Pennsylvania law doesn’t require schools to offer kindergarten, and allows those that do to impose enrollment deadlines.
Some of the Commonwealth’s school districts are imposing the most restrictive student enrollment deadline allowable under state law this year.
It means there’s a chance some kindergarten-age children won’t be guaranteed a place in the classroom.
Pennsylvania law doesn’t require schools to offer kindergarten, but those that do cannot cap enrollment, according to Steve Fisher, advisor to the Department of Education Deputy Secretary of School Services.
The law does, however, let schools stop accepting enrollment applications as early as two weeks into the school year. Harrisburg, and nearby Central Dauphin school district, did that this year. Both districts stopped initiating kindergarten enrollments Sept. 2.
In districts imposing deadlines, officials say they’re doing it for planning purposes.
But state education officials and representatives from other schools say that’s rare – particularly in urban areas like Harrisburg, which reinstated kindergarten this year.
Harrisburg officials say they plan to make exceptions for students who transfer from another district – but only if they’d already registered for kindergarten there.
“We’re filling up the classroom space very rapidly,” said Harrisburg Superintendent Sybil Knight Burney.
Harrisburg Board of School Directors President Jennifer Smallwood said the return of kindergarten has generated a lot of interest, but she doesn’t recall late registration surges previously forcing the district to scramble for supplies or classroom space, or to redo teacher assignments.
As of Monday, Harrisburg had filled 575 slots of 700 planned for kindergarten students, and were continuing to process enrollments already requested, but weren’t accepting new ones, according to the district’s Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno and spokeswoman Kirsten Kelly.
Veno said his understanding is Harrisburg’s rule isn’t “hard and fast”, but meant to discourage parents from procrastinating.
“I would hope if a child move into the area, they have the opportunity to register, and strongly believe the administration would consider it,” Veno said, adding that the district might not if it’s months into the school year.
New enrollment requests continue fairly steadily throughout the entire year due to the highly transient population in Harrisburg, according to Pupil Services Coordinator Mary Lou Sypolt.
The same is true in Reading, Bethlehem, Erie, York and other cities. But other districts’ officials say they accept late enrollments even though they complicate planning and student placement.
Lebanon, for example, had to add an extra kindergarten class after the school year started.
“People for whatever reason don’t show up,” said Bethlehem Superintendent Joseph Roy. “Or we’ll get a burst of enrollments. Depending on the numbers, it could force you to add a bunch of teachers and really hurt your budget. We’re big enough we generally can absorb it, one way or the other.”
Reading, Lancaster, Allentown, West York and Erie districts’ officials also say they enroll students all year. Annual student turnover rates reach as high as 40 percent in some schools in Erie, “so to have a cutoff date for kindergarten registration or any grade level wouldn’t be possible for us,” said the district’s Communications Director Matthew Cummings.
Cummings says the turnover “presents a challenge,” but that potential disruptions are minimized by the district’s elementary student population being broken up among 12 buildings.
“We have a lot of rental properties in the city, so we have families moving in and out all year long,” Cummings said. “We’re a little bit more flexible.”
Two charter schools in Harrisburg – Premier and Sylvan Heights – offer kindergarten.