The zero-period issue had been simmering throughout the community for a month since school board member Ken Dauber raised it at the March 10 board meeting, asking that the board consider it and take action on it.
At the time, Townsend balked, saying that such a discussion would be premature. But Vice President Heidi Emberling and board member Terry Godfrey suggested scheduling zero period as an informational item on the board's April 21 meeting agenda, which the rest of the board agreed to do. Following McGee's April 10 message to the community, however, zero period did not appear on that agenda.
"I can assure you this, that in my 12-some years on the school board, there has never been a decision made like this with so little information that the board has been able to discuss," Townsend said Tuesday night.
"Why is there secrecy behind this?" she asked. "Why was it that during break I received a directive from the superintendent? That is not how we do business here in Palo Alto."
While Godfrey and Emberling Tuesday night described the discussion around zero period as "truncated" and "short-circuited" and the lack of consideration of the student voice "disturbing," Dauber defended McGee's authority to make such decisions.
"This is a matter of management discretion," Dauber said. "It was, like many, many topics and decisions within our school district, left to the superintendent and his staff to administer within the parameters set by board policy.
"If we decide as a board that we don't agree with a decision that Dr. McGee has made and we want to set policy around that, just like I didn't agree with a decision that the Gunn principal made three years ago on zero period, then we're perfectly entitled as a board to set policy on that," he added. "What we should not do is criticize or castigate the superintendent for making the decision in the first place. Dr. McGee had the full authority, the full right to do that. He was under no obligation to engage the board in some sort of process around his management decisions."
Most board members agreed that student voices must be better taken into account in future decisions and supported Gunn school board representative Rose Weinmann's proposal that the district form a "student voice committee" to look at how to create channels district-wide for students to be heard.
"My biggest disappointment is that the conversations we are having with our students face-to-face are when there's a problem and not regularly," board President Melissa Baten Caswell said. "There needs to be a way to have dialogues back and forth."
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