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According to the Education Commission of the States, (an inter-state compact including every governor in the nation) Nevada is the only state prohibiting children from entering kindergarten early. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on recent efforts to change that.
PLASKON: Children in Kindergarten at Kay Carl Elementary learn to socialize, how to hold a pencil and use it write letters, numbers and they also learn how to read.
TEACHER: And lets read to see who that helper is today.
PLASKON: It's their introduction to real schoolwork. 4-year-old Ethan is a little nervous about what could be his first year in Kindergarten.
ETHAN: Reading and math and doing hard homework and that kind of stuff.
PLASKON: But children like Ethan who aren't quite old enough to enter kindergarten are at the center of an ongoing conflict between the school board and parents.
ETHAN: I missed the cut-off by 20 days."
PLASKON: State law 392.040 says a child must be 5 to enter kindergarten. At the last School Board meeting Trustee Agustine Orci told Ethan's parents what he tells all parents who want their children to enter school early.
ORCI: Every year I tell the district it is illegal and costs too much money and we can't do it.
PLASKON: But Ethan's case focuses attention on conflicting state laws. While one says a child must not enter kindergarten until the age of 5, NRS 388.490 says a child can enter at the age of 4 if gifted. Ethan is 4 and gifted according to testing results by UNLV's Education Department. In order for him to go into school though, the law says the district must have a program for gifted kindergartners. It doesn't. Parent of another child Ralene Palmer begged the trustees to implement some kind of program at the meeting.
PALMER: I will tell you they have known their alphabet since before they were two and I tell you if they have to wait another 14 months where they are going to be taught their ABCs these kids are going to tune out and they are going to be lost and they are at risk for dropping out. Please help us to provide some kind of solution.
PLASKON: In a later interview with KNPR Trustee Orci was adamant that if the district were to allow early entry for the gifted, it should expand the elaborate Gifted and Talented Education program or GATE. That would cost millions he said.
ORCI: At least for four year olds it is also questionable if it is a good use of fund.
PLASKON: But in a later interview with KNPR, Trustee Orci admitted it wouldn't cost much to simply let gifted children into kindergarten without a special program.
ORCI: Class sizes would increase and we might have to add classes and extra teachers.
PLASKON: Proponents says the district would incur a one-time cost of a half million dollars to let about 200 gifted children into school early. Orci is also reluctant to do that because tests at early ages to determine who's gifted are only 70 percent accurate. But advancing gifted children is widely accepted as beneficial. According to the Templeton National Report on Acceleration, endorsed by the National Association for Gifted Children, putting gifted children in school early saves them from boredom in unchallenging classes, having to skip grades later and loosing friends. Ethan's older sister Hava skipped a grade. She explains the pressure she suddenly felt from her piers.
HAVA: They ask me a lot of questions, like math questions and if they need help they always ask me and sometimes I have to say I have to get my work done first and it is kind of hard to help them while I am helping myself.
PLASKON: School Board Trustee Denise Brodsky says not allowing students like Hava to enter kindergarten early can turn an active mind into a bored one and that has broad consequences.
BRODSKY: There is an obvious answer to that. It draws everyone else down because we depend on our brightest students to lead the way so it certainly puts a drain on our system.
PLASKON: Adding insult, Brodsky says Nevada's conflicting laws and lack of policy for gifted kindergartners is discriminatory. Reciprocal regulations between the nation's accredited school districts require Clark County to accept out of state children who are enrolled at an early age.
BRODSKY: But yet we are not allowing our own children who live in this state to enter the system. Yes I find that to be a ridiculous policy.
PLASKON: The districts trustees will consider changes to district policies at their next meeting August 4th to be friendlier to gifted children in kindergarten. The Nevada State Board of Education will meet on August 20th to do the same.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR