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New kindergarten age requirements will be phased in gradually

May 28, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Children entering kindergarten will have to be a few months older beginning in the 2003-04 school year, and at least one Washington County School Board member and the president of the county's PTA say they support the move.

The Maryland State Board of Education decided last week that children must be at least 5 years old by Sept. 1 to start kindergarten, a change that will be phased in over the next four years.

Currently, kindergarten students must be at least 5 on or before Dec. 31 to enter, a rule that critics have said allowed children to start school before they were ready.

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"It's something I've been personally pushing for for several years," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs. "I certainly see the advantage of moving that."

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said the change is necessary because the state's kindergarten curriculum has become more challenging.

"The academic rigor of the kindergarten classroom has been building over time," Grasmick said in a written statement. "It is our goal that students enter Maryland Schools ready to learn, and this measure is an important step in that direction."

The Maryland Kindergarten Committee proposed the move to the state School Board last December.

Educators and parents from across the state sat on the committee, including Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Haas and Toni Ungaretti, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Children must be 5 years old by the following dates to start kindergarten:

n Nov. 30, 2003, for the 2003-04 school year.

n Oct. 31, 2004, for the 2004-05 school year.

n Sept. 30, 2005, for the 2005-06 school year.

n Sept. 1, 2006, for the 2006-07 school year and thereafter.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said she didn't lobby for the change, but that she always felt it was the right move to make.

"It benefits younger children," Wagner said. "It gives them the opportunity to mature before they start school."

The state School Board also voted to change the start date for children entering pre-kindergarten, which will also be phased in beginning this fall. By 2005, children will have to be at least 4 years old by Sept. 1 to enter.

Children must be 4 years old by the following dates to start pre-kindergarten:

-- Nov. 30, 2002, for the 2002-03 school year.

-- Oct. 31, 2003, for the 2003-04 school year.

-- Sept. 30, 2004, for the 2004-05 school year.

-- Sept. 1, 2005, for the 2005-06 school year.

Local school boards will have the authority to allow 4-year olds to enter kindergarten if school officials determine the child has capabilities warranting early admission.

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