By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – The Mississippi legislature will undo language signed into law this week that would have changed the cutoff date for when students can enter kindergarten or first grade, said the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The law specified students must have their fifth birthday on before Aug. 1 to enroll in kindergarten during that school year and their sixth birthday by that date to enter first grade. Previously the deadline had been Sept. 1. It was part of Senate Bill 2571, which also gave districts flexibility to start school earlier in August.
Its biggest impact would be on those students whose birthdays fall between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, especially since many had already entered pre-kindergarten programs and had anticipated enrolling in kindergarten this fall. It would also have affected students currently enrolled in kindergarten but who do not turn 6 by Aug. 1. They would not be able to enter first grade.
Oxford Republican Gray Tollison, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said those immediate consequences were unintended. He said the legislature would revert the cutoff date to Sept. 1 this year. He expects to revisit the issue next year and look at phasing in the change.
The change was supported by research that shows children are better prepared if they are older when they start school, Tollison said. It was recommended by a task force of superintendents, he said.
Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden said he was glad to hear the change wouldn’t be made immediately. He noted the district already has held its open houses for next school year.
“We are glad they are going to reverse this because this change would have resulted in approximately 10 percent of children not entering school next year,” he said.