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The 16:1 dilemma

Apr 26, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The State of Wyoming granted waivers to 20 school districts -- and to itself

Don't look harshly at the 20 Wyoming school districts, including two in Fremont County, which received a waiver from immediate implementation of the State of Wyoming's new requirement that all K-3 classrooms have no more than 16 students per certified teacher.

The state was granting itself a waiver too.

On Monday, state authorities said Riverton District 25, Shoshoni District 21 and 18 others around the state would get more time to comply with the rule, which came more or less out of the blue from this year's session of the Wyoming Legislature (and the interim work leading to it).

This is no small aberration by a couple of unprepared school districts. Twenty waivers represents more than 40 percent of the districts in our state. Big and small, town and country, east, west, north and south, school districts simply aren't prepared to meet this mandate on such short notice.

The waivers, then, can be viewed as the tacit acknowledgement by the state that this rule has been pushed too fast and too far.

In Riverton, District 25 officials are practically jumping through flaming hoops just to get the ratio down to 19:1 after the state decided that enrichment programs and special classrooms for learning disabilities and behavior concerns couldn't be counted toward the ratio. As a result, Rendezvous School is being stuffed with about 150 more students than it has now -- and that still won't get us there.

District 25 is not alone. Many other districts simply have no way of meeting the 16:1 standard. They don't have the teachers or the classroom space.

Consider this to be a waiver for the Wyoming Legislature, the Wyoming School Facilities Commission and the Wyoming Department of Education as well. This new law was passed in the name of "reform," but the powers that be have come at least to recognize what the local district were saying all along. More time is needed, not only to give the school districts more time to comply within their current budgets, but also for the state to look within itself for a way to come up with money to help. One can't happen without the other.

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