The NYC Mandatory Kindergarten Mess

A couple of problematic things happened on the way to the implementation of “mandatory kindergarten” (note the quotes) in New York City. But let’s start this blog post with PAHSI’s practical suggestions for those NYC parents of kindergarten-aged kids who are trying to figure out what to do if they don’t want to send their kids to public or private kindergarten this year (after that, we’ll back up and more fully explain what leads us to make these suggestions): 

  • If you tried to file kindergarten homeschool paperwork a while ago, but it was sent back, decide whether that’s still what you want to do. If it is, just try again with a letter of intent (or both a letter of intent and an Individualized Home Instruction Plan – an IHIP – in the same envelope).
  • If you were told at some point that the homeschool paperwork is voluntary but that for “some assurance” (meaning a degree of legal protection from other entities, like the Administration for Children’s Services) you could file a letter of intent and then no further paperwork (IHIP, quarterly reports, and annual assessment), please think twice about this. We think it’s the worst thing you could choose to do. It’s a bad idea because it leaves a paper trail that practically SCREAMS that you’re educationally neglectful – because the letter of intent shows intent and the lack of further paperwork shows lack of follow-up. We think the right choice is either all paperwork or no paperwork.  
  • If you do decide to file homeschool paperwork for your kindergarten-aged child and your reason is that you want legal protection, one additional step you might want to take is to do the same thing that PAHSI suggests the parents of older homeschooled kids do, which is to keep handy by your door/s a copy of the “letter of compliance” you get (the one that begins, “The Central Office of Home Schooling is pleased to inform you that the that the Individualized Home Instruction Plan you have submitted for the 2013-14 school year is in compliance with Commissioner’s Regulation 100.10 of the New York State Education Department”). Some people like to fold this letter in thirds; write on the outside of it something like “Official paperwork – make sure you get the name, title, and contact info of anyone you give this to”; tack it up on the inside doorframe/s; and tell all family members and babysitters about it. (It’s pretty rare to get someone knocking at your door, but being prepared for this is like changing your smoke detector batteries.) You might also want to carry a copy with you.
  • If you decide not to file homeschool paperwork for your kindergarten-aged child, one thing you might want to do is print out either this entire blog post or just the email from the Office of Homeschooling that contains the quote from the Chancellor’s Regulations (see below), and underline or highlight the following phrase: “except that such children are not required to attend kindergarten if their parents elect instead to enroll them in first grade the following academic year.” Then fold it, write on it, and put it up just inside your door/s (as we suggested above that people do with a letter of compliance, if they have one). Better yet, write an email to the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling, giving your child’s age and asking for confirmation that filing homeschool paperwork for him/her is not mandatory. Then print out the reply you get and put it up. (Again, whatever you put up by your door might also be something you want to carry with you.)
  • If you’re thinking that you don’t need to have anything at all ready by your door because your neighbors are nice and you’re a good person, please consider the following partial list of people who probably now believe (unless you’ve already convinced them otherwise) that “all” kids in NYC have to go to kindergarten: your neighbors; your relatives; emergency services personnel; your child’s doctor, dentist, and eye doctor; store clerks; bus drivers; your building super; your or your spouse’s boss; the people at the laundromat – do you get the picture? We hope that list will spur you to action (and honestly, all we’re suggesting is that you put something up just inside your door/s). But if not, please read the blog post “Why Comply with the Homeschool Regulations” (08/08/2013). Remember: no matter what causes them to show up at your door, ACS workers will often want to inspect your refrigerator, count your bedrooms and beds, see your financial records, speak with your child, get a list of personal references, etc. So if you would find any of that unpleasant or intrusive, you might want to take five minutes now to prepare a piece of paper that might head them off at the pass. It can’t get you out of trouble if there are well-founded accusations of some other kind, but it will give the person on your doorstep pause on the “mandatory kindergarten” issue – by giving them something to take to their supervisor.
  • If you have a child with a December birthday, we suggest you just go with the NYC cutoff date (December 31) as quoted in one of the emails below, rather than the NYS one (December 1). Details on what we call the December Discrepancy are in the blog post titled “December Birthdays and Compulsory School Age” (05/25/2013), if you want to know more.  
  • If, having decided to file homeschool paperwork in NYC for your kindergarten-aged child, you find yourself wanting to declare some grade level other than kindergarten on your IHIP, check back in a day or two for a blog post about your right to choose the grade level.

Now we’ll go back to describe the problematic happenings that we mentioned at the beginning of this blog post.

One of them is that the NYC Central Office of Home Schooling (that is, homeschooling) seems at some point in the past to have refused to process homeschool paperwork for at least one kindergarten-aged child.

We say “seems to” because we only have a brief post about this from a parent, who wrote in August, “When I put in initial paperwork with the DOE homeschool office a while back, they sent it back and said next year.”

We’ve been unable to get more details from the parent and we don’t know when this happened, but (unless it was just a misunderstanding) we suspect that it was fairly early in the spring or summer – because of some things that came later.

The other problematic happening we want to describe was a conversation in June between a parent and someone at that Office. Here’s an excerpt from an account sent to us by the parent:

After much phone-tagging with the homeschool office, [NAME DELETED] told me the following:

1. For a 5 year old (kindy age) you technically don’t need to do “anything” to her knowledge.  But when I told her that I was concerned given the new law she said, “I know I know, so here’s what you can do if you want some assurance”…

2. File a LOI [letter of intent to homeschool]. Nothing more. That’s it. Since it’s for a first-time on the books homeschooler you include copy of birth certificate and utility bill to prove address. [A side note from PAHSI: you don’t have to include a proof of address if one was provided for an older sibling in the past, unless the family has since moved.]

I asked about […] paperwork—don’t I have to file an IHIP and quarterlies? […] Her answer: Nope, not at all—for kindergarten only the LOI is needed, nothing else. This way, she said, you’re “on the books with the Department of Education.” [Note: Here they were both talking about what might be needed in order to create a record with the DOE, not about what you might need to do in order to receive certain documents or services that you might later want to request – one example might be a Child Performer Permit.]

Interesting—

[…] So clearly she didn’t say that the truancy squad will come after any families that do nothing. Nothing seems to be OK, but she seemed to hedge a bit on things when she said, “if you want some assurance.”  Hmmm… One little LOI seems to be SO easy to do to make sure someone doesn’t come knocking on my door… […]

Thoughts? Thanks and best, [NAME DELETED]

Before we go on, it seems important to point out (as we did in our last blog post, “Why Comply With the Homeschool Regulations”, 08/08/2013) that homeschool paperwork doesn’t so much keep someone (most typically in New York City, someone from ACS – Administration for Children’s Services) from coming to knock on your door (the ACS is not hunting down should-be kindergarteners based on records of birthdates), as it does protect you once they get there during some kind of unexpected crisis (having to do with an accident, injury, fire, or illness, or a complaint lodged against you by someone like a neighbor). If you haven’t read that blog post, you may want to read it now, because this is a crucial point to consider in deciding what you will do, or not do, about homeschool paperwork.

Again (as explained in the list of suggestions above), PAHSI thinks it’s very bad advice to file a letter of intent and no further paperwork. 

In any case, both of the problematic happenings we’ve just described stand in contrast to recent emails that other parents have by now received from the NYC Central Office of Homeschooling. These emails indicate that homeschool paperwork for kindergarten-aged kids in NYC is voluntary, and that it will be processed normally (we aren’t seeing any suggestions now that only the letter of intent should be submitted). Here’s one example of the email exchanges we’ve seen:

[NAME DELETED],

Hello, I just have a quick question for you–can I file for my 5 year old Kindergartener for this school year?  I already homeschool my older two children [NAMES AND GRADE LEVELS DELETED], and would love to go ahead and file for their younger brother [NAME DELETED] (K this fall). I’m confused about whether this is up to me or not, or if I should just wait until next year when he will be in 1st grade.  

Thanks! [NAME DELETED]

——————–

Hello [NAME DELETED]:

Yes.  You may file for 2013-14.  You may send a Letter of Intent and copy of [CHILD’S NAME DELETED]’s birth certificate if you choose.

Here’s what the Chancellor’s regulation says about kindergarten in NYCDOE CR A-101 (I)(A)(3):

3. Children whose fifth birthday falls within the calendar year of admission are required to attend and must be admitted to kindergarten, commencing in the 2013-14 school year, whether these children are entering school for the first time or being transferred from another school, except that such children are not required to attend kindergarten if:

a. their parents elect instead to enroll them in first grade the following academic year, or

b. they are enrolled in non-public schools or in home instruction.

Hope this helps.  I’m in the office today at (917) 339-1748 if you need further explanation.

[NAME DELETED]

Central Office of Home Schooling
Office of Safety and Youth Development
333 Seventh Avenue, Seventh Floor
New York, NY  10001
t. (917) 339-1748
f. (212) 356-7523
e. [EMAIL ADDRESS DELETED]

The parent who sent us this email exchange wrote (in order to distinguish her question from some other parents’), “Note that that my question to him was, ‘May I file if I want to?’ – not ‘Am I required to file?’ ” 

Here’s another example of an email exchange (the reply happens to be from the same person who was involved in the problematic conversation with a different parent back in June):

Good Morning, [NAME DELETED]:

Can you please clarify the new kindergarten mandate as it pertains to homeschoolers? Thank you.

Regards,

[NAME DELETED]

——————–

Dear [NAME DELETED],

You are not mandated to home school your child for Kindergarten, but you can enroll your student if you like.

Please send in a Letter of Intent along with a copy of the student’s birth certificate and a copy of your Con Edison bill for proof of address. [NAME AND TITLE DELETED]

Central Office of Home Schooling
Office of School & Youth Development
333 7th Avenue, 7th Floor New York, New York 10001
[EMAIL ADDRESS DELETED]
t. (917) 339-1793
f. (212) 356-7517
   

Some parents of kindergarten-aged kids in NYC have already filed their letters of intent and IHIPs, and have received letters of compliance for the IHIPs.

Where does this leave us? Pretty much where we had expected over a year ago, when we first asked the Office of Homeschooling what was going to happen in 2013-14 in the wake of the new law and they didn’t know yet. We had thought this summer/fall paperwork season might turn out to be a confusing one.  

Given that the law was a mess to begin with and that the original mess spurned more messes, we understand why the Office of Homeschooling has had a hard time with it.   

We don’t yet have the full scoop on what’s happening with all the documents or services that may or may not be linked to filing homeschool paperwork in NYC for a kindergarten-aged child. For example, what’s happening now with special education services, or with the Child Performance Permits we mentioned above? We’d love some clarification. And we know nothing about the situation in Rochester (to which the new state law on “mandatory kindergarten” also applies). If anyone has information, please contact us. (Click on “About PAHSI” for contact info.)

Finally, in case you hadn’t been following our coverage of “mandatory kindergarten” and you want a recap, here goes:

  • The new law (a NYS law) sees to have begun as an attempt to do some combination of at least three things. One was to get the “underclass” to put their kids into school at an early age (this wasn’t supposed to be an attack on parents perceived as responsible homeschoolers) – even if doing so required making it look to them like kindergarten was more mandatory than it really was. Another was to make sure that parents who wanted a public school kindergarten seat for their kids couldn’t be turned away (bizarrely, guaranteeing the right to a seat apparently isn’t as simple as just stating in the law that they can’t be turned away – when there’s a shortage of seats, it helps to make attendance “mandatory”). The third was to reduce the number of parents “redshirting” (getting a perceived academic advantage for) their kids (by keeping them out of school until they were first-grade-aged – sometimes by paying for an extra year of private preschool – and then insisting on a kindergarten seat in public school).
  • Since the new law (a New York State law) was just a cut-and-paste job from a much earlier one (dating back to about 1988) that had lowered the compulsory school age in Syracuse, the wording ended up not entirely crystal clear.
  • Almost every media outlet inaccurately reported that the law would make kindergarten mandatory in 2013-14 for “all” children in NYC (and Rochester). Left out of most media coverage were some or all of the exceptions – most notably the most counterintuitive one, which is the one for kids whose parents “elect not to enroll their children in school until the following September” (in other words, kindergarten is mandatory unless you don’t want it to be).
  • New York City then began implementing the law by amending its Chancellor’s Regulations in a way that didn’t quite match – replacing the phrase above with “elect instead to enroll them in first grade the following academic year”, and also creating confusion over the cutoff for children with December birthdays.  .
  • The NYC Central Office of Homeschooling didn’t update this year’s info packets for parents.

And there you have it – a recipe for confusion.

Anyone who wants to dig more deeply into the kindergarten mess can read these past blog posts (listed in chronological order):

Kindergarten Changes in NYS – Part 1 (02/24/2013)

What Kindergarten Is – Part 1 [there is no Part 2 yet] (02/28/2013)

Kindergarten Changes in NYS – Part 2 (03/10/2013)

December Birthdays and Compulsory School Age (05/25/2013)

More on Compulsory School Age (05/27/2013)

Why Comply With the Homeschool Regulations (08/08/2013)