Lee County's is among a group of school boards backing away from a threatened lawsuit defending a practice that allows two teachers to instruct a larger-than-normal group of children in one classroom.
Known as co-teaching, the method has been defended avidly by district officials since the Florida Department of Education announced earlier this year it could no longer be used as a way to meet class sizes set by a 2002 amendment to the state consitution.
With changes to the class-size amendment proposed in the Legislature, Lee County School Board member and Florida School Board Associations Vice President Jeanne Dozier said this week that the suit will not be filed, but will be kept at the ready.
At any sign that the state Legislature isn't finding an acceptable solution, legal action could still be an option, she said.
"We'd rather negotiate than litigate," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the FSBA.
Bills in the state House and Senate would allow co-teaching under any circumstance, he said, adding that favorable early response to the proposed legislation led to the association's decision to put off any legal action until the upcoming session opens.
Bob Cerra, lobbyist for the Lee County School District, said a proposed three-part constitutional amendment deals with both the co-teaching issue and the class-size amendment.
Under current standards, by 2010 schools won't be allowed to have any classroom with more than 18 pupils in prekindergarten through third grade; 22 students in fourth through eighth grade; and 25 high schoolers.
Until this year, class sizes were figured by district average, a method the proposed legislation would continue. Without any modification, districts next year will have to conform to the class sizes school by school and, later, class by class. Cerra said the proposed constitutional amendment also would allow up to five more students to be added to classes, a change he said is particularly needed for in-demand coursework such as advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes.
Without the flexibility of adding one or two students to such a class, it is more likely one child won't get in than the district would split the course into two sections, he said.
Though Lee County is in favor of the first two sections of the bill, its third provision — known as the 65 percent solution — has caused some initial concern, Cerra said.
The legislation calls for 65 percent of every educational dollar to be spent "in the classroom." Exactly what that means for schools would be defined later, he said, leading to concern it might not include expenditures for such things as transportation or books.
The constitutional amendment would need to pass the House and the Senate before going to the voters in November.
Teachers in Lee County are matched voluntarily in co-teaching teams. More than 70 Lee classrooms are being co-taught this year.
Statewide, more than 500 classrooms have two teachers.
Several school districts around the state have joined with the Florida School Boards Association in challenging the Florida DOE on the co-teaching matter.
In addition to lessening the financial burden of the class-size requirement by letting the district use classrooms large enough to accommodate two teachers instead of building new schools, proponents of the project say it also can benefit students. New teachers frequently are paired with master instructors and those with a strong math background are matched with ones with an emphasis in reading.