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Ask Judy: Is kindergarten mandatory now?

Dear Judy,

Hi, I saw there was a bill passed to make kindergarten mandatory in NY, but never heard if it was signed into law. It also appeared to move the K cutoff date to December 1 from December 31, which could be a wonderful thing for my December boy. Is it happening?

Kaye

Dear Kaye,

The mandatory kindergarten legislation you were referring to, Assembly A9861 (and its counterpart in the Senate S7051) was signed last week by Governor Cuomo. When it gets published, it will be found in Chapter 157 of the laws of 2012, but you can read it in the legislation form until then.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office championed this initiative and, according to her office, a better description of the legislation is that it, “lowers the compulsory age for school to five.” That’s the simple part. The more complicated parts of implementation have to do with some still unresolved issues: The cut-off date for entry to kindergarten, and an “opt-out” provision.

Like a lot of education legislation, the wording is ambiguous. According to this law, kids who are five years old by December 1st go to kindergarten in the year they turn five. 

But the city's Department of Education could elect to keep its traditional December 31 date, since the legislation only “authorizes” the DOE to make the change, it does not require it. I agree that the date should be changed; it is a good first step toward recognizing that some children, particularly boys, are slower to develop reading and other skills. I would prefer it to be September 1 as in many cities and states, but I don’t see that happening.

I was especially puzzled about an opt-out clause that allows parents to. “…elect not to enroll their children in school until the following September.” Would they then go to 1st grade without kindergarten? Or to kindergarten at age six? That is what is implied in the statement put out by Quinn, Councilmember Robert Jackson, chair of the Education Committee, and Councilmember Stephen Levin. It says, in part:

"Under our proposal, parents who want to delay kindergarten until their child is six years old will be able to apply for a waiver.  But the vast majority of families will now be starting their children's public school education at the age of five – which means an extra year of academic and social learning that will benefit children throughout their lifetime."

Depending on the how it is implemented, this opt-out provision would contradict the DOE's long-held and strictly enforced requirement that 5-year-olds go to kindergarten and 6-year-olds go to 1st grade. Parents could “red-shirt” their kids ---keep them back so they will be older than the rest of the class and thus have an advantage. While a later start to school might be advantageous, it should include all the kids, not just those for whom the parents have the financial ability to provide care and schooling up to age six.

I have been trying to get clarification about these issues from the DOE, but most of the actors are on vacation this month. What we do know is that the law won’t go into effect until July 2013 and before it does, the city will have to do a lot of work to revise Chancellor’s regulations A101 on admissions, and A 210 on attendance.  

Procedures for registering kindergarten students will no doubt have to change to accommodate all kids: No turning them away, no discouraging parents from trying on the grounds that kindergarten is not mandatory, and, most importantly, no using the fact that the child is under age six as a “discharge code”, as is the case now.  Perhaps the most important effect of this legislation will be that more kids will be bused to kindergarten, as the Department of Education tries to catch up with matching new capacity to new enrollment.  

Stay tuned for developments.

Judy

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 July 2012 10:30

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