Larger Classes Pose Safety Hazard, Union Says

     CHICAGO (CN) – The Chicago Teachers Union wants to stop the city’s board of education from increasing class sizes to 35 students in an effort to cut $125 million from Chicago Public Schools’ $600 million budget deficit, claiming larger classes pose a safety hazard. Adding more students to small classrooms could “push those classrooms past the safety guidelines, if they are not already past the maximum occupancy,” the union claims in Cook County Court.

     The union says Chicago’s standard occupancy requirements call for at least 20 square feet per student. But Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools, has been quoted in the media as saying that “more than 90 percent of … classrooms are at least 700 square feet,” according to the lawsuit.
     The union claims that 700 square feet is simply not enough space for 35 students, plus at least one more teacher and possibly an aide.
     Smaller classrooms may be pushing maximum capacity already, the union claims.
     Teacher Sarah Hanawalt, also a plaintiff, says she measured her classroom at 552 square feet. If her class size increases to 37 students, as expected, she says there will be about 14.5 square feet per person.
     The union says it’s not possible to increase class sizes and remain in compliance with the city’s municipal code.
     “[T]he Board would be placing the safety and welfare of the teachers, [paraprofessionals], other staff, and students at risk if it increases the number of students to 35, especially, where teachers and support staff are present,” eliminating safe working conditions, the union claims.
     The Chicago Board of Education, under CEO Ron Huberman, plans to lay off up to 3,000 union teachers in order to increase the size of each class, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
     Average class size for Chicago Public Schools is now 28 students, according to the Chicago Defender.
     The teachers’ union demands an injunction and a declaration that larger classes will violate both the city’s municipal code and the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.
     The union is represented by Poltrock & Poltrock.

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