Parents sue school over grade placement

Couple disagree that 5-year-old needs to repeat kindergarten

June 02, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

He's 5, looking forward to playing on a swing set this summer and returning to school in the fall.

But which grade? Kindergarten, which his prestigious private school insists he should repeat, or first grade, which his parents see no compelling reason for him not to advance to? As for the youngster at issue, he said yesterday he didn't have a strong preference.

The controversy centers on Zachary Bush of Mitchellville and Key School, an independent school outside Annapolis.

Bush's parents took the step last month of suing Key School -- not for money, but to force the school to promote Zachary.

Edward J. Bush, an aviation attorney, said the school has not given him or his wife, Paula Bielski, an accountant, a cogent reason not to promote their son.

"Is something wrong? Is there a problem?" Bush said. "We would be willing to let him stay back if there is a real reason to do it. If he has no problem with socialization or academics, why are we doing this?"

He said the school's explanation is that with a November birthday, Zachary is the youngest in his class. The grade cutoff date is Dec. 31.

Key School administrators have not backed down and are sticking with the judgment of their staff that Zachary would benefit from another year of kindergarten. They would not discuss details of the case.

"There is a very clear principle here, and that is the school's exclusive right to make grade-placement decisions in the best interests of the child, according to the professional judgment of our faculty and administration," Headmaster Ronald Goldblatt said in a prepared statement.

The parents have not backed down. They are seeking an injunction in Anne Arundel Circuit Court to force the school to place Zachary in first grade in the fall. No court date has been set.

The parents have concerns about the way the placement problem has been handled. Their first inkling that the school might want Zachary to repeat kindergarten was in March.

Bush signed a contract to pay $10,900 for first grade. When they met with Zachary's teacher a day later, her report was positive, though she noted he would benefit from practicing certain motor skills and he found some schoolwork challenging. She suggested they think about holding him back.

The next month, Zachary was tested at school. His parents decided to have him tested privately.

Both evaluations pointed to some difficulties, but Bush said neither recommended that Zachary repeat kindergarten.

The couple met with Key School officials early last month and were told that Zachary could attend a second year of kindergarten in the fall at Key or attend school someplace else. Tutoring would not be permitted.

By then, Zachary's parents felt backed into a corner. Other private schools are filled.

"The schools that we have called have said, `Thank you, but we can put you on the waiting list,' " Bush said.

The couple have ruled out Prince George's County public schools, which they said have a high rate of uncertified teachers. "That is just not an option for us," Bush said.

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