No kindergarten for 4-year-olds, board decides

Waivers will be allowed for this fall, however

April 10, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Despite the pleas of about a dozen parents who believe their children will be ready for kindergarten before age 5, the Carroll County school board decided last night against developing a waiver program that would have allowed 4-year-olds to begin kindergarten even though they aren't old enough under new state rules.

The board did vote, however, to permit waivers for the coming school year, noting that many parents in the community have said they have not had enough time to adjust to requirements approved by the state school board in May that moved up the date by which children must turn 5 before they can enter kindergarten.

Longtime kindergarten teacher Jan Bubnash, who works at Carrolltowne Elementary in Eldersburg, asked the board to consider the long-term effects of an age waiver.

"This is not just a kindergarten issue," she said. "This is one that will follow a child their whole life. I certainly wouldn't want to take a chance that a child is not ready for that."

Others who spoke at last night's meeting told the board that their precocious children would suffer from boredom - and might lose interest in school altogether - if they are held back a year.

One parent, Kelly Godner, said that the board would disrupt families' carefully planned child-birthing schedules if they did not approve a waiver.

"I planned to have my children so they'd follow each other in school," one after another, as she and her sisters did, Godner said. "When this came out, I was devastated."

Board members, however, decided to stick to the rules established by the state and to honor the wishes of their teachers, 93 percent of whom did not think 4-year-olds are ready for school.

"We will have kindergartners who, in high school, will be 14 and dealing with drugs and sexuality and alcohol," board member Laura K. Rhodes said. "When you put them in kindergarten early, you're putting them in early for a lot of other things. ... It's not just whether they play well with others in kindergarten."

Expressing concern that younger children could not keep up with a kindergarten curriculum in which naps and playtime have given way to serious lessons on letters, numbers, reading and writing, the state school board approved a policy last spring that restricted the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in school by moving up the birthday cutoff date for school entry.

The state plan eventually will require children entering kindergarten to turn 5 by Sept. 1 of that school year, instead of by Dec. 31. The policy is being phased in over five years, with the cutoff date being moved up one month a year starting this fall. Under the state's phase-in plan, children entering kindergarten must be 5 years old on or before Nov. 30 for the coming school year. They must turn 5 by Oct. 31, 2004, for the 2004-2005 school year; Sept. 30, 2005, for the 2005-2006 school year; and Sept. 1, 2006, for the 2006-2007 school year and beyond.

Many teachers across Maryland, as well as state education leaders, supported the earlier cutoff date, arguing that children with fall birthdays can't keep up and aren't socially or emotionally ready for the challenges of kindergarten.

Carroll school officials have offered similar arguments during the past two months against granting waivers for 4-year-olds whose parents want to enroll them in kindergarten. Carroll administrators also have worried about the costs of devoting administrators' time to developing a waiver option and have complained current assessments are not sufficient to test 4-year-olds' academic skills and maturity levels.

The county has not allowed waivers in the past for children whose fifth birthdays fell after the state cutoff date.

Although many Maryland school systems historically have offered kindergarten waivers, far more parents statewide ask for a waiver to delay - rather than accelerate - their children's entrance into school, a state school official said.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the State Department of Education, said "the vast majority" of kindergarten waiver requests are from parents who don't think their children are ready for school by age 5 1/2 or 6.

"That's one of the reasons why we shifted the date," he said. "The research is clear that slightly older children do better."

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