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Ask & Answer | What happens with class-size requirements amid COVID-19?

EdNC recently received an email from Chip Buckwell, the superintendent of Kannapolis City Schools. He was concerned about the fact that legislatively-mandated class size requirements are still in place during COVID-19 and apply to remote learning.

Here are the current class-size requirements.

Image from 2020-21 North Carolina Allotment Policy Manual

“Students do not come in nice, neat packages of 17-21,” Buckwell said.

He said when his district reopened in the fall of 2020 under plan B — a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction — families moved to the district to take advantage of in-person learning, which made it harder to adhere to class-size requirements.  He said one or two extra students can make a big difference in whether class sizes can be met or not.

And Buckwell pointed out that remote instruction classes still have to follow class-size restrictions. In a follow-up phone call, he gave this hypothetical example: If there are 85 students in second grade and 30% of them choose to be in remote learning, that means about 26 students are in remote learning for second grade. Unfortunately, the individual class-size maximum for second grade this year is 21 students, putting that class out of compliance with class-size requirements. And, Buckwell said, that is far too big a discrepancy for the district to be granted a waiver by DPI.

One of the possible penalties faced by a district if it continues to violate class-size requirements is that the superintendent’s salary won’t be paid by the state. Buckwell said that doesn’t bother him, because he is retiring in June, but he is sure it is a concern for leaders in other districts.

We asked state Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt about this. She said, first of all, that the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has been granting waivers to districts having issues with meeting the class-size requirements. But she has heard from at least one superintendent who was denied a waiver, and she is seeking solutions for the larger issue.

“I have spoken with (State Board of Education) leadership and we will be addressing this,” she said.

She said the State Board and DPI are preparing to ask the General Assembly for a number of waivers, including one related to class-size requirements.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.