Gifted preschoolers can start classes early

Highly gifted 4- and 5-year-olds will be allowed to start school a year early thanks to a new policy passed Tuesday by the District 51 board of education.

A state law passed earlier this year allowed school districts the option of adopting an early access program that will allow 4- and 5-year-olds to start kindergarten or first grade, respectively, a year early.

Those students would have to be judged through a rigorous testing process as highly gifted and able to handle the stress of school.

District 51 Assistant Superintendent Steve Schultz said the program will give principals a tool to formally assess those children whose parents are interested in starting their children early in school.

Board member Harry Butler cast the lone dissenting vote against adopting the early access program.

“It’s putting kids in school too soon,” said Butler, adding that 4- and 5-year-olds are not emotionally ready to be away from their parents.

Superintendent Tim Mills said the program does not require children to start school early and targets only a small percentage of children. The testing process is targeted toward the top 2 percent of high-achieving 4- and 5-year-olds.

Board member Diann Rice said students who would qualify for early access would probably be enrolled in pre-kindergarten or day care programs anyway, so they would not be missing out on any more time with their parents.

The advantage of the early access program is the additional per-pupil funding the district would receive for the students.

But testing for gifted children is costly, and the district will have to decide if it will cover those costs or require parents to foot some of them.

Typically, kindergartners must be 5 years old and first-graders must be 6 years old on or before Sept. 15 to enroll for that school year.


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