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Policy Changes Due At Schools
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Class sizes may grow slightly at the rural schools in the Escalon Unified School District next year ... as district officials have made the decision to go back to the 'one class, one grade' system.

As part of the Class Size Reduction program, the past few years have seen the use of combined classes at the rural campuses of Van Allen, Farmington and Collegeville. In some cases, it has worked, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to have one teacher teach two grade levels, said District Superintendent Dave Mantooth.

"We've been discussing it for a while," Mantooth explained. "Five or six years ago, having a combination class wasn't as drastic."

Now, with tougher grade level standards, it can be difficult for one teacher to meet the requirement for each grade, having to divide the school day between two of them.

"It works better structure wise," he said of having just one grade per class. "This has absolutely nothing to do with our teachers' teaching."

Mantooth, in fact, praised the teachers for their willingness and ability to meet the demands of teaching two grades but said it will be better for students and teachers alike to have one grade.

Numbers may go up in some grade levels but Mantooth said he doesn't anticipate any overloaded classes.

The district is also looking into creating some positions with categorical funding, an intervention-type teacher that could be used to work with 'pull out' students from the various grade levels who need extra help. If that can be arranged, he said, the district is not looking at any staff reductions on the rural campuses.

With the student enrollment at the rural sites this year, class sizes would range from 19 at the low end to 28 at the highest.

"We're definitely going to make it work," Mantooth said. "We've got excellent teachers."

Van Allen Elementary Principal Scott Ferreira agreed that returning to one class, one grade should be beneficial.

"With the increasing requirements of No Child Left Behind, it became more complex running a combo," he agreed.

Where it would be "ideal" to have a 10-10 split of students in each grade, he said sometimes it could be five in one grade, 15 in another, making it difficult to devote as much time as needed to each level.

He's also hoping the categorical funding will come through to enact the intervention teacher.

"If that aspect comes through, I see huge advantages," he said.

Another policy change approved by school board members at their recent meeting focused on bussing.

"The board adopted a one-stop bussing policy and we will be implementing it next year," Mantooth explained. "We're trying to reduce our transportation costs."

Parents will fill out a form at the beginning of the year indicating their student's designed bus stop. Any variation from that on any given day, the parent will be responsible for, such as taking a student to a different place. They will have to provide the transportation; the school buses will no longer be re-routed to take a student to a different bus stop or final location.

"At Dent this year alone we had 2,000 requests to make bussing changes," Mantooth said.

Also, a first reading of a new cell phone policy was given at the May 19 session and is due for a vote at the board's next meeting, Tuesday, June 2.

The new policy would be much more restrictive, allowing students to use cell phones only during lunch at the high school and not during the school day at all on the middle school campus.

Currently, students can use the phones in between classes and at lunchtime. But Mantooth and high school principal Joel Johannsen said it has turned in to a huge problem, with a total of 860 cell phone 'incidents' this school year on the high school campus alone.

Johannsen said that has equated to lost class time, lost staff time in having to deal with the phone issue and it has impacted the learning process.

Mantooth said 'inappropriate use' at the middle school resulted in such things as fights and stunts being staged for recording and playing back over the Internet.

"The new restrictions will allow high schoolers to use them at lunch, the middle schoolers cannot use them at all," Mantooth said. "Once school is over, there will be no restrictions."

Students will be able to use their phones at the end of the school day, but not during.

"I think there will be a period of adjustment," Johannsen admitted of students getting used to the idea of not having access to their phones. "We also have to realize that we are educators and we need to educate students on cell phone etiquette ... when you are in a meeting, you shouldn't be talking or texting. Employers are having to deal with this now, with texting by employees."

This year, 515 students violated the high school's cell phone policy, accounting for 860 total incidents, with many repeat offenders.

"Those are only the ones we've documented," Johannsen said. "We have three or four (violations) a day."

The school board is scheduled to take formal action on the policy on June 2. If approved, it will take effect for the start of the new school year in August.