The Kindergarten Readiness Act, passed by the Legislature in 2010, changes the date by which a child must turn 5 in order to enter kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, a shift designed to make sure children are better prepared for kindergarten and to conform to the cut-off date in other states. The Las Lomitas district is basing its position on the interpretation of its attorney, Deputy San Mateo County Counsel Eugene Whitlock, who does not believe the program is mandatory. This interpretation is contrary to that of Joe Simitian, a state senator in 2010 (and now a Santa Clara County supervisor) who was instrumental in the law's passage. Mr. Simitian told the Almanac: "The clear intent and expectation is that TK (transitional kindergarten) is required in every K-12 school setting. That is borne out by the clear direction on the California Department of Education website."
Richard Ginn, the Las Lomitas board president, clearly does not agree, citing the county counsel's opinion, which runs counter to virtually every other school district in the state. Mr. Ginn apparently decided not to bring the transitional kindergarten decision before the board again as requested by some parents, possibly for another vote. A link to transitional kindergarten on the district's website did not work, one parent told the Almanac.
The Las Lomitas position differs from that of several neighboring districts, although the Menlo Park City district has plans to reconsider its adoption of transitional kindergarten early next year. But other local districts, in Woodside and Portola Valley, have welcomed the new kindergarten project.
A major problem with Las Lomitas' decision is that it did not state its intention to ignore the Readiness Act on its website or anywhere else prior to making its decision. As a result, parents deciding where to live and when their children could start kindergarten made irrevocable decisions that counted on Las Lomitas offering transitional kindergarten.
It appears that Las Lomitas may be more interested in shrinking the number of kindergarten students at its elementary school campus by holding off on offering space for children who were born between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2. The result, some parents say, is that they are forced to send their child to daycare for another year at great expense, while the district, which is facing a huge growth in enrollment, is able to delay that bulge for three years.
Not all districts are trying to skirt the law. Beth Polito, superintendent of the 451-student, one-school Woodside Elementary School District, has embraced the two-year kindergarten program. She sees it as a way for the district to save money by reducing the number of children who repeat a grade and who may require expensive special services. Even if a judge said the program is not legally required, Ms. Polito said, her district would continue with transitional kindergarten. Why? "Because it is the right thing to do for kids."
It is odd that Las Lomitas and Mr. Ginn have chosen to stiff-arm this new law just as the district is going out to get voter approval for a $60 million bond issue, whose mantra is "More classrooms for our kids."
Las Lomitas should reconsider its misguided approach and implement the transitional kindergarten program for the next school year. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it very likely will pay off in future years by reducing the number of students repeating a grade, and give school staff time to work with children experiencing difficulties earlier.
In addition, the state Department of Education should obtain a legal ruling to reinforce the declaration made on its website: "Each elementary or unified school district must offer transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes for all children eligible to attend."
The language should be ironclad, and not subject to the whim and interpretation of school districts or their attorneys.