About 66 elementary schools have had to scramble to reduce class sizes after the state Department of Public Instruction in December denied waivers for 329 oversized kindergarten to third-grade classes.
North Carolina law allows a maximum of 24 students per class in kindergarten through third grade, but school systems can ask the state for an exemption.
Jones Dairy Elementary School in Wake Forest is one of the schools scrambling to come into compliance. It has 14 classrooms that exceed the limit, and school officials are having to transfer enough students to fill three new classes.
"To pull them out of their classes in February is indeed something we would not have chosen to do," Jones Dairy Principal Mike Chapell said.
When Chapell first asked for volunteers to switch classes, parent Kay Self thought her second-grader would benefit.
"I thought it was an opportunity for him to go into a smaller class, and he would be able to get more of the one-on-one (attention) that he may need to help him get ready for third grade,” Self said.
Only half of the 43 students needed to switch volunteered. The rest were chosen by lottery.
To help the students transition in the middle of the year, however, they will still have lunch and recess with their former classmates.
At other schools, principals say they are having to combine grade levels. Other schools have shifted teaching assistants and relied on volunteers while they figure out the next step.
Parents say they understand the need to limit class sizes, but they question the timing.
"The teachers do get overwhelmed when there's overcrowding," said Jones Dairy's PTA assistant vice president, Sandra Moss. "However, to enforce it here, almost at the last quarter – I thought they should've waited until next school year.
Enforcing the rule means that Jones Dairy has to hire three new teachers, even though budget cuts forced the school to not renew contracts for three teachers this school year. Funding will come from earlier state appropriations that the school was allowed to keep, even though it did not reach its expected enrollment.
Chapell said he hopes the new teachers are in place by March 1.
"It has been difficult, and it has been trying," he said. "But we're making the best of it."
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