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Hayes School parents push back against increased class sizes

The Roland Hayes School. Photo by Vivi Smilgius
June 13, 2024  Updated June 14, 2024 at 6:44 p.m.

When John and Ardasha Rittenberg send their child to second grade at the Hayes School, they worry. Their child has a life-threatening condition that can cause anaphylaxis, and it’s teachers’ responsibility to look out for the warning signs — teachers who already look after at least 15 other students.

“This is a 7-year-old kid who needs overseeing, and needs protecting,” John Rittenberg said.

Class sizes for rising third graders at the Hayes School are set to increase to as many as 24 students next year as schools across the district reduce the number of sections in many grades. Parents of Hayes third graders say the risk of larger classes for this specific cohort is too high.

The Rittenbergs are one of three families of Hayes rising third graders with life-threatening conditions. Another handful of students also require extra attention. Some have non-life threatening physical and learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and deafness, and others are learning English for the first time.

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Hayes officials say the district will save money by reducing the number of sections offered in each elementary school grade and increasing individual class sizes by a handful of students, but parents of all 47 rising third graders signed a letter urging the school and district not to cut the number of sections of third grade. Several parents also expressed their concerns during public comments at the June 6 School Committee meeting.

In the current 2023-24 school year, 47 Hayes second graders were split into three sections, with class sizes of about 16 children apiece. If the grade is collapsed into two sections next year — a move the district says will save money by requiring fewer teachers — class sizes will be as high as 24. The increase of about 50 percent renders classrooms just one student below the maximum set by the district’s guidelines for grades three through eight.

Across the district, other third grade classrooms are projected to average about 19 students apiece next year, with the smallest class size — about 16 students — at the Pierce School.

“There is urgency to our class specifically,” Ardasha Rittenberg said. “There are more things that need to be looked at, but the immediate short term need is to solve this specific problem as soon as possible, because we might not be able to hire more help during the summer.”

Parents of rising third graders point to the experience of this year’s third grade, whose 48-student class was divided into two sections, only to be increased to three fourth-grade sections for the coming school year, following pushback from parents.

“It was a failed experiment and they know this, they recognize this, and now they’re going to fix it for that specific grade,” said Ana Maria Ramos, whose child is a rising third grader at Hayes.

In their letter to the School Committee, Superintendent Linus Guillory and Hayes School Principal Asa Sevelius, Ramos and other parents cited the benefits of low student-teacher ratios and the significance of third grade in long-term social and mental development.

“The concerns come from every single direction,” said Quoc-Dien Trinh, a Hayes parent who signed the letter. “There’s concerns about our kids getting the right attention level, teacher burnout, infection control …. That’s why I think it wasn’t difficult to get a consensus.”

Ramos said parents do not feel heard by the district or school administrators.

“We’re frustrated because we heard some comments from the principal saying we need to adjust our expectations,” Ramos said. “It feels like there’s a lack of empathy toward us parents and our specific situation.”

Sevelius did not respond to Brookline.News requests for comment.

Guillory told parents they would have an answer regarding a third section of third grade at the end of July, Ramos said.

“The district has class-size guidelines that are utilized when shaping and building the budget,” Guillory told Brookline.News in a written statement. “The district did relax the guidelines slightly as we returned to school from COVID and have since returned to the pre-pandemic guidelines.”

He added that the School Committee will review the current guidelines.

School Committee Chair Andy Liu said the committee will begin to discuss class-size guidelines at a finance subcommittee meeting on June 26. He added that, while the School Committee sets class size guidelines, sectioning is determined by principals and the district’s superintendent on a school-by-school basis.

In the meantime, Trinh said Hayes parents will continue the fight to make public education work for them.

“The people who are here are very intent on sending their kids to public school,” he said. “We want to make this school system better.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated who is responsible for determining section counts and class sizes at Brookline schools. That task is the responsibility of school principals and the district superintendent.