If Eden Kohnke had been born a week earlier she would be starting kindergarten this fall at Ames School.

But even though her parents say that she reads at a third-grade level and an evaluation by District 96 staff determined that she was ready for kindergarten, Eden will not be allowed to attend kindergarten in District 96 this year.

She won’t turn 5 years old until Sept. 8, so she missed the Sept. 1 cut off to enroll in kindergarten. And, last month, the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education voted 6 to 1 not to make an exception to allow Eden and two other 4 year olds deemed ready for kindergarten to start school this year.

“We should stand by our policy as written,” said David Kodama, the chairman of the school board’s policy committee.

The policy committee discussed the issue at its June 18 meeting and decided not to change the current policy which requires students to turn 5 by no later than Sept. 1 in the year they start kindergarten. The board also decided to make no exceptions to the policy this year.

Board member Randy Brockway cast the only vote to allow Eden and the two other 4 year olds to start kindergarten this year.

“It seems the policy is a bit rigid to me,” Brockway said before the vote. “We need to have flexibility to make case-by-case exceptions to our policy.”

When the issue was first brought before the school board in May board member Rachel Marrello said the board did not have enough to time to fully consider changing the policy.

School board members were concerned about fairness, saying that if they made an exception for these three 4 year olds this year, it might be unfair to other families.

“Treating people differently, there’s a great risk for that,” Marrello said.

Kodama agreed.

“It’s a precedent that has its unintended consequences,” Kodama said. “To do this would raise additional issues for the district in terms of other people that didn’t have the opportunity to submit an application or registration to have their children to through the testing.”

It was not an issue that the school board had dealt with recently.

“In the eight years I’ve been here we’ve only had one request, and that student didn’t have the readiness,” said Janice Limperis, who served as acting superintendent for District 96 in June before retiring.

Eden’s mother, Joan Kohnke, appeared before the school board in May and pleaded with the school board to allow her daughter to start kindergarten this year. She told the Landmark that she had been told months ago by former Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi that the district made no exceptions to its cutoff date.

But when Lieggi announced her resignation, Kohnke approached the district’s administrative staff, and Limperis arranged an evaluation of Eden, which was conducted by Central School kindergarten teacher Lisa Sula, Kohnke said.

Limperis told the school board that the evaluation found that Eden was ready for kindergarten.

Kohnke said that she was disappointed by the school’s board decision not to allow her daughter to start kindergarten this year, but she took some solace in a brief discussion with Kodama during a break in the meeting.

“I am disappointed, but hopeful because I have solicited and asked for ideas and I got some,” Kohnke said. “This is not necessarily the only route to go. It was the most obvious. I’m feisty.”

Kohnke and her husband, Stephan, are now focusing on finding an accredited kindergarten for Eden to attend this year with the hope that she can enroll in District 96 as a first-grader next year.

District policy requires that first-graders to have turned 6 by Sept. 1 of the year on their enrollment, but allows for students who will not turn 6 until Dec. 31 of the year they start first grade to enroll, if the child attended a non-public preschool, attended that school through kindergarten and was taught by an appropriately certified kindergarten teacher.

For the past year, Eden has attended preschool at the Oak Park Temple, but the Oak Park Temple does not offer kindergarten. The Kohnkes, who live in North Riverside, are now hoping to send Eden to a Montessori school in the coming year and have her enter first grade in 2014. The tuition for a Montessori school will be well over $4,000, Stephan Kohnke said.

“We’re looking at a sizable tab for another school year,” Stephan Kohnke said. “We’re trying to find out where we can send her for kindergarten so that we can get her into first grade next year and keep her on the track that we know she should be on.

“Ideally we would like to have her in District 96 this year, but that didn’t work out.”

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