A group of District 97 parents are breathing a lot easier now that the school board and administrators have adjusted their approach to reviewing a board policy related to kindergarten admissions.
According to board policy, a child must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1 of that school year in order to enroll in kindergarten and 6 on or before Sept. 1 of that year in order to enroll in first grade.
Traditionally, D97 has allowed parents of children with summer birthdays to delay kindergarten until their child is 6 years old.
But last month, the district notified some parents who had decided to wait a year before enrolling their children into kindergarten that those children will instead be automatically enrolled in first grade.
“My daughter turns 5 years old Friday, so technically she should start kindergarten, but we were planning on holding her back this year, because she’s not ready,” said Tammy Himes Meyer during an interview back in late August.
“I don’t think my daughter should miss out on a full education, because she was born two weeks before her due date and 11 days before an arbitrary cutoff,” Meyer said. “All my daughter needs is more time. She just needs one more year of preschool to be a little more mature and ready for kindergarten.”
When Kristina Matarazzo-Moran and her husband Matt heard the news, they were alarmed.
“We have a 5-year-old with a June birthday and our plan was not to enroll him in kindergarten this year, but wait until next year, based on the advice of his pediatrician. We just became aware of this last week,” they said on Aug. 28. “School starts next week.”
Kristina said that she and her husband flirted with the idea of moving out of Oak Park and enrolling their daughter in a private school before the district notified them and other parents like them several days later that they would be allowed to delay their child’s kindergarten enrollment without missing a grade, after all.
When contacted last week, Amanda Siegfried, D97’s communications director, said that there was no “sudden change in policy or practice that went into effect this year. After identifying inconsistencies in our procedures this summer, the district and the board of education made a decision to formally review the associated policy].”
Siegfried said the issue is scheduled to first appear before the board during a meeting on Sept. 22. She added that there were only a small number of families for whom any change to the policy would apply — no more than a few dozen.
In a statement released Aug. 28, the board said that while the policy is under evaluation, “as a matter of basic fairness and trust we should honor commitments upon which people have relied.” The board added that any changes to the policy “affecting student admissions will not be effective until the 2022-23 school year.”
Meyer said that while she was relieved after learning of the board’s decision, she nonetheless wants to make sure that whatever policy changes the board makes are equitable.
“I believe in putting an equity lens on everything and in this case, an equity lens should be applied,” Meyer said.