The Board of Education makes decisions about the welfare of the Palo Alto Unified School District and, as stated by its philosophy, is supposed to “provide a school system that represents, in its judgment, a synthesis of the best community and professional views.” Looking at the past few years, one cannot help but wonder where those beliefs and philosophies have gone. The indefinite postponement of the proposal to de-lane 9th grade English a few days after it was presented at 1 a.m. on Jan. 28 (technically, Jan. 29) is the latest, though not the greatest, in the series of disappointments — one that could have been avoided had the meeting not run, as they always seem to do, far over the scheduled time.
The de-laning proposal was supposed to combine English 9 and 9A into just 9A. The English teachers say that all freshmen should not be shunted into taking only high lane or only low lane English classes by the students’ choice of class in their freshman year.
Teachers also propose that a mixed 9th grade class would benefit students socially as well as grade-wise, shrinking the achievement gap between White and Asian students and students from minority groups.
“It’s been really clear that students in 9A tend to be White and Asian and students in … 9 tend to be students of color,” said Kindel Launer, the freshman English team leader. De-laning would allow for greater mixing of students from different backgrounds.
There’s been a lot of discussion generated by this issue. It’s good that people are talking about it, considering all its ramifications and bringing many different points of view. The problem is that it’s been discussed privately, without a chance for one large public forum on the issue. The board should have scheduled a special meeting or event so that Palo Alto residents could openly discuss the issue with the people planning it. At the very least, they should have heard out the teachers’ proposal at a reasonable time and let other people come to hear the teachers’ pitch.
Instead, the board originally scheduled only 10 minutes for the discussion, and ran over until 1 a.m., a time when most people are neither awake nor rational. Looking back through past meetings, this emerges as a pattern, with some meetings running far over their scheduled time. Based on the publicly available minutes, it’s hard to say whether this is an overscheduling issue or an issue with staying on topic. A Palo Alto Online article from Feb. 7 talks about an event where a middle schooler was not allowed to speak due to being off-topic, but as one anonymous commenter going by the name “Gunn mom” wrote, “If not staying exactly on topic every minute was grounds for forcible ejection, the school board dais would be empty by 7:00 every other Tuesday night.”
Whether this is true or whether there are just too many issues planned for each board meeting, the meetings can’t continue like this.
If important issues are discussed at 1 a.m., sensible decisions can’t be made. People are too eager to get home to seriously consider those important issues. We need some way to give the board more time to discuss issues.
The simplest solution is to just have board meetings every week, rather than every other week, giving the board twice as much planned time at reasonable hours. This would halve the topics of discussion every week, allowing them to give enough time to every issue, instead of having to fit too many topics in one meeting.
Adding extra meetings wouldn’t even mean that the people on the board would have to work for twice as long — they’re already putting in the extra hours. Doubling the meetings would just make them pre-plan hours at a reasonable time, rather than overtime hours past midnight. People pitching their proposals wouldn’t have to stay up late just to make their voice heard, making it easier for people with full-time jobs to participate in the community.
Doubling the number of meetings would help even more with issues that have deadlines, like the de-laning proposal did — it had to be either accepted or denied by Feb. 27, when course selections were due for incoming 9th graders. Instead it was indefinitely postponed, a slightly nicer way of saying that it probably won’t come up again. If nothing is changed, we’ll just continue on like this, continuing to hear out other proposals like this one was heard out: at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday — or rather, a Wednesday.