Middletown School Board OKs Alternative Kindergarten Program for Children Affected by State Law Change

Credit: Robin Breeding


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MIDDLETOWN — The Board of Education has greenlit the creation of a program to serve 4-year-olds who will no longer be eligible under state law to attend kindergarten next year. 

Last year, the state Legislature passed a law requiring children to have turned 5 years old by Sept. 1 in order to attend kindergarten, a change from the current Jan. 1 deadline. As a result, children born in the last four months of the year are now required to wait an additional year to enter the public school system. 

The change has caused concerns for child care providers and school districts across the state as they grapple with an overabundance of 4-year-olds in need of an additional year of preschool. 

Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos told the Board of Education on Monday that the community had been asking the district to address the void created by the new law.

“These are our children, so we want to make sure that we can offer them some kind of a program to eliminate the burden and the barrier of having to pay for another year of preschool,” said Dawn Dubay, the district’s supervisor of School Readiness, Early Learning and Family and Community Engagement.

Vazquez-Matos said he was initially expecting to have a transitional program at three sites, but based on the most recent numbers, they may need as many as six locations across the district. 

“In one day, we went from 60 to 90 students who will possibly participate in this program,” he said. 

Colleen Fitzpatrick, the district’s supervisor of elementary English language arts and literacy, told the school board that the district had been reaching out to parents, preschool providers and doctors about the law change and what it would mean for these children. 

According to district calculations, there are about 97 children in Middletown who are no longer eligible for kindergarten under the new law. 

“I think it’s important to remember that we have been asking for this for years as educators to change the kindergarten entry age to align with the rest of the country, but we are all faced with very little to no guidance,” Dubay said.

The district is offering a screening process for parents who want a waiver for their children to start kindergarten in the fall despite no longer meeting the age cutoff. According to Dubay, 20 children have already undergone a screening for the waiver process, and an additional 20 have signed up. But she said they only expect to offer a handful of waivers. 

“The majority of kids within that September to December age, we are strongly encouraging to look at the transition program,” Dubay said. 

Fitzpatrick said the district was still discussing the space and staffing needs for the kindergarten program. Without any waivers, Dubay noted, the district stood to lose five kindergarten teachers based on the projected enrollment change. Offering the transition program would let Middletown keep its kindergarten teachers, she said, who could apply to teach in the transition classrooms.

According to Dubay, the program would focus on phonics, literacy, numbers, arts and crafts, social-emotional learning and “little bits of technology used appropriately.” Fitzpatrick said they wanted a program that would prepare children for kindergarten without being a “repeat” of preschool.  

She also said there are questions about what additional services the district could offer participating families. 

“The funding that it will take in order for us to provide our students with this opportunity — will we be able to provide meal options? Can we have transportation available so that families don’t have to worry about that? And we’ve also had people come forth and ask us will there be before- and after-school care?” Fitzpatrick said.

Board of Education Chair Sheila Daniels praised the district for exploring this program rather than approving waivers to all the children who no longer qualify. 

“I think it’s really important to address this, and you are looking at what’s in the best interest of the children, which we need to always do. And sometimes we forget about that because there’s other things that are in our way,” Daniels said. 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.