Palo Alto High School's new bell schedule, set to roll out this fall, is being revised after the district realized the school was improperly counting its total instructional minutes.
Paly is required by the state to provide 64,800 minutes of instructional time in the academic year. The school was including zero period, a 50-minute, early morning, optional period during which only physical education is now offered, in its minutes count, interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks said Monday.
After parents, staff and school board members expressed concern, shared by Hendricks herself, about whether zero period should be included, Hendricks met with an external auditor in early May. Sheldon Chavan, partner at firm Chavan & Associates, told her then and again the following week that the new schedule was in compliance, Hendricks said. She asked him to verify this with the California Department of Education, which informed the district in late May that the optional period does not count as instructional time.
"If we didn't count zero period in minutes, which we're not, and if we retained existing minutes and block periods as they were originally slated we would be looking at running short on minutes," Hendricks said.
The Paly committee that developed and recommended the new schedule is now meeting again to make revisions to address the deficit.
Academic courses have not been offered during zero period since 2015, when former superintendent Max McGee decided to eliminate that option to protect student wellness.
Paly's new schedule also moved some instructional time to tutorial, a required period during which students can seek academic support or work on homework, and advisory, when students meet with their teacher advisers. The committee confirmed with the California Department of Education, attendance auditors and district administrators that this change would comply with state and district instructional minutes requirements, according to the group's final report.
The auditor is currently reviewing Paly's current and new schedule, with results expected sometime in the next week, Hendricks said. Schools' instructional minutes are audited annually, according to the district.
The state penalizes districts that don't meet the minutes requirement by taking away funding proportional to the number of affected students multiplied by the percentage of instructional time districts failed to offer, according to the California Department of Education website.
Though both Paly and Gunn High School had one day of school after graduation this year, that was "consistent with past practice" and not added to address a minutes shortage, Hendricks said.
Gunn, which rolled out a new bell schedule in August, was actually in excess of the instructional-minutes requirement this year, according to Hendricks.
This is not the first time, however, that Palo Alto Unified schools were out of compliance with the instructional-minutes requirement.
Last February, Gunn discovered its schedule was 23 hours short of the state requirement. The shortage was due to numerous special schedules, such as for standardized testing or finals, and a lack of accountability to the impact of those schedules on overall minutes, according to then-principal Denise Herrmann.
Paly was also short on instructional minutes by about 37 hours last year, according to then-principal Kim Diorio. At the time, the school was "given a directive by the superintendent's office based on the advice of counsel to change the bell schedule for the 2017-18 school year," the bell schedule committee wrote in its final report.