The chair of the City Council’s education committee has proposed legislation that would reduce the number of students per classroom, which was quickly endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers.
City Council Member Mark Treyger, a former city Teacher, wants to amend the city Administrative Code to raise the minimum amount of space required per student in a classroom from 20 square feet to 35 square feet for first-through-12th graders.
Limit of 14-21 Students
The average classroom is 500-to-750 square feet, according to Mr. Treyger and Council Member Danny Dromm, also a former educator. Only 14 students would be allowed in a 500-square-foot classroom, while the maximum number of students in a 750-square-foot space would be 21.
If passed, the legislation would greatly reduce class sizes, an issue that plagued the public schools well before the coronavirus pandemic. Some classrooms have more than 34 students, the maximum number allowed per class at the high-school level under the UFT's contract.
“Class size is a public-health issue, and our ability to provide all of our kids a safe, healthy, equitable education is a public-health priority for the City of New York,” Councilman Treyger said during a July 29 press conference near City Hall Park.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that for years, nothing has been done to reduce overcrowded classes. Doing so was one of the promises made by Mayor de Blasio during his initial 2013 campaign.
“This city will never have a plan until it is forced to do it by legislation,” the union leader said.
Overcrowded classrooms have hindered the ability of schools to reopen safely, Mr. Treyger noted. This fall will mark the return to full-time in-person learning, but many Principals are facing the challenge of finding enough classroom space for their entire student bodies while also adhering to three-feet social-distancing rules.
“Right now, we’re facing a September opening where we have quite a few schools that are severely overcrowded and basically the answer we’ve gotten from the city for months is ‘Let the school figure it out.’ That’s not acceptable. That is not a plan,” Mr. Mulgrew said.
He stated that many schools would have to improvise to find alternative classrooms, including using auditoriums and libraries or creative class schedules. He estimated that about 200 schools were severely overcrowded and would be out of compliance with COVID safety rules come fall.
Mr. Dromm pointed out that reducing class sizes not only was important for health reasons, but would allow students to learn better.
'Get More Attention'
“Kids will get the individualized attention that they need in order to improve student outcomes. So this is a win-win in many ways for students across the system,” he said.
The changes would not take effect right away, though: if the bill were enacted, 33 percent of schools would be expected to meet the new spacing requirements by the 2022-2023 school year, while all schools would have to be in compliance by September 2024.
Although the proposal would not help address the immediate class-size dilemma, Councilman Treyger believed that it would help deal with future health crises.
Mr. Mulgrew added, “this legislation will force the City of New York to deal with overcrowding issues forever, and that’s why were trying to get this legislation passed.”
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