Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter
Dear Legal Mailbag:
As the principal of an elementary school, I have been getting a bunch of questions from parents who are sending their children to kindergarten next month. Some of these children have not yet reached age five, and these parents are anxious that somehow we won’t admit their children to kindergarten now because of some change in the law.
We are prepared to admit all eligible kindergarteners, and I am confused by their anxiety. But they are sincere in their concerns, and I want to provide some reassurance. Does Legal Mailbag have any advice for me in responding to these parent concerns?
The concern expressed by parents of incoming kindergarten students is presumably based on incomplete information. In the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly made a significant change in the law regarding eligibility for admission to public school. However, parents of incoming kindergarten students do not have to worry about this change in the law.
Students are currently eligible for school accommodations if they reach the age of five on or before January 1 in the school year. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15c. Early admission may also be required because of the special education needs of the child. The statute has also long provided that a child younger than five on or before the first day of January may be admitted by formal vote of the board of education. Accordingly, the parents of children who will reach age five by January 1, 2024 have nothing to worry about this year, and you can tell those parents that Legal Mailbag said so.
Effective July 1, 2024, there are significant changes. The date for admission to kindergarten is pushed back to September 1. Moreover, starting July 1, 2024, boards of education will not vote on requests for early admission. Rather, a student may be admitted early “(1) upon a written request by the parent or guardian of such child to the principal of the school in which such child would be enrolled, and (2) following an assessment of such child, conducted by such principal and an appropriate certified staff member of the school, to ensure that admitting such child is developmentally appropriate.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15c(a) as amended by Section 3 of Public Act 23-159, as amended by Section 1 of Public Act 23-208.
As described above, the new law shifts early admission decisions from boards of education to school principals, who (with “an appropriate certified staff member of the school”) must now conduct assessments of school readiness when parents request early enrollment of their child. As you might imagine, there are significant questions about how this will all work next year, and last month, the Office of Early Childhood and the State Department of Education provided some guidance. “Minimum School Age To Enroll in School” (OEC/SDE July 7, 2023). Legal Mailbag notes that this letter to superintendents and early care and education providers states that “both agencies will seek extensive input from many stakeholders and work collaboratively to develop detailed guidance and implementation recommendations.” That guidance and recommendations of these two agencies will be helpful as school districts implement the new statute next year. Stay tuned!