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New school policy will allow 4-year-olds to begin kindergarten

March 22, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

A Washington County Board of Education policy that would allow children as young as 4 to start kindergarten several weeks short of their fifth birthday has passed on second reading.

The policy, which split the board 6-1 several weeks ago, again generated mixed reactions as board members debated the last possible eligibility dates for incoming kindergartners.

"There's going to be age differences no matter what you do here," said parent Beth Weber, who consistently has supported a Dec. 31 cutoff date.

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The board voted 4-3 to accept a policy that would allow children who are 4 after the state's newly mandated date of Sept. 1 to take tests for kindergarten admission if they turn 5 by Oct. 31.

Under the policy, children must turn 5 on or before Sept. 1 to be eligible for kindergarten, and they must be 6 on or before Sept. 30 next year and Sept. 1 the following year to be eligible for first grade.

As required by the state, the board's new policy also includes procedures for early enrollment. Students with demonstrated needs could qualify for pre-kindergarten if their fourth birthdays are on or before Dec. 31.

Children who turn 5 after Oct. 31 would have to wait another year for admission.

Board members Wayne D. Ridenour and Russell F. Williams joined Bernadette M. Wagner, who cast the lone vote in opposition to the policy Feb. 21, in voting against the measure. Student representative Usama Qadri also opposed the policy.

Wagner said at the meeting she believes the board should set a later date so children who can meet testing requirements would not be shut out of kindergarten.

Wagner said she believed the system should try to accommodate "the needs of exceptional students with exceptional abilities," as well as those who need extra help.

"I just don't feel like I want to be in the position of holding back a child's opportunity," Wagner said.

According to Director of Student Services Michael Markoe, so far, parents of just two children born in November and December have contacted the system with concerns about the policy. Of 88 teachers who responded to a survey on the issue, 81 preferred an Oct. 31 date over a Dec. 31 date, said Jill Burkhart, supervisor for elementary reading, social studies and early intervention.

Regardless of what date the board set, board member Roxanne R. Ober pointed the eligibility rules would always shut out some student born a day late. She said she voted for the policy because of the recommendations of teachers.

"I don't think there's any perfect date," Ober said.

Ridenour said while he has had concerns about previous decisions to expose younger students to curriculum, such as foreign languages and algebra, which at one point only was offered to older students, he supported giving children the opportunity to test into kindergarten.

"I don't see the real need - or any real reason - why we can't go with Dec. 31 when it boils down to two students," he said.

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