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August 2, 2015

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Debate mention of Las Vegas’ crowded classrooms no fabrication, School District asserts

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk after their first presidential debate at the University of Denver on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.

During the presidential debate Wednesday night, President Barack Obama called attention to crowded classrooms and outdated textbooks in Las Vegas schools.

In arguing for a “balanced approach” to the federal budget, Obama mentioned a “teacher that I met in Las Vegas, a wonderful young lady, who describes to me – she’s got 42 kids in her class.

“The first two weeks she’s got them, some of them sitting on the floor until finally they get reassigned,” Obama said. “They're using text books that are 10 years old.”

That Las Vegas teacher is likely Claritssa Sanchez, a government and world history teacher at Canyon Springs High School.

Sanchez met Obama during a private roundtable discussion with three other Clark County School District teachers in late August during his first official campaign stop to Nevada. Sanchez also introduced Obama before a campaign rally at her “turnaround” high school in North Las Vegas.

At the time, Sanchez told the crowd of more than 2,500 Obama supporters that when she first started teaching five years ago, her class sizes were about 33 students.

This fall, Sanchez said she walked into a classroom with about 45 students.

“I wish (Gov. Romney) could spend one day in my classroom and see what it's really like,” Sanchez said. “When he says class sizes don’t even matter, I want to know why he thinks he knows what’s better for students than us teachers.”

A call to Sanchez was not immediately returned Thursday morning.

The School District released a statement Thursday agreeing with Obama’s sentiment that class sizes are too high in Clark County.

“That’s why we have been fighting to get teachers back into jobs so we can bring class sizes down,” said spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson, referring to the district's ongoing labor dispute with the teachers union.

(The district has argued 1,000 teacher positions that were cut last summer because of budget cuts could be returned if the union makes concessions. The union remains adamant the district has adequate funds to avoid teacher concessions.)

In the first weeks of school – before the district rebalanced its staffing levels – there were a number of schools that experienced desk and seat shortages because of higher-than-expected class sizes. However any teachers that requested additional desks and chairs for their students were given them, Fulkerson said.

Fulkerson also noted that in a district with more than 350 schools, “you could surely find some large classes and older books, but that is not the norm.” There also are some schools that are technological pioneers, using iPads and computers that continually update learning materials.

The district has been waiting for textbook publishers to update materials to align with the more rigorous “Common Core State Standards,” a new education standard that has been adopted by 46 states. The district will purchase new textbooks as Common Core-aligned materials are released, Fulkerson said.

“The bottom line is, while Clark County faces many challenges from the economic downturn, we also have dynamic leadership and hard-working employees who are making strides in the right direction despite adversity,” Fulkerson said in a statement. “Recent graduation rates and test scores show that we are moving from the fastest-growing to the fastest-improving district in the nation.”

Sun reporter Tovin Lapan contributed reporting to this story.

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