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FOX 13 News 360: Utah’s crowded classrooms

Posted at 10:00 PM, Sep 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 00:00:09-04

As kids head back to school, FOX 13 is hearing from parents and teachers who are concerned about classrooms with more than 30 students.

One educator who wishes to remain anonymous wrote: “I’m a teacher with a class of 32 third graders. It makes a huge difference on the impact I can make and the progress my students make when the class is that large.”

“There’s no district policy or state rule regarding class sizes,” said Jeff Haney, the spokesman for Canyons School District.

Haney says the Canyons District uses a guideline of 22.3 students per class for grades kindergarten through third grade, 26.3 students in fourth through sixth grade classrooms, and 27.3 students in grades seven through 12.

"We try to keep as close to those staffing ratios as possible,” Haney said, while acknowledging some classrooms have more students.

“It used to be ... capped at 24 students for first and second grade, which is why mine was always magically twenty-four,” said Sylvia Read, a former teacher at an elementary school in North Logan who is now a professor at Utah State University.

Read says classrooms around Utah frequently exceed the numbers the Canyons District aims for.

She says large classrooms contribute to the burnout felt by many teachers, and the students suffer, too.

“It’s really important in those lower grades where kids are learning to read, and getting mathematic foundations, to keep the class sizes small enough to treat students as individuals,” Read said.

The Utah Education Association is aware of the challenges.

“It’s very difficult to decrease class sizes; it’s very expensive,” said Jennifer Boehme, a former teacher who is now executive director of the UEA.

“Let’s take into consideration that we have finite space in all of our schools. It would be great if every school had 15 to 17 students per teacher, but where would you put all of those classrooms?” Haney said.

More teachers and bigger facilities are topics that get batted about at the Utah State Legislature from time to time.

“It’s something that comes up regularly, but I haven’t seen the will to make it happen because it’s a money issue,” said Read.

If you're concerned your child is falling behind in a crowded classroom, Haney says you can reach out to the principal to see what options might be available.

Boehme says getting involved is a good idea, too.

“I think the best thing parents can do if the kids are in a class with a lot of students in it is volunteer their time. Volunteer to go in once a week and help with a reading group. Volunteer to pull aside the high math kids and give them some enrichment, because that’s not something the teacher’s going to be able to do. They’re going to be focused on helping the kids that are struggling,” Boehme said.