Class-size limits under review in South Carolina

Board weighs possible end to some limits

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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. — The South Carolina Board of Education is considering getting rid of maximum class sizes in some grades.

The board gave initial approval in September to getting rid of requirements that fourth- and fifth-grade English and math teachers have no more than 30 students in their classrooms. It also would eliminate maximum class size rules in pre-kindergarten and in music and physical education classes and do away with staffing ratios for media specialists, guidance counselors, assistant principals and principals.

It would not change state law on maximum class sizes in other areas, such as allowing no more than 28 students in classes in first through third grade.

A committee will discuss the issue this week, and the board will consider whether to give the changes final approval next month. If passed, they would go to the Legislature for approval.

State Superintendent Mick Zais wants to give schools more freedom. Sup­por­ters said the proposals came up as the state Edu­ca­tion Department reviewed all regulations.

“The flexibility is looking at not having hard-and-fast ratios,” said Roy Stehle, the director of the Education Department’s Of­fice of Federal and State Accountability. “It is about giving districts the flexibility in terms of staffing to make adjustments as they need to make adjustments.”

Opponents of the proposals say the rules are in place to assure quality education and that districts can already get a waiver if they need to have bigger classes.

State Board of Education Chairman David Blackmon said he voted for the proposals the first time so they could be discussed further, but he doesn’t agree with them.

“What protections are there for teachers and students when they have more students in the classroom than is reasonable for them to accommodate?” he asked.

Even one of the board’s most conservative members, Mike Brenan, is against the idea.

“I’m generally in favor of providing waivers that give school districts flexibility to be innovative, creative and transformative,” he said. “This particular one doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with innovation, creativity and transformation, and I more than likely will vote against it.”

Dorchester School District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye said class size is his teachers’ No. 1 issue. But “we’ve got to be careful at what point are we allowing people to make bad decisions,” he said.


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