Montpelier School Board to review kindergarten policy
MONTPELIER — A long-held policy that denies kindergarten admission to children who have not reached age five by the cut-off date of September first will be reviewed by the Montpelier School Board following an impassioned plea from two Montpelier parents whose daughter will miss the deadline this year by 11 days.
After a lengthy discussion the board set aside its policy to outright deny request for admission waivers and granted one–time approval to having a member of the Montpelier kindergarten team meet with the 4-year- old to assess whether she is ready to start school. In a separate motion the board agreed to review the overall admissions policy with an eye toward seeing if it would benefit by creating a more flexible policy.
Board chairwoman Sue Aldrich, who has served on the board for 13 years, said in all her time on the board the school has never allowed an exception to the rule and she warned that to do so was dangerous.
“I think for me it is a question of precedent setting,” she said. “We all deal with arbitrariness. Once we set a precedent we can’t go back. It’s a slippery slope.”
Aldrich went on to say that, historically, parents had circumvented the policy by sending their child to private kindergarten if they were too young for admission to the Montpelier school. If the child successfully completed kindergarten elsewhere, they would automatically be admitted to first grade no matter the age.
“We’ve said no to people in the past. But people have gotten around it,” she said.
Peter Mancauskas, father of the girl, said he was more concerned about having to move his daughter from school to school in order to effectively cheat the system, than he was having her attend the kindergarten in the first place.
“We’re not trying to accelerate her,” he said. “If the alternative is private kindergarten that will be three schools in three years.”
Early on, there was some confusion between the parents who said their daughter’s nursery school instructor had told them she was ready for kindergarten, and the recommendation received by the school district from the kindergarten teacher who after discussing the child with the same nursery school teacher chose not to recommend that she be admitted.
Lisa Mahoney, the girl’s mother, said that no one at the kindergarten had directly spoken with their daughter, and that she deserved the opportunity to be evaluated on her own merits, and be seen as an individual.
“We’re here about our kid,” she said. “And we’re coming to you as parents with what we think is best for our child. She’s an individual and we should be looking at her as an individual. We feel strongly that it is the right decision for her.”
Board member Ken Jones argued in favor of having the child meet with the kindergarten teacher in order to be properly evaluated for her readiness. But he cautioned that the teacher should not feel any pressure toward making a decision to grant a waiver for admission.
“I am very struck that this one deserves this,” he said. “But there needs to be communication to the evaluating kindergarten teacher that they should not feel any pressure.”
Jones said that evaluating teachers should be “wowed” by a student in order for them to grant a waiver for early attendance. Board Treasurer Lowell VanDerlip agreed it might be time to look at creating a more individually responsible policy.
“When we have cases where the kids are a couple of weeks too young, we need to be able to be more responsive to the individual needs of the child,” he said.
Superintendent Brian Ricca said Thursday that he has already met with the K-1 team and that they would be making arrangements for an evaluation. “If the teacher is ‘wowed’ by what they see, the board would re-evaluate and possibly grant a waiver.”
As for the larger issue of addressing the policy as a whole, Ricca said it would require a long and considered approach involving teachers, educators, and community members. “The overall question is a good one,” he said. “But we need to do a thorough analysis.”
With only three board meetings to go before the end of the school year Ricca said that process wouldn’t begin until the board resumed meeting next fall.
“I live in Williston and it has the same cutoff date and I don’t know if there is a good rationale for choosing it. I am really open to having this conversation and changing the policy if it makes sense,” he said.MORE IN This Just InGov. Peter Shumlin chats with Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal P. Full Story
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