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Local school districts take divergent views on the controversial zero period

Some see advantages to early-morning offerings, others consider it antithetical to later start times

Sophomore Julian Schultz reads in class at Gunn High School in Palo Alto on March 16, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Under the new state law mandating later school start times, high schools can still offer a period that starts before 8:30 a.m., known as "zero" period. But the classes must be for a limited number of students and the period can't be used to calculate a school's average daily attendance for the purpose of receiving state funding.

Schools throughout the Peninsula are taking divergent approaches to the period that has in the past stirred controversy, with some administrators seeing the advantages of offering additional courses and others viewing it as antithetical to the spirit of later start times.

According to Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District opted to eliminate its zero period when it made the shift to later start times several years ago because administrators believed having zero period as an option would make some students feel academic pressure to enroll in another class.

"Honestly, we felt like it was opening a window of students getting into a situation where they're sacrificing their sleep," she said.

Sequoia High School senior Helena Landels agrees that zero period runs counter to teens' natural sleep needs.

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"The sleep deprivation in the zero period classes was just, like, ridiculous," she said.

Nearly half the students in her morning period were regularly absent, she said, adding that between going to class and sleeping in, many would choose the latter.

"It's just not natural for people my age to wake up that early. And most of my friends were not going to bed any earlier. So I think it's really damaging, really dangerous to students' health," she said.

Sequoia plans to continue offering a zero period but for a limited number of classes, such as advanced dance and the capstone International Baccalaureate course.

Other schools are attempting to walk the line between respecting teens' sleep patterns and accommodating the need to schedule courses outside of the normal hours that serve the majority of students.

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Woodside High School will offer a zero period at 7:30 a.m. for elective classes (like jazz band), but only about 100 students of the roughly 1,725 study body will be enrolled, said Chuck Velschow, Woodside High's administrative vice principal.

In Palo Alto, only physical education takes place in zero period, as an option for kids who want to get up and exercise early, Director of Secondary Education Kathleen Laurence said. Zero period has previously been the source of dispute in Palo Alto, including a heated debate in 2015 about Gunn High School's practice of offering rigorous Advanced Placement courses starting at 7:20 a.m. Then-superintendent Max McGee ultimately decided to stop offering any academic subjects in zero period.

Menlo-Atherton High School is eliminating zero period this fall to create a schedule in which all students start at the same time. The effect is that class will actually start earlier for the roughly 80% of students who didn't take zero period.

For about the past six years, Menlo-Atherton has had a six-period day, with a zero period in the morning at either 7:50 a.m. or 8 a.m. for students enrolled in seven classes. That meant students without a zero period arrived between 8:55 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., depending on the day.

Starting this fall, everyone will start school five days a week at 8:30 a.m. The zero period was replaced with a seventh period after school, which runs until 3:45 p.m.

"Consistency for start time and lunch time will help with kids forming a better routine," Principal Karl Losekoot said. "For kids on a seven-period day, I have heard they are excited to start a little bit later. Some are anxious. They didn't want the day to go later than 3:45."

This article is part of a larger story, "To combat teens' sleep deprivation, California schools must start their days later."

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Zoe Morgan is a staff writer for the Palo Alto Weekly and Mountain View Voice. Angela Swartz is a staff writer for The Almanac. Leah Worthington is a staff writer for the Redwood City Pulse.

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Local school districts take divergent views on the controversial zero period

Some see advantages to early-morning offerings, others consider it antithetical to later start times

by Zoe Morgan, Angela Swartz and Leah Worthington / Embarcadero Media

Uploaded: Fri, Aug 12, 2022, 6:58 am
Updated: Mon, Aug 15, 2022, 8:53 am

Under the new state law mandating later school start times, high schools can still offer a period that starts before 8:30 a.m., known as "zero" period. But the classes must be for a limited number of students and the period can't be used to calculate a school's average daily attendance for the purpose of receiving state funding.

Schools throughout the Peninsula are taking divergent approaches to the period that has in the past stirred controversy, with some administrators seeing the advantages of offering additional courses and others viewing it as antithetical to the spirit of later start times.

According to Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught, the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District opted to eliminate its zero period when it made the shift to later start times several years ago because administrators believed having zero period as an option would make some students feel academic pressure to enroll in another class.

"Honestly, we felt like it was opening a window of students getting into a situation where they're sacrificing their sleep," she said.

Sequoia High School senior Helena Landels agrees that zero period runs counter to teens' natural sleep needs.

"The sleep deprivation in the zero period classes was just, like, ridiculous," she said.

Nearly half the students in her morning period were regularly absent, she said, adding that between going to class and sleeping in, many would choose the latter.

"It's just not natural for people my age to wake up that early. And most of my friends were not going to bed any earlier. So I think it's really damaging, really dangerous to students' health," she said.

Sequoia plans to continue offering a zero period but for a limited number of classes, such as advanced dance and the capstone International Baccalaureate course.

Other schools are attempting to walk the line between respecting teens' sleep patterns and accommodating the need to schedule courses outside of the normal hours that serve the majority of students.

Woodside High School will offer a zero period at 7:30 a.m. for elective classes (like jazz band), but only about 100 students of the roughly 1,725 study body will be enrolled, said Chuck Velschow, Woodside High's administrative vice principal.

In Palo Alto, only physical education takes place in zero period, as an option for kids who want to get up and exercise early, Director of Secondary Education Kathleen Laurence said. Zero period has previously been the source of dispute in Palo Alto, including a heated debate in 2015 about Gunn High School's practice of offering rigorous Advanced Placement courses starting at 7:20 a.m. Then-superintendent Max McGee ultimately decided to stop offering any academic subjects in zero period.

Menlo-Atherton High School is eliminating zero period this fall to create a schedule in which all students start at the same time. The effect is that class will actually start earlier for the roughly 80% of students who didn't take zero period.

For about the past six years, Menlo-Atherton has had a six-period day, with a zero period in the morning at either 7:50 a.m. or 8 a.m. for students enrolled in seven classes. That meant students without a zero period arrived between 8:55 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., depending on the day.

Starting this fall, everyone will start school five days a week at 8:30 a.m. The zero period was replaced with a seventh period after school, which runs until 3:45 p.m.

"Consistency for start time and lunch time will help with kids forming a better routine," Principal Karl Losekoot said. "For kids on a seven-period day, I have heard they are excited to start a little bit later. Some are anxious. They didn't want the day to go later than 3:45."

This article is part of a larger story, "To combat teens' sleep deprivation, California schools must start their days later."

Zoe Morgan is a staff writer for the Palo Alto Weekly and Mountain View Voice. Angela Swartz is a staff writer for The Almanac. Leah Worthington is a staff writer for the Redwood City Pulse.

Comments

Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2022 at 1:41 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 15, 2022 at 1:41 pm

Typical poor read of the research. Yes. most teens gravitate to later wake-up time...but the research makes clear that this is NOT true for ALL teens. What's good for one kid or even most kids isn't necessarily good for all. In high school, my daughter advocated against making this change for everyone. She was an early riser (what the research calls a percentage of kids like her). She preferred to take her hardest classes as early as possible. She went to bed at 9:30pm habitually and woke without an alarm at 6am. She still does this at 21. Her pleas to PAUSD Board fell on deaf ears at the time, and she was furious. Parents and PAUSD, in adolescence, kids start making their own choices. Offer zero period. Make the choice available to those who want it. Teachers, if you see a child is regularly skipping zero period class, COMMUNICATE with them and ask if the problem is sleep. If it is, suggest they change classes. Parents, don't be idiots who use zero period to push your kids to squeeze more classes into their schedule. If they are not early risers, they should be sleeping. Also, make sure that your child is exercising good sleep habits--no screens a half hour before sleep. No blue light in the bedroom. If they habitually text in bed, the phone belongs in another room. Make sure they keep a regular bedtime (one way to help your child with this is to make sure their computer automatically shuts off at an agreed upon time. Get exercise every day. Don't eat sugar after 9pm. Televisions and computers do not belong in the place where you sleep. Unless you have no alternative, your student's computer or TV does not belong in a bedroom. These are simple things that you can do to help your child learn good skills for establishing sleeping rhythms and habits. They still might be a late riser, but they will be more rested if they establish sleep routines that really work. Screens and irregular schedules are enemies of good, deep sleep.


Citizen
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2022 at 2:39 am
Citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 16, 2022 at 2:39 am

@Options
You are so right. Some people are early risers and having classes that late is a disaster for their concentration. My spouse gets up at 5 or 6 every day even holidays and doesn’t feel right sleeping in, never has even as a student.

The problem here is that (despite the pandemic) our schools seem strenuously resistant to learning how to individualize education so that all students meet their potential. The idea is that if a zero period is offered, it becomes an opportunity that everyone feels pressure to take. But that wouldn’t be the case if opportunities were more diverse and individualized. No zero period class should only be available at that time. But saying tough nuts to students whose natural clock is on the early side is arbitrarily picking winners and losers. This is a well funded district. We do not have to do that.

When there is a conflict that can’t be resolved here because the answer has to apply exactly the same to everyone, we have to ask ourselves, why? Why can’t we learn to actually be fair by doing a better job meeting individual needs (which is what the law actually requires)? As they say in the Finnish system, whatever it takes for each student?

If the answer is that PAUSD staff just. cannot. handle. a system in which rank favoritism is not allowed, well, it’s high time to figure out how they can turn that inclination into treating all kids well. The answer should not be to double down on the good old factory model with all students forced through the same mold.


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