At its Monday, June 15 meeting, the district school board adopted a new homework policy that emphasizes the importance of balancing student commitments between homework, extracurriculars and free time. The change came about as the result of months of parent and student calls for reform during community wide discussions about the toll of academic stress on students’ mental well-being.
“It is the perception of so many people of our organization — parents, students, staff, that everybody is stressed,” Associate Superintendent Brigitte Sarraf said. “Whenever you hear that there is a particular concern, the first thing you do is to revise policies. The [expressions of discontent about homework] have never been so clear until the past year.”
Over the course of several meetings, parents spoke to the board about their concerns that excessive homework, particularly over breaks and weekends, was overworking students and leaving them with no free time. A Facebook group, “No Weekend Homework,” garnered over 90 likes in calling for changes to district policy.
Eventually, the board responded by proposing, drafting and then passing a new homework policy that laid out the standards for maintaining balance while noting the importance of homework for academic advancement.
The old policy consisted of a few paragraphs stating that homework “should reinforce classroom learning objectives” and that students are responsible for completing their homework.
“This policy is intended to make clear what the expectations are as they relate to homework,” Sarraf said. “That’s why you have [three different categories]: teacher expectations, student expectations [and] parent expectations…We feel that homework is something that everybody has a hand in, so to speak.”
Sarraf notes that the homework policy is part of the district’s overall plan this year to find holistic solutions to the issue of student stress.
“The new policy is very generic, and that was done with a purpose in mind,” Sarraf said. “We realized that you cannot just deal with homework in isolation. Homework is part of a much bigger picture, a culture that we are trying to develop that not only values…academic achievements… but also students’ and staff’s mental health and well-being. So we decided to craft a policy that is generic [and] that would allow our school sites to continue these conversations with student, staff [and] parents.”
The policy itself does not call for any changes to district regulations. Instead, administrators at both Mountain View and Los Altos High Schools will work with staff members to develop an implementation plan for putting the specifics of the policy in effect. Though the original timeline intended for this plan to go into action during the second semester of this school year, Sarraf says that the plan is now forecasted to develop over the entire school year and be implemented at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
“One of the focuses for staff development this year is to talk about what kind of homework they are doing and gather some data,” Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said. “[We are also going to have] a lot of other conversations to get information so that we’re making as scientific, thoughtful and involved decisions as we can. We will have that conversation… [and] we will come up with suggestions to the board about what those administrative regulations could be. The board as a democratic body will have a conversation and vote and pass the administrative regulations and probably as a result some practical things will change.”