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Walkout Spurs District to Reduce Class Sizes at Muir High

November 03, 1994|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Students at Pasadena's John Muir High School have learned that the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.

Tired of overcrowded classes that left them scrambling for seats, nearly all of the school's 1,500 students took to the streets last month to protest their classroom conditions during a peaceful two-hour demonstration.

Pasadena Unified School District officials moved quickly to adjust class sizes at the school, conceding that the students had some valid claims about overcrowding. Now those adjustments are complete.

"They had real problems. . . . The previous two to three weeks they hadn't moved fast enough to balance the classes," said Vera Vignes, superintendent of the 21,756-student district.

Schools usually have four weeks after the beginning of the academic year to make adjustments, which can include canceling classes with few students enrolled, adding new teachers or moving students from one class to another to balance class sizes.

That should have been done by Oct. 7, Vignes said, but the process was still dragging on at Muir a week later, which prompted a walkout by students who said they couldn't find a seat or enough textbooks in some classes.

But Vignes said that some of the students' claims of class sizes were exaggerated. One chemistry class that students claimed had 52 students actually had 43 students when administrators investigated.

That was still too many students, however, so school officials adjusted the size to 36 students, which is the average number of students permitted per class, according to the Pasadena teachers' union contract.

The contract states that for each 29.75 students, there should be one teacher. But because teachers only teach five classes a day, with a free conference period as their sixth class, the actual class size becomes an average of 36 students when spread over six periods, said Dave Banis, director of secondary instruction.

Jimmie Mason, a Muir English teacher, said school administrators visited her classroom to reassure students that they were lowering class size.

"They're making a good-faith effort," Mason said.

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