Over 40 Gunn High School students attended the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education meeting tonight to contest the district’s decision to remove Gunn’s academic Zero Period classes.
The students went to the meeting in response to a letter from Supt. Max McGee in which he announced that Gunn will no longer be offering Zero Period classes after this year, other than non-academic courses such as Physical Education.
Out of the 24 people who signed up to talk during the open forum portion of the meeting, 17 Gunn students spoke, all arguing in favor of keeping Zero Period as a choice for students.
The students emphasized repeatedly that the decision was made without student input, there was a lack of data supporting claims against Zero Period and that reducing students’ choices will not decrease their stress.
“It’s about student voice,” Gunn sophomore Mihir Juvvadi said to the board members. “The key is that we want a proper process to be followed in all future decisions. … You made a decision about the schedule without consulting students. You didn’t hear us talk; you heard us talk after you had made your decision. We thank you for hearing our voices, but when it did come, it was a little bit too late.”
According to the speakers, one of the main issues regarding this decision is the lack of communication between the board and students. Although the board did attempt to connect with students, according to some students, some felt that it would have been more effective for administration and students to reach a resolution together, after discussions with all relevant members of the community.
In an opening statement, McGee expressed regret that students did not feel they were adequately involved in decision-making regarding this issue.
“I understand the frustration, the anger and the disappointment of our students and our faculty who want to retain the current practice,” McGee said. “I am very sorry that we did not do our best job in this instance.”
Gunn School Board Representative Rose Weinmann called the decision “misguided paternalism” and not in the best interest of Gunn students.
Heather Schultz, a parent of a current Gunn High School student, spoke during the open forum to voice her support for the choice that Zero Period offers students.
“I am concerned about change simply for the sake of change itself,” Schultz said. “It [the decision] feels rushed and dismissive of student opinions.”
Gunn Sophomore Class President Chloe Chang Sorenson confronted the board members about the adverse consequences that removing Zero Period could prompt.
“You do not see that your ‘positive changes’ are actually increasing stress in many students and making us feel powerless and overwhelmed,” Chang said. “It’s an endless cycle that always repeats again and again and again, and students always end up on the bottom.”
Some students urged the board to actively respond to the voice of the students now.
“Students’ faith in the school board is very closely tied with this decision,” Gunn Senior Class President Mack Radin said. “It’s one thing to say you’ll listen to us in the future, but it would be so powerful to listen to us now, if you change something now.”
Various student speakers gave accounts of their personal experiences with Zero Period, and claimed that it has helped them to manage their time more effectively.
“I am taking zero period so I can choose to have more control over my schedule,” sophomore Lucy Augustine said.
Sophomore Natalie Rozak shared her disappointment last year when her schedule did not allow her to fully pursue her passion of horseback riding. However, she has modified her schedule this year to include a Zero Period class, which she says better fits her personal needs.
“Because of Zero Period, I am able to ride horses every single day and complete my homework on time,” Rozak said.
Following the meeting, some students said they were disappointed that there was no discussion of revisiting the elimination of academic classes during zero period. Gunn Associated Student Body President Aren Raisinghani recognizes this disappointment, but acknowledges the difficulties in achieving immediate change on such a large scale.
“There was over an hour of talking … but even with all the different forms of persuasion, still no action was taken — or discussed being taken — at the executive level,” Raisinghani said. “Many students are frustrated because they came here today with that [a promise to revisit the new policy] in mind… [However,] I wouldn’t expect the School Board to take action immediately following a school board meeting because, in any leadership group, there are a lot of formalities.”
Several students expressed gratitude for the action taken by the community, and assistance in helping make school a better place.
“We really, really appreciate your concern and the concern of the parents in the community,” Gunn sophomore Olivia Ellson said. “We recognize the good intentions, and we understand that after the tragedies of this year, there is a need to take action. Whatever you decide to do with all of the discussion today, we would like you to know that we are a community. We know that Gunn can be stressful, and we would like to work with you to change that.”
“We need your support, your time and an open mind,” Sorensen said. “Show us that we’re all in this together.”