It happens every August, at least in recent years. And, once again this year, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education has voted to waive its class-size policy for some classrooms this year.
On Aug. 21, the school board voted to 6 to 1 to waive the class size policy with board member David Barsotti casting the lone vote against the waiver.
Barsotti said he believes class size is important and is disturbed that Hollywood School consistently has class sizes that are larger than at the other three elementary schools in the district. Five of the six classes at Hollywood School this year exceed the class-size policy.
“The educational environment is enhanced when there is a smaller class size,” said Barsotti, who resides in the Hollywood section of Riverside. “For me class sizes are important. We need to have small classes [at Hollywood], especially when the other schools have it.”
Some school board members, including Barsotti, said the district ought to consider eliminating the class-size policy, saying it has become meaningless since it is routinely waived. Barsotti said he supported eliminating the class-size policy and making class size an administrative decision not subject to the board vote.
“There is no need to debate it every year,” Barsotti said.
Board member Shari Klyber said she likes having a class-size policy, because it makes the board confront the issue publicly.
Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye said that she would support eliminating the class-size policy, although she supports the goal of keeping class sizes near present levels.
“By putting a number in there, I think it creates confusion,” Ryan-Toye said. “There is not a goal to drastically increase class size.”
This year, class sizes above the stated policy are common throughout the district. All told, 26 of the 41 elementary classrooms in District 96 have class sizes greater than the official policy of no more than 20 in kindergarten to third grade and 23 in grades four and five.
There are also 23 classes at L.J. Hauser Junior High School with more students than the target class size of 26.
Currently, 23 students are enrolled in kindergarten this year at Hollywood School, with 23 in first grade, 22 in second and third grades, 23 in fourth grade, and 24 in fifth grade.
The Hollywood kindergarten class would have been larger but a few incoming kindergarten students from the Hollywood neighborhood were assigned to other schools.
At Ames School, 12 of 18 classes needed the class-size waiver, as did nine out of 19 classrooms at Central School and three of eight at Blythe Park School.
Blythe Park School has some of the smallest classes in the district in first and second grades as it is transitioning toward becoming a two-section school. There are two sections of kindergarten at Blythe Park, one with 15 students and the other with only 13. There are 18 students each in the two sections of first grade at Blythe Park.
Board member Jeff Miller thinks more students should be assigned to Blythe Park to take the load off other schools in the district.
Ryan-Toye said that there are many ways to address educational needs of students other than a strict limit on class size.
“I know from having done some informal research with other school districts [that] many school districts do not name a number,” Ryan-Toye said.