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Niles board changes kindergarten cutoff

NILES — The Board of Education on Thursday approved changing the cutoff birthday for kindergarten entry from Sept. 30 to Aug. 1 for the 2020-21 school year with the intention of leveling the playing field for students.

“Maturity levels of those late birthdays really impact learning,” Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said.

She said with the current Sept. 30 cutoff, 4-year-olds starting kindergarten are sometimes in the same class with 6-year-olds.

Thigpen said the district wanted to make the decision early in this school year to allow parents time to prepare for the change, which will see some children spending an extra year in preschool or day care services. She said families will have the option to put children through another year of the district’s Head Start program.

The Ohio Department of Education gives districts the option to set the kindergarten cutoff for either Sept. 30 or Aug. 1, Thigpen said. As of 2018, 11 of the 20 districts in Trumbull County used the earlier August date, she said.

Board President Mary Ann McMahon said when she was a third-grade teacher, she often saw late birthday students struggling as the effects of their youth caught up with them.

“That youth — they can’t handle all the pressure and all the stress,” McMahon said. “We’re giving them the gift of time.”

McMahon said changing the cutoff also helps students born in August and September who play sports, by keeping them playing with students who are closer in age and size.

She said the maturity of students matters for their performance in sports and academics.

“The maturity gap gets bigger and bigger and bigger,” she said.

Thigpen said there will still be an early start option for children who are ready to start kindergarten and don’t meet the cutoff.

“There are certainly some kids who are more than ready to start school,” Thigpen said.

She said readiness testing is part of the early-start procedure.

In other business, the board:

• Accepted donations of $100 from Pel Industries to the athletic department and $540 from Farmers National Bank to Niles City Schools;

• Approved a six-month lease agreement with Pitney Bowes for postage master services, at an estimated $244 savings to the general fund;

• Approved Brendan Reiter for graduation;

• Set the next regular board meeting at 5 p.m. Oct. 17.

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