Class Size Chaos

I actually agonized over writing about this subject in my blog.  I advocate for public schools.  I also started this blog to write about my experiences as a parent of a child with special needs. I wasn’t sure if this was the proper place to do both.  I don’t have the luxury of being picky.  The crisis in North Carolina public schools is too great, and all the voices in my head won’t shut up.  Don’t worry, I’ll be back to complaining about IEP meetings in no time.

   What is the class size mandate in North Carolina

In a budget bill back in 2016, a class size mandate was given to all public schools.  Thanks to the efforts of activists, teachers, parents, students, and everyday citizens the mandate was phased in and delayed.  However, starting the school year 2018-2019 the mandate will be in full effect.  The mandate will put a cap on all Kindergarten through 3rd grade classes in public schools.  The caps are as follows: Kindergarten 18, 1st grade 16, 2nd and 3rd grades 17.

So, why the righteous indignation?

Despite warnings at the time, the impact of the mandate has several negative effects.  It limits schools flexibility in spending.  This flexibility allows schools to fund music, art and physical education teachers.   There is a teacher shortage in our state and it is significantly worse in the rural areas.  With a rising need of more k-3 classrooms, that teacher shortage can only get worse.  There is a space issue.  If your school is full, where do you put more k-3 classrooms?  Resources may be shifted.   To meet the class size for k-3 cap, schools may increase class size in 4th and 5th.  They may shift resources from middle and high schools, or even cancel much needed public pre-k programs.

Dealing with the poop

Raising a special needs kid means that small problems can have a large impact.  Class size mandate is a large problem with an even larger impact for kids with disabilities.  When resources get shifted, that means resources like teaching assistants get shifted away from my child.  With less help in the classroom, regardless of class size, there is potential for meltdowns.

No one wants a meltdown.  They can cause harm to my child, the classroom, or in extreme cases another child.  Its nothing like on TV.  I wish my child was a savant whose only trouble was relating to others.  Luckily the school has learned to do a great job of preventing meltdowns in the first place.  My son has an individual education plan or IEP.  Some days our behavior is above and beyond and others my son hangs by a thread.

My son’s best days are days he has specials.  It’s not just the teachers, although knowledge of their craft is imperative.  Its also the learning space.  For many kids on the spectrum, space is important.  Classrooms can be stressful and the simple act of leaving one can help alleviate anxiety.  The loss of specials teachers and their classrooms is terrible for any child, but kids on the spectrum feel it a little deeper.  They often feel everything a little deeper.  Spectrum kids crave specials not just for the instruction but for the stress relief those subjects provide.

My biggest fear is what we’re already seeing as schools try to adapt to the mandate.  Fourth and fifth grades are gaining in numbers.  This scares me because as upper grades have more kids and no TAs, I’m not confident they can meet the needs and demands of my son IEP.  This is about the quality of my son’s education.  This about helping him grow his emotional intelligence.  Ultimately its about federal law.

There are many struggles for special needs families.  Class size mandated doesn’t need to be one.  It can be fixed.  I encourage anyone reading this to get involved.  Contact me.  Contact your local PTA or PTO.  Find out what is going on in your area.  Call your state senator or representative.  Together we can all make a difference.

Want more fact filled information?  Check out this article from the NC Justice Center

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