Students, parents petition for later school start times

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Deck: District Superintendent Bove is open to investigating the idea proposed by Sharlene Liu

Published: October 7, 2015

By Shauli Bar-On

According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of all high school students are sleep deprived. Described by Sharlene Liu as an epidemic, sleep deprivation statistics such as this one inspired Liu to advocate for pushing school start times to 9 am.

Liu, parent of an HHS freshman and Cupertino Middle School 7th grader, is determined to prove the need for adjusting school schedules to District Superintendent Polly Bove.

“Moving or changing a school is much like repairing a plan in the air,” Superintendent Bove said.

However, Bove is open to launching a major investigation to implement later school start times throughout FUHSD.

Sleep deprivation was brought to Liu’s attention through her own children and their friends’ experiences.  Influenced by Stanford researcher William Dement “The Father of Sleep” as well as other districts’ decisions to delay their start times, Liu first voiced her opinion on FUHSD’s schedule in early 2015 when she spoke at a public school board meeting.

Liu met with parents of Menlo-Atherton High School (MA), a school that implemented later school start times just this year and is planning on meeting with members of the Palo Alto Unified School District who also just recently announced its decision to do the same.

District Superintendent Polly Bove began communicating with Liu regarding the potential to implement such a system in the FUHSD.

“I’m glad [Bove] is open to the idea and that she is already proactively looking into it,” Liu said.

Seeing the potential to build momentum, Liu started a Change.org petition on Sep. 7, and after just one week, the petition had over 2,000 signatures. As of early Oct, the petition has generated over 2,200 signatures.

Liu and her cohort Colleen Van de Voorde met with Superintendent Bove, Associate Superintendent and former HHS Principal Graham Clark and Athletic Coordinator Brad Metheany on Monday to discuss the next steps.  

Liu proposed a new schedule with an optional tutorial before school and a start time of 9 am. Liu advocates for the removal of 7th block periods and implementing only 7th daily classes, having 6th period end before 3 pm and the optional 7th period class end at 3:50.

A major study on delaying start times was conducted by the 11-year superintendent eight years ago.

“This is not a new concept,” Superintendent Bove said, “it surfaces repeatedly.”

The main issue that arose eight years ago was the rejection by the custodians, structural assistants, secretaries and food service workers who compose the Classified Union – the union for school activities workers.

According to real estate website Zillow.com, housing prices in Santa Clara County have increased 12.4 percent in 2015 with additional projections of 3.6 percent increases per year As a result, many of these workers commute to schools from other counties. Starting school later would force these workers to commute during rush hour traffic times.

Another concern of introducing a later start time is its potential impact on athletics.

“Although athletics is not the crux of the issue, it’s significant,” Bove said.

Several schools in the FUHSD have signed agreements with the community not to use their field lights past a certain hour, making it difficult to start practice later.  

In order to address many of the rising concerns, Bove plans on creating a committee of workers, teachers and students from all schools within the district.

“To be perfectly honest,,” Bove said, “everybody on this committee is going to have to make some sort of compromise.”

After speaking with the Menlo-Atherton superintendent, Bove learned that late starts were met with “pushback.”

Bove is determined, however, to “not just take hearsay, [and to] get the details.”

Although each school in the FUHSD has the option to vote on a new schedule, the board would ultimately have the authority to make the final decision.

Liu’s goal is to have the new system implemented by the beginning of the next school year.

“It’s not just a question you should ask,” Liu said, “you should state what you want so that people can work towards it.”

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