Crowded classrooms greet Utah students returning to school

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28 2013 5:00 p.m. MDT

Maulis said his ideal number for a sixth-grade class would be around 25, with earlier grades closer to 20. He said as the numbers grow, teachers are not able to spend as much individual time with their students for reading or math instruction, and classes are allotted less access to school resources such as computer labs or physical education.

"Kids need to be active," he said, "especially in elementary school."

Utah's large classes have been a perennial subject at the state Legislature, but because class size is directly tied to the number of teachers a school is able to employ, many attempts at addressing the issue have stalled due to a lack of funding.

During the most recent legislative session, Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, sponsored a bill that would have placed caps on class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. The bill was revised to instead require schools to report on their use of more than $100 million in class-size reduction funds that are distributed each year, which education officials say accounts for the median class size being three students less than it otherwise would be.

In Granite School District, high school principals are responding to a higher-than-expected turnout as students who failed to preregister for classes arrive for the first days of school.

District spokesman Ben Horsley said an additional 162 students, or the equivalent of five classes, have been added to the rolls of Hunter High School, while enrollment at the new Granger High School has swelled to roughly 3,000.

"That's just how every first of year works," he said. "You have kids walk in that are in-boundary and they have to be accepted."

Horsley said it makes for a busy first few weeks as administrators determine how to reallocate desks and classroom space. At Granger, he said, classrooms that would otherwise be empty during a teacher's preparation period are used for "traveling teachers" whose subjects are more adaptable.

"The bulk of our classrooms, we can utilize that space if we need to," Horsley said. "We have enough resources. It's just a matter of sorting through."

Stewart-Browning said Butterfield Canyon tries to mitigate the downside of large classes by working with intervention specialists — certified teachers who peel off groups of students to provide individualized attention on core subjects. But even if funding were available to hire new teachers and split classes, Butterfield Canyon would need a second story to house them, she said.

"We don't have a place to put them," Stewart-Browning said.

When asked if there was any upside to large classes, Maulis paused before shaking his head.

"I can't think of any," he said. "I really can't think of any."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

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