A Neosho R-5 School District parent, unable to receive school board permission to allow her 4-year old child to attend kindergarten in the upcoming 2015-2016 term, was instead referred to a higher power.

Nichelle Mitchell approached the board of education at last week’s meeting and explained that her daughter tested above the requirements for kids to attend Field Early Education Center, but her birthday is two months shy of the cutoff date to allow her to attend kindergarten.

“I would like an opportunity to at least give her a trial,” said Mitchell. “If it doesn’t work, I’m fine with that.”

Superintendent Dan Decker said the policy requires a child be 5 years of age by Aug. 1 to attend kindergarten, a policy that mirrors state law (Section 160.053, RSMo).

“Most are not ready for a full school day,” said Decker. “Changing it would open an area of concern. If you make an exception we may have everybody trying that because it sets a precedent.”

Mitchell said she was told her daughter is too smart to attend Field, and after completing Head Start last year, if she can’t attend kindergarten she cannot go to school next year.

“It’s unfortunate for your daughter,” said Dr. Trish Wilson, director, Field Early Education Center. “The policy is in place because you can’t make exceptions.”

School board president Brett Day suggested Mitchell take her case to state legislators to pressure them to add resources to allow more children to receive early education.

“There’s plenty (of evidence) out there to show early education is beneficial,” said Day. “Tell it to our legislators; they’ll listen to parents.”
Day said later the crux of the matter is the level of funding the school district receives to provide early education is limited.

“The funding that we get only allows us to have so many students,” he said. “And those spots go to the students that test lower so that we can get them ready for kindergarten. And in talking with Dan [Decker] and our teachers, we just didn’t see any way that we could make an exception for this student and not make exceptions for others. We have valid reasons for having the age limits that we have.”

Day noted that Mitchell is concerned about what happens to her daughter having a year off from school before she can go to kindergarten.

“They’re talking about this nationally in the Congress; there’s been some discussion of it at the legislature,” he said. “Early childhood education is very important. There’s all kinds of research out there that shows how important it is to how a child ends up doing in school. So I suggested to her that she start talking to our elected representatives on that because they’re the ones that have the purse strings.”

Day admitted the state legislature has made some increases in funding early childhood education, but a waiting list remains for those hoping to enroll their child in school prior to kindergarten.

In kindergarten we have to take everybody,” he said. “In early childhood we don’t because there is limited funding so there is a limited amount of students we can take. I think it’s worthwhile, if this is a passion for her, to pursue that with our elected representatives.”

Day said one of his two children tested too high to enter Field, but the other one qualified. He said he feels very fortunate that though there was a waiting list she was able to attend.

“She really needed it, my son didn’t,” he said. “But there is a gap there. So when people develop passions for things and start talking — maybe she can recruit some other parents to join her — that’s when things get done.”