Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bureau Valley School Board overturns their decision and goes back on their word.

We heard last night that a teacher at Bureau Valley had been petitioning against the School Board’s May decision to allow our daughter to attend Kindergarten. Last night at the School Board Meeting she was present and at the second reading of the policy (which we were not aware was happening) the School Board voted 4 to 1 to overturn their decision made last month and therefore NOT pass the policy. Because it was done at the public portion of the meeting, a friend called us last night with the news.

In May we were contacted by two Bureau Valley Administration members and told that the school board had approved the policy change and that our daughter would register for Kindergarten this fall. This was based on a petition letter that I provided directly to the school board, including a copy of the State Law (which I had discussed with state employees for clarification) and also a copy of her recent pre-school assessment.

In May, I received a voice-mail from Mr. Butte, Bureau Valley District Superintendent, that says the following, and I quote,– “Good Morning Mrs. Johnson, This is Mr. Butte at Bureau Valley 340. I was getting back to you with regard to the letter you sent to us regarding the admission of your child into kindergarten that falls after the September the 1st deadline.  I wanted to let you know that the Board is going to change the policy and the change in the policy will allow you to enroll your daughter in school this fall.”  The (now retired) Principal of the Wyanet Building had called a few days earlier and told me that the decision was to be finalized at the May School Board Meeting.

The Board Voted in May and passed the policy change. We told our daughter that she was going to Kindergarten and the following week I called Happy Hands and told them to release her held preschool spot to another student who may be waiting. We had paid the deposit to save her spot several months ago. Our Daughter had her school physical, her shots, her dental checkup and cleaning, and the required vision exam for Kindergarten. This week she picked out a new backpack.

The School Board and the Central Office Administration did not contact us last night or this morning to notify us of the policy being overturned. I called the Central Office and also Keith Bolin, the President of the School Board this morning and left messages requesting a call back. After lunch I received a call from Mr. Butte confirming what we had heard… At the Second Reading of the Policy, the School Board Voted to overturn their previous decision to accept the policy, and our daughter is no longer able to attend Kindergarten at Bureau Valley this fall.

I calmly explained that we were very frustrated by this decision, and told Mr. Butte that we were told this was a “done deal” and that we had told our daughter she is going to Kindergarten at Bureau Valley. I told him that a 4 year old doesn’t understand that the “school board changed their mind” and that we had now relinquished our spot and our registration fee at the private preschool because we were told that she was going to be attending Kindergarten.  When I told Mr. Butte that I had hoped the school board would do the honorable and moral thing and allow her to attend this fall based on their prior word, I also told him that it was not going to be easy to explain to a 4-year old that now she couldn’t attend. His response was “I can only imagine.”

I have not yet received a return phone call from Keith Bolin or any other school board member.  When this policy was on the Board’s Agenda for a second reading, I believe that we should have been notified by Board Members or Administration Staff, and given the opportunity to hear the debate and also be allowed to answer and ask questions and present our point-of-view. Because we were told the decision was final, and were never told about a required “second reading”, we had no way of knowing what was to come.
When submitting the original letter to each school board member, I had decided to be at peace with whatever their decision would be, knowing that as a parent I had done the best that I could on our daughter’s behalf and that I had advocated for her to the best of my ability. I spent months researching the state laws and the policies of other schools, as well as having our daughter assessed and providing that information directly to the school board members. In April, School Administration explained that the Board Policy Committee first needed to review the information and write a policy that could be presented to the board, for the board to vote on. Mr. Butte indicated to me that there was some initial discussion by the policy committee regarding the policy and how it would impact the district. I was not told that there was any original opposition from Board Members to the policy and I assumed that is why it passed in May.

I am very upset by the actions of the school board, specifically having made their decision, having the administration pass that information on to us as a final decision, and then a month later change that decision and not stand by their word to us. I consider this a direct reflection of the character of the school board members and their morals. What kind of message are they passing to our community and our students if our school board will not honor its word? Is this the example we would like to set for our students? Even a four year old understands honesty and truth.

If the school board’s initial decision had been to not approve the policy change, I would have understood and although I would have been disappointed (of course, what parent wouldn’t?) I would have known that I did all I could. But to finalize something only to change your mind a month later, and to tell us the news… and then not stick by your initial decision… is weak.

I would like to Commend Former School Board member Jim Lilley. We have been told that his disappointment at the board’s actions, and the continued inconsistencies and issues with the School Board and administration, led him to walk out of the school board meeting last night and resign from the school board. Although Mr. Lilley is from Wyanet, I do not know him personally. I have only spoken to him once (over a year ago) regarding another school issue that I had questions about. But without personally knowing my family, or my child, he stood up for what he believed was right and was the only present board member to vote in favor of upholding the decision that had already been made. It was fortunate that we had a board member with such conviction. I have heard that Jim has stood up against administration and other board members in the past, for things that he did not believe were being handled properly. If you see Jim, please thank him for not being swayed by the majority.

As for us, it’s back to our original idea of private Kindergarten. It’s looking like we will be having a new baby and the kids and I will be driving to Princeton once to three times a day this next school year, so that both children can attend one private school- our three year old in their preschool program and our daughter in Kindergarten. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern about the stress this has caused, and who have provided knowledge, experience, and support as I was gathering my information to present to the school board in April. It is appreciated more than you know. Today I am resting in the belief that all things happen for a reason.  I am remembering that this is just Kindergarten, that their decision was out of my hands, and that we have beautiful, happy, and healthy children. That’s what is important.

I am attaching a copy of my original letter mailed to each individual school board member, as well as the copy of the Illinois State Law which allows a school board to make exceptions to the September 1st cutoff date based on Child assessment and readiness. If we were a year round school district, the rules for students after September 1st are even more lenient. A very wise woman with years of experience in Early Childhood Education, and teaching at the Preschool and Grade School level told me at the beginning of this journey that school administration would do what is right for the well-being of the child. I wanted to believe that but knew that other factors would go into their decision. Especially the added “work” that an early admission program or petition for early admittance might cause them (which has been the only negative I can think of when assessing a ready child, and something that has been mentioned to me by those in the education field.)

I firmly believe that if at this point, if your concern as a school official or administrator is solely in the additional “Work” that early admission might cause you, or a statement that was made that this policy change is a “Principal’s worst nightmare”- then you are working in education for the wrong reasons. 

Friday, April 5, 2012
         Dear Bureau Valley School Board Member:
I am writing regarding my daughter, (name). She will turn five this September 3rd, two days after the State’s set cutoff date for Kindergarten. (child's name) has attended private preschool at Happy Hands in Princeton for two years.
(child's) teacher, XXXXXX, is also the preschool coordinator at Happy Hands and has been a teacher there for 20 years. Prior to Happy Hands, XXXXX taught in the Wyanet District. She has assured me that (child) is ready for Kindergarten both academically and socially, and the high marks at her recent Parent/Teacher conference increased our concerns that (child) would not be allowed in Kindergarten this year.
I discovered information on the State of Illinois Website for Early Childhood Education. (www.IllinoisEarlyLearning.org) I called their hotline (877-275-3227) and was forwarded to Nancy in the Parent Support. Nancy further explained the Illinois State Law to me, clarifying that any school district in Illinois can waive the cutoff date of September 1st. Many larger districts offer “early admittance” programs with paperwork and screening processes. Because (child) qualifies for this exception, Nancy advised me to contact my local Board of Education and request that you accept (child) as a Kindergarten student in the 2012-2013 school year.
Nancy also clarified that if (child) is not accepted to Bureau Valley this year, she could attend an accredited private Kindergarten and Bureau Valley would then accept her as a first grader the following year.
 In March, (child) was assessed by the Princeton School District during their annual pre-k and kindergarten screenings. I was very pleased with the results, and in most areas she was testing at the 5/6 year old level.  The Princeton School District will not release the results of the test directly to me (So that I may include them with this letter), therefore I am having them send the results to the Secretary of the Bureau Valley Board of Education, so that you may view them at your convenience. If you require an additional screening done by Bureau Valley Staff, we would be happy to schedule one.
(Child) is now rhyming, sounding out words and pre-reading, and even doing simple addition. I worry that holding her back will not do her justice as she is excited and prepared for Kindergarten.  All of her classmates and peers are attending Kindergarten this fall and she wants to join them. She has always been a quick learner and very motivated, and I do not want her to become bored in a third year of preschool. I attended Manlius Grade school as a 4 year old kindergartner and graduated at 17 from the first class of Bureau Valley. I was a National Honor Society Member and High Honor Roll Student. I was active in clubs and sports and was the first president of the Bureau Valley FFA. I am very thankful of the opportunities given to me, and believe the same scenario would work well for (child).
Please consider this letter my formal request that the school board include my daughter, (child), in Bureau Valley’s Kindergarten class  in the Fall of 2012.
I am sending a copy of this letter to each Board Member. (child)'s assessment from the Princeton School District will be sent to the Board Secretary. In the interest of time, I believe you would prefer to address this privately but if it would be necessary for my husband and I to attend a board meeting to address the board, we will contact the central office and secure a place on the next agenda.  You may contact me telephone, email, or mail, using the contact information below.
Thank You for your Time.

Meagan Johnson
(contact information omitted for privacy)
cc: Bureau Valley School Board Members, Secretary to the Bureau Valley School Board

Attached: State of Illinois Code
    (105 ILCS 5/10-20.12) (from Ch. 122, par. 10-20.12)
    Sec. 10-20.12. School year - School age. To establish and keep in operation in each year during a school term of at least the minimum length required by Section 10-19, a sufficient number of free schools for the accommodation of all persons in the district who are 5 years of age or older but under 21 years of age, and to secure for all such persons the right and opportunity to an equal education in such schools; provided that (i) children who will attain the age of 5 years on or before September 1 of the year of the 1990-1991 school term and each school term thereafter may attend school upon the commencement of such term and (ii) based upon an assessment of the child's readiness, children who have attended a non-public preschool and continued their education at that school through kindergarten, were taught in kindergarten by an appropriately certified teacher, and will attain the age of 6 years on or before December 31 of the year of the 2009-2010 school term and each school term thereafter may attend first grade upon commencement of such term. Based upon an assessment of a child's readiness to attend school, a school district may permit a child to attend school prior to the dates contained in this Section. In any school district operating on a full year school basis children who will attain age 5 within 30 days after the commencement of a term may attend school upon the commencement of such term and, based upon an assessment of the child's readiness, children who have attended a non-public preschool and continued their education at that school through kindergarten, were taught in kindergarten by an appropriately certified teacher, and will attain age 6 within 4 months after the commencement of a term may attend first grade upon the commencement of such term. The school district may, by resolution of its board, allow for a full year school plan.
(Source: P.A. 96-864, eff. 1-21-10.)

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