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Class size opponents turn to parents, teachers

By Staff | Jul 17, 2010

The opening of 2010-2011 school year on Aug. 23 comes with the implementation of an educational overhaul eight years in the making.
Florida’s Class Size Amendment was passed in 2002 — capping class sizes by 18 in elementary, 22 in middle, and 25 in high school — and is supposed to be fully implemented by the start of this academic year.
Recently, the Department of Education launched a website with information on the amendment, which is accessible at www.leeschools.net or at www.fldoe.org/classsize.
Officials at school districts across the state have voiced their concerns about fully implementing the Class Size Amendment — requiring the hiring of new teachers or the construction of additional buildings — after school budgets have been devastated by the economy.
The Florida Legislature approved a November ballot initiative to ease class size restrictions, but school districts will have to open the new year following these new regulations. On the ballot, Floridians will decide whether to keep the amendment as is or allow schools to use school-wide averages to meet compliance.
“We’ve said all along that keeping class size down is positive, but that the school-wide average was the best way to do so,” said Lee Schools Superintendent James Browder, in a prepared statement. “This gives school principals the flexibility to do what is right for students based on their individual needs while listening to the intent of the voters to keep class size down.”
The Lee County School District has received approximately $535 million in funds over the last eight years to assist in implementing class size requirements.
Although new teachers have been hired in Lee County to make sure schools are compliant with the amendment, a major concern is that those teachers will be laid-off if the amendment is altered by the November initiative.
During earlier school board meetings, Browder said the district is considering the use of long term substitutes to act as co-teachers if a class exceeds the mandated size limit. He also said the district is asking teachers to forego their planning periods, teach an additional class, and take the free period after school.