ARLINGTON, Va. — In an apparent U-turn, the Department of Defense Education Activity has decided not to cut full-time teacher’s aides for kindergarten classes.

Last month, the Federal Education Association showed Stars and Stripes internal documents that indicated DODEA planned to cut teacher’s aides as part of efforts to reduce the pupil-to-teacher ratio in kindergarten classes from 29-to-1 to 18-to-1.

"All classrooms which are reduced to 18-1 will no longer be authorized an aide," according to the memo provided to Stripes.

But DODEA Director Shirley Miles sent teachers a memo Wednesday saying there would be no cuts to aides for kindergarten teachers.

"Every kindergarten teacher, regardless of PTR, will have a full-time educational aide for school year 2009-2010," Miles wrote in the memo, which was provided to Stars and Stripes.

Federal Education Association President Michael Priser said it was unclear whether the increase in teachers and aides is permanent.

"If this turns out to be nothing more than a one-year delay for those cuts, then the educational impact and safety of our military’s children will still be at risk," Priser said in an FEA news release.

A DODEA official told Stripes that it has no plans to reduce kindergarten classroom aides in the future.

"I know of nothing in the plans to change the designation of a full-time aide to the kindergarten program at this time," said Charlie Toth, DODEA’s principal deputy director and associate director for education.

Asked why DODEA had changed its mind on cutting teachers aides, Toth said the document provided to Stripes by the teachers union was a "working document that did not really lay out the full breadth and depth of thinking that was going into this."

Based on feedback DODEA received from principals since then, DODEA decided it could continue to provide kindergarten teachers a classroom aide, he said.

Miles has said that in order to free up positions for kindergarten, DODEA is looking at increasing middle school class sizes, but Toth said the decision to retain kindergarten teacher’s aides are not tied to middle school teacher cuts.

DODEA announced Wednesday it plans to reduce the kindergarten pupil-to-teacher ratio to 18-to-1 in schools having the highest kindergarten enrollment next year.

The move adds 19 kindergarten classes in schools in Europe, Japan and the United States, each of which will have a teacher and full-time aide, DODEA officials said.

"The plan is to continue to support the reduced PTR initiative into ensuing school years, so there will be no change to the staffing that’s being allocated to the 19 classrooms that will be receiving additional aide and teacher support for the ’09-’10 school year. And we have a plan to continue to look at the needs and requirements in those classrooms that still have an enrollment that exceeds 18-to-1, and how we can continue to into the next school year or beyond bring their enrollments down to that ratio as well," Toth said.

Currently, DODEA has about 400 classrooms that contain kindergarten children, said Lori Pickel, early childhood specialist for DODEA.

Toth could not say when all kindergarten classes might reach the 18-to-1 ratio.

"That’s a question we could answer later as we get our engineers into facilities to look at the modifications and renovations that would need to occur," he said.

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