Class size drives district debate

Vernon school district classes stay constant, says administration

Class size and composition is a hot topic in the Vernon School District.

Average class sizes have remained relatively constant over the last four years, according to an administration report.

“Composition refers to the number of students in a classroom with special needs, as designated by Ministry of Education criteria,” said Diane Renisch, director of of instruction.

Last year, the kindergarten/Grade 1 group included one class with three ministry-designated students. This year there are no classes with three or more special needs students at this grade level.

At the Grade 1 to 3 level, there is one class with five identified students and none with four.

At the Grade 4 to 7 level, there are 10 classes with four or more identified special needs students. And at the Grade 8 to 12 level, there are 66 classes with four or more special needs students enrolled.

“Classes with more than three identified special needs students have additional support in place,” said Bev Rundell, district superintendent.

Support can take a variety of forms: additional certified educational assistant time assigned to the student or classroom, resource teacher involvement and/or additional learning resources.

At the secondary level, there are a number of classes with more than 30 students, including a leadership class at Clarence Fulton Secondary with 56.

“The teacher had requested a larger class because it works better for the program,” said Renisch.

“Many of the classes with more than 30 are electives.”

But the president of the Vernon Teachers’ Association says many teachers are frustrated by the number of classes with more than 30 students.

“I now have 57 letters from elementary and secondary teachers — there are lots of teachers who disagreed with the organization of the classes,” said Bruce Cummings.

“Teachers have been writing letters to the trustees and to the school board, but there is no public record that they have talked about it at any level.

“It feels as though they are trying to suppress information, and I’m wondering if there were any indications from any principals that teachers disagreed with arrangements of the classes.”

CUPE president Mark Olsen has expressed concern about the number of oversized classes at W.L. Seaton Secondary School.

“The district is operating within the guidelines established by the government, the problem with the guidelines is they were illegally put in place by the government who tore up the collective agreement,” said Olsen.

In 2002, the government passed legislation which ended teachers’ ability to collective bargain class size and composition; guarantees of service from teacher-librarians, counsellors, learning assistance and other specialist teachers;, the length of the school day, and hours of instruction in the school year.

In April of this year, a Supreme Court decision called the legislation unconstitutional, invalid and not consistent with collective bargaining rights guaranteed under freedom of association in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Cummings is in the process of putting together numbers to get a better idea of where things stand.

“There are fewer learning assistance teachers, fewer librarians, so I’m trying to go back over the old language and figuring out what it would look like so I have a clear idea of the numbers we’re working with,” he said.