed door meetings about OCR issues. Godfrey appears to deserve credit for this as well.
It's pretty clear from your repeated efforts to go after Dauber that you are attempting to undermine him on a policy issue where you disagree and that he raised publicly rather than any genuine concern of yours for transparency. Otherwise, you'd be criticizing Townsend for fighting against having a public discussion as she did at the board meeting.
These are important discussions about the health of our kids.


18 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Gunn in in very serious trouble, and most commenters here seem to be ignoring this. The school district and the administration have been ignoring the warning signs for years. Now the panic is here and it's going to get worse.

Suicide after suicide, and we're still in denial.

We'll be lucky is the school district doesn't get sued our of existence. We will be lucky if parents don't abandon it wholesale. There are at least 3 groups, growing fast, of parents looking to GET OUT at any cost.

Preserving athletics is the very least of Gunn's problems.


Like this comment
Posted by and for learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Socializing wakes teens up and energizes them to learn better.

Doing sports with team mates, good.

Walking to school good

Walking to school with a friend - better

I think somebody already stated this, just worth repeating, exercise and socializing are good and there may even be some research that shows that kids who do this before class learn better.

High School = hormones, so doing sports in the early morning is very different than Algebra.


5 people like this
Posted by sports too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:38 pm

I also think that we should seriously consider whether to allow early morning sports practice. My extreme night-owl has needed to skip all "optional" 6:30 am practices, which has hurt his standing wrt the coach


15 people like this
Posted by MD Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:47 pm

MD Mom is a registered user.

Maybe I've missed something, but has anyone reported a positive correlation between the teens who have committed suicide, and zero-period classes?


16 people like this
Posted by Hello
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:55 pm

Reading all of this would make one think that PAUSD is a heartless place where we drag kids out of bed to take hard classes in the early morning. Has anyone looked at the start times of other schools? A 5 minute googling of schools nearby gave me the following info. NO clue if it's updated, accurate, etc. I just searched "x high school bell schedule" and got the following start times for 1st periods at public high schools on the peninsula. Some do have later start times one day a week for meetings, and other variations for blocks and whatnot, but here's a quick overview:

Monta Vista - 7:35
Cupertino - 7:35
Homestead - 7:50
Mountain View - 8:10 (0 period: 7:15)
Los Altos - 8:10 (0 period: 7:15)
Santa Clara - 7:30
Leland - 7:55 (0 period: 7:00)
Carlmont - 8:00
Woodside - 8:00 (0 period: 7:00)
Sequoia - 8:30 (0 period: 7:30)
San Mateo - 8:00 (0 period: 7:00)
Hillsdale - 7:45

I'm not saying that the medical reasons for starting school later aren't valid and worthy of consideration, but let's not lose sight of the fact that our start times are by no means outrageous or unusual, and are, in fact, luxurious compared to some of these schools.


Like this comment
Posted by and for learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 7:56 pm

sports too

SInce you brought "extreme."

Extreme night owls need to relay this problem to their pediatrician to rule out any other issues, and to evaluate mental health.

If there is nothing else going on, it's up to you to help channel in some habits which can get your kid more sleep.

For example, it may be better for him to go to early sports practice (because exercise helps sleep health), so that he would want to go to sleep earlier than extreme night hours.

More sleep is good for all sorts of things and it may need to be sold better than making it a school board decision.


3 people like this
Posted by Keri
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Keri is a registered user.

The surveys have been done at the schools, through the California Healthy Kids Survey. The most recent survey took place in 2013-2014. Here's the link: Web Link

You can look at the data many different ways. Here's a link to the PAUSD secondary schools report: Web Link

Tables A4.2 and A4.3 are worth a look, especially the 11th graders' responses.


10 people like this
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:53 pm

It makes me sad that it is so difficult for us to listen to each other.

The students have real experiences. They have real things to say. Even if you disagree with them, please allow them to speak without putting them down. Remember that they are people first, with legitimate feelings and opinions, and they are in the middle of this storm, along with the staff. All of them deserve support, first and foremost.

Zero period is one tiny piece of a much bigger conversation.


6 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm

AMEN, finally the community , many without kids at Gunn or Paly are getting involved. Well PAUSD, how can you possibly go against this advice ? Better have a serious talk with the City Attyn by the way. IF you fail to take this professional advice AND there are more 'issues' , I wouldnt want to be in your shoes legally, or morally for that matter. ACT NOW !


11 people like this
Posted by keep choices
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:10 pm


Not ALL teens are night owls.
Having Zero period as an OPTION for students to choose is not "criminal".

Why can't we believe them when they say they want to keep zero period?
I have a sixteen year old who even on the weekends is in bed by 10:30pm and then "sleeps in" until 7:30am.

He is very frustrated by the rush to make sweeping changes based on the extreme actions of a very few individuals. His previously positive feelings about his school are being eroded by the heavy-handed demands for change, regardless of what the students may think. So sad.


1 person likes this
Posted by and for learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:14 pm

sarcasm has popped up in all zero period related threads, probably all that can be said has been said anyway.


6 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:15 pm

Lawsuits? Is this the example of working through our challenges that we want to model for our teens? They are watching this conversation closely. Some of them are concluding that it is the community vs the students.

We are all in this together. Let's work through it like the educated, civilized people that I know my community is made of.


6 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 10:34 pm

An academic zero period wasn't supposed to exist in the first place and has only been in place at one school (the one that's had the majority of the suicides) for three years. It's not the end of the world if it becomes athletics only, which I believe is Mr. Dauber's suggestion.

I am waiting for anyone clinging to the academic zero period to show why the research used to bolster the American Association of Pediatrics recommendation is flawed. I've seen no one even touch it.

Our district surveys showed that a quarter of our teens have suffered from significant depression and 85 percent get less than the recommended amount of sleep.

We are seeing our second suicide cluster in five years. THERE'S A PROBLEM PEOPLE.

As for lawsuits and such--well, this is already a district that's faced some issues on this point. Do you think a district that ignores its own rules and medical research as it relates to student well-being is going to look good in court?

This isn't about choice, this is about a rather small, but noisy group who don't want to be inconvenienced by having to consider the well-being of students who aren't like them. It's unattractive and self-absorbed.

And it's unhealthy.

By the way, I'm not in the Gunn draw area--I don't have a personal stake in this, but I'm sick of seeing kids die and the refusal of people to do anything that might prevent the next suicide.

By the way, asking Gunn to abide by established regulations on zero periods and fall in line with Paly is NOT rushing to judgment. The rashness was in creating an academic zero period at a school that had had a rash of suicides two years prior. Now *that* was reckless.


2 people like this
Posted by Depressed
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:13 pm



Kind of depressed after reading all these comments. So I better get to bed or I will be three times more depressed tomorrow morning.


7 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Patricia Chang wrote:

"And lets not ignore the fact that the best people to insure that kids get enough sleep are parents. Why can't parents do their job and make sure their kids get enough sleep? "

This is a example of the self-absorption I mentioned--no sense that we should be looking at the problem of teen depression and suicide as a community. It's "Haul up the ladder, Jack, I'm aboard." It's those *other* parents not doing their job.

It does *none* or our children any good to be in a community that has an ongoing problem with teen suicide. It's time for parents to look past their immediate needs and think about what is good for the community as a whole.

Do I think eliminating academic zero period will solve the problem with suicide and depression here? No, but I think it's a step in the right direction and shows that we care about more than what's just good for us, personally.



2 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 19, 2015 at 11:46 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

For a school-reform plan that will allow for more sleep, please check out "Save the 2,008," a local grassroots initiative that is growing by leaps and bounds.

We're at: www.savethe2008.com

"S2K8" makes six proposals:


1. Shrink classes to a friendlier size, creating a closer feeling between classmates as well as stronger teacher-student ties (which are sometimes lifelines). Of all the things we can do to ease student anxiety, this is perhaps the most powerful—like lowering control rods into a reactor core that’s overheating.

2. Moderate the amounts of nightly homework, less through decrees from afar than via improved communication (i.e., a confidential student-teacher website, use optional, built by our own whiz-kids);

3. Foster wiser decisions about AP course loads, through timely meetings among parents, kids, and their counselors (who can speak to the importance of sleep, time with peers, dinnertimes, developmental assets—and the availability of hundreds of good colleges, nationwide).

4. Stand between our kids and the all-day siren song of their phones—so that students aren’t in a private web of texting, taunts, Instagram, and Snapchat, in class and out. As in our middle schools, phone-use should be politely banned.

5. Slow the bombardment of grade-reports so our kids have room to ride out the ups and downs of teenage life;

6. End the demoralizing impact of continual cheating—currently the air that kids must breathe, just to compete (but which further ups the stress). Let’s bring our kids and teachers fresh peace of mind.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Co-founder, with sophomore Martha Cabot
"Save the 2,008"


2 people like this
Posted by Gunn senior
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 20, 2015 at 12:40 am

Dear OPar,
First, was Ms. Chang incorrect? As a student I agree that if there is a problem with sleep habits a parent is the right person to help adress that problem.
Second, the amount of sleep a teen gets is based on the individual. Yes, reaserch shows that for most teens starting later is better. Zero period is not for most teens, it's for the select few that chose to be there, beasuse their individual situation works best with a zero period. I, like most teens, don't want to get up early. But I understand that not all people are exactly the same. Zero period is an option. Personally I think removing options for students to chose their own education is a step back not forward.


9 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:15 am

Gunn senior,

There's no correct here--Ms.Chang is stating an opinion. I would counter that many parents have said it is difficult for their kids to get enough sleep given the amount of homework. I would also add that research indicates that the circadian rhythm of adolescent mean, as a group, they find it harder to get to sleep earlier in the evening. I'd say Ms. Chang is trying to evade any sense of community responsibility for the suicides. Sorry, there have been too damn many of them for that to fly with me.

So, thinking it over. No, she's not correct. Or, rather, she shows herself to be morally myopic.

You, by the way, are online posting after midnight. Given that computer screens are not conducive to sleep, I wonder why you are online on a weeknight. Are your parents aware of this and are they in a position to do much about it? How responsible do you think they should be for you--you're a senior and may be, for all I know, an adult.

A "select few" is not 300 kids. When you have a school that has had two suicide clusters in five years, it is reckless to disregard factors that are associated with an increased risk of suicide.

I have not seen anything from Ms Sorenson or her mother that refutes the research, nor have I seen either offer ways to improve the Gunn environment. I don't expect Ms. Sorenson to do this--to me, she's a kid with a limited frame of reference. Her mother has less of an excuse and needs to take some responsibility here.

So minor inconvenience for a "select few"--and, honestly, I've yet to see any argument for the academic zero period that's stronger than "it's convenient" v. doing what we can to protect the emotional well-being of an at-risk group of minors.

When teen suicides and high rates of teen depression stop being an issue in Palo Alto, I'm willing to revisit zero period, but right now, maintaining it strikes me as completely reckless.

As far as teen suicide is concerned, I have zero tolerance.


3 people like this
Posted by RV a PA resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 20, 2015 at 5:47 am

RV a PA resident is a registered user.

It's false to assume that students who are taking zero period classes are not getting enough sleep. My son took TBN, a non academic class, at Gunn and planned his sleep times accordingly. Perhaps because of the early start he was compelled to sleep on time. Students who take zero period classes won't continue to do that if they did not want it! No high school student will take an optional class unless they want to! Starting at sun rise is actually considered a good thing by many religions and health experts. I would recommend that zero period class be for non academics only and no one should be allowed to take 8 classes.

Having said that the issue of lack of sleep is very important and should be addressed. I think 8:30am start does help but even with that start time there are many many students who are not sleeping sufficiently. The students who are getting stressed because they are doing too many activities and not getting enough sleep should be helped. Parents and teachers should look at each student individually and guide them as needed as each child is different!


3 people like this
Posted by But where's Jesper on this?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:05 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by and for learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 8:27 am

This argument should be over with.

[Portion removed.]

Zero period families will continue to have the same rights and options as all other students, and the world will go on fine, in the same way we all had to adapt to the new calendar and start school early August when some of our families are just getting into summer. It would have reduced our stress to not alter our summers, and think about all the families who don't even have kids in high school who had to adapt.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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