By Kelly Youngblood
It’s a question many parents face and the answer is a little confusing.
If your 4-year-old child has a birthday that falls after the cut-off date, will he or she have to wait a year before starting kindergarten?
Probably yes but maybe not.
According to the Illinois School Code, children who will be 5 years old on or before September 1 may begin school. The policy also states, “Based upon an assessment of a child’s school readiness, a school district may choose to permit a child to attend school prior to that date, or it may choose not to do so.”
So, basically, it depends on whether or not a school district decides to establish a policy to allow early entrance into kindergarten. And that doesn’t happen very often.
Susan Wilson, Blue Ridge School District Superintendent, says most districts do not allow early admission and the state doesn’t require them to either.
Wilson has a unique perspective on the issue. As a former school psychologist, she used to do evaluations for districts that allowed early admission.
“In my experience, most set the bar so high that it was extremely rare for a child to qualify,” she said.
Parents in the Unit #4 School District don’t have to worry about their child meeting those high expectations because Champaign’s policy is firm- no children under the age of 5 are admitted into kindergarten.
“We make no exceptions to the age,” according to Stephanie Stuart, Community Relations Coordinator for Champaign Unit 4 Schools. Stuart said the same rule applies to year-round schools in the district.
Joanne Geigner, Communication Specialist for the Urbana School District, says while Urbana doesn’t have an official policy on early admittance, they do follow the state’s guidelines of Sept. 1.
Geigner said if parents were to ask about the possibility of their child entering kindergarten early, “Most of the time that answer is no.”
Geigner said there are rare cases when it could be allowed. For instance, if a new student moves from a district that has a later kindergarten cutoff date, that student would be permitted to “stay” in kindergarten.
The bottom line? Most students can’t attend kindergarten at any of the public elementary schools in Champaign-Urbana unless they are 5 years old on or before Sept. 1.
But there are a couple of options for families who strongly feel their child should be on the same track with their older peers and would like to eventually get them there.
Students who successfully complete kindergarten at a private or parochial school where they were taught by state-certified teachers may apply for first grade the following year.
Michelle Brown, a retired Choice Specialist at the Family Information Center in Champaign, says every year, they have about four or five families who choose that option.
However, not every private school in the area will allow-4 year-old students into their kindergarten program. Montessori School of Champaign-Urbana, Judah Christian, and Holy Cross follow the same guidelines handed down from the state.
In Urbana, Little Hearts and Hands will allow a child to attend kindergarten as long as he or she is 5 years old before Dec. 31 of that year.
While Next Generation Primary School usually adheres to the state’s guidelines, they can be flexible in certain situations.
Chris Bronowski, Head of Next Generation Primary and Middle School, said students who have birthdays very close to Sept. 1 are typically considered. She said children who are several months younger would have to be “truly exceptional” to be considered for early entry.
“There are a lot of factors we look at when determining whether or not it would be best for the students,” Bronowski said.
Bronowski added, in one enrollment year, they may have one or two students who are very close to the cut-off date. Every couple of years, they might have one or two students with birthdays several months past the deadline, she said.
If parents in the Champaign district would prefer not to enroll their child in private school for kindergarten, there is one more option to getting them accelerated to the grade level they feel is appropriate.
Brown stated students can wait and enter age-appropriate kindergarten and after about two weeks of schooling, parents can request a Building Intervention Team meeting to determine if that child should move up a grade.