Parents of children at Deerfield School collected signatures Wednesday on a petition challenging plans to squeeze as many as 27 students into each of the school's second-grade classrooms this fall.
If another teacher isn't added to the 500-student school, Deerfield would have the largest second-grade classes in the district.
"We are seriously concerned about the student-to-teacher ratio," said Kate Zylstra, an organizer of the petition drive. "Parents are so frustrated."
Zylstra, who has a son, Ian, in first grade at Deerfield, said the group was in the process of contacting parents of all 81 first-graders, who are now divided into four classrooms.
As of Wednesday, parents of 56 of these children had signed the petition urging placement of the students into four, instead of three, classes in second grade.
Principal Suzie Soyster, responsible for recommending how to trim staff at Deerfield, said big primary-grade classes were hard on students and teachers.
"It's tougher teaching with our hands-on approach and working in smaller groups," she said. "It's tougher for teachers to manage."
Maria Craft, a Deerfield parent and petition organizer, said the district's staffing plan for Deerfield conflicted with the school board's philosophy of seeking smaller enrollment in kindergarten through third grade.
"We believe a fourth class is needed at Deerfield next year," Craft said.
And she wouldn't get an objection from Supt. Randy Weseman.
"I agree with the parents. I support small class sizes," Weseman said.
The district's ability to fill gaps in teaching staff depends on government funding, he said. "Right now we're just waiting for what kind of funding the Legislature will find."
School board member Scott Morgan, who has children at Sunflower School, said the board should work around budget woes to hire more teachers.
"The teacher in front of our kids is the whole reason we exist," he said. "It's what parents care about. It's what helps kids."
Heading into the 2001-2002 school year, according to the district's enrollment-based staffing formula, 10 elementary school teaching positions had to be eliminated.
If unchanged by the school board, the formula-driven plan would result in primary grade classes of 25 or more students at Broken Arrow, Centennial, Hillcrest, Langston Hughes and Deerfield schools.
The average size of a second-grade class in the district is 20 students.
However, Deerfield would have the largest second-grade classes in the district.
The district's class-size committee recommended first-grade classes have no more than 17 students. Ten elementary schools in Lawrence would have first-grade classes exceeding that cap.
-- Staff writer Tim Carpenter can be reached at 832-7155.