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Parents concerned over kindergarten enrollment

ENCINITAS — David Owens’ daughter will turn 6 years old at the end of July.

Owens kept her home from kindergarten this school year to give her extra time to prepare for school. But Owens and other Encinitas Union School District parents worry their children will be denied kindergarten enrollment when class starts this August.

Mirroring state education code, EUSD has said that students turning six prior to Sept. 1 are age appropriate for first grade. Owens and roughly 60 other families in a similar situation are appealing the district to let their children enter kindergarten.

“We didn’t know kindergarten enrollment could be an issue,” Owens said. “We were totally kept in the dark.”

Leighangela Brady, EUSD assistant superintendent of educational services, said the district follows the state education code. However, in the past, it has admitted 6-year-old students into kindergarten on a case-by-case basis at individual schools.

Because of the high number of families delaying kindergarten this year, EUSD set up a new district-wide assessment process for students who fall outside of the kindergarten age range.

That process recently involved district teachers observing affected students completing typical kindergarten and first grade activities to evaluate which grade they should be placed in.

Brady said she anticipates most of the families’ appeals will be granted. With the assessment, the district was only looking for the outliers who are clearly ready for the first grade.

Placing students who belong in first grade with kindergarten students could have a negative impact on classroom learning, she said.

“There’s a lot of potential impacts,” Brady said. “We want to make sure we do our due diligence and they’re appropriate for first grade.”

EUSD plans to send out placement letters within the next week.

But Owens takes issue with the district’s assessment.

“There’s never been a policy to evaluate kids behind closed doors,” Owens said. “The process has always been to register your kids when they’re ready. Some need extra time to develop socially and emotionally

“Most of these kids are mere weeks and in some cases just a month or two outside the window,” Owens added.

Further, he said EUSD should have done a better job communicating potential enrollment problems.

To voice frustrations, EUSD parents started a Facebook page called “Encinitas Children Denied Kindergarten.”

Brady said the confusion could partly be chalked up to changing rules.

In 2010, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Kindergarten Readiness Act. The act stated that all children entering kindergarten during the 2014-15 school year must turn 5 years old by  Sept. 1, instead of the previous Dec. 2 cutoff date.

The rule has been phased in during the past two years. For the 2013-14 school year, the deadline was Oct. 1.

About 20 of the roughly 60 families have September birthdays, so they would have been automatically admitted last year, Brady noted.

Also, due to the popularity of dual-language kindergarten at EUSD, the district has to deny some applications. EUSD has found some families whose children aren’t accepted delay kindergarten for a year to gain a second chance at entering the program.

Brady said the district wasn’t aware that so many would be delaying kindergarten because most parents didn’t start registering their children until two months ago.

“If you don’t bring your child to us beforehand, they’re not in our system,” Brady said.

To get the word out about kindergarten and the state education code, the district has sent letters to 50 preschools, she noted. Additionally, the district updated its  website to better explain kindergarten enrollment, she said.

Brady said there isn’t a fiscal impact associated with accepting students outside the kindergarten age range.

However, EUSD will likely have to shift first grade teachers to kindergarten to accommodate the influx of kindergarteners, she noted.