Parents: Do You Know You Can Have Your Child Repeat a Grade?

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Last month Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that permits parents, guardians, and any other person having custody over a child in grades K-8 to repeat last year’s grade. One of the primary sponsors, Senator Teresa Ruiz, said that, due to pandemic-induced school closures, parents should have more control over retention decisions, or holding children back a year. 

Some parents, she explained, may feel that retention is right for their child after a year when they have had a “bird’s eye view” into their child’s education.  Even without standardized test scores determining proficiency, she said, an extra year of learning should be on the table for anyone who thinks it could help their child.

Here’s how it works:

According to the bill, S 3872, parents or guardians should first consult with the school principal and their child’s teachers. After that communication (which can be an email or a phone call or a meeting with school staff), the parent submits a written request to the district superintendent. Then the superintendent decides upon the request, although the point here is that parents have the best assessment of their child’s needs. 

While some NJ districts have set up summer programs to make up for learning loss (which they pay for through federal stimulus funds), as Ruiz says, “We’re not going to resolve this issue in the summer.”

Even hardcore opponents of retention are rethinking their views in the light of a remote year of instruction. Sonja Santelises, the highly-regarded head of Baltimore City Schools, once vowed that no child would be held back a year but now she says “her thinking has changed” after many calls from concerned parents who says “the city owes their kids an education.”

Parents, she said, “don’t want a false, glossed-over exchange or substitute for what was really supposed to be a full year of learning.” What they want is the flexibility to make the best decision for their kid and the support and commitment of the school district to provide what they need.

Sonya Thomas, a 45-year-old Nashville mother of four, told Politico“These children belong to parents and grandparents. They do not belong to the system.”

[Editorial note: Murphy signed the bill on June 30th, which was the last day parents had to submit a request that would require the superintendent to comply. The bill’s language (see below) says after June 30th the superintendent can deny the request. . Yet parents should not let this timing issue affect their decision if they belief having their child repeat a year would be best for that child.  You are your child’s best advocate! If all else fails, go to a public school board meeting and complain.]

Here is the bill statement. For a longer version, go to the end of this document.

     This bill provides that for the 2021-2022 school year, a school district will permit a student enrolled in any of the grades kindergarten through eight during the 2020-2021 school year to repeat the grade level in which the student was enrolled during the 2020-2021 school year, provided that the parent, guardian, or other person having legal custody of the student submits a written request of grade retention to the superintendent of the school district on or before June 30, 2021.  A superintendent who receives a written request of grade retention by June 30, 2021 is required to grant the request.  Under the bill, a superintendent would have the discretion to accept a written request of grade retention submitted by the parent, guardian, or other person having legal custody of a student after June 30, 2021. A superintendent who chooses to accept written requests of grade retention after June 30, 2021 is required to grant the requests under the bill.    

     Under the bill, the parent, guardian, or other person having legal custody of the student is required to consult with the school principal or another school leader and the student’s teachers.  Following consultation, the parent, guardian, or other person having legal custody of the student will submit a written request for grade retention to the superintendent of the student’s school district of residence.  When the parent, guardian, or other person having legal custody of a student submits the written request to the superintendent of the school district of residence and the student will attend a school outside of the school district of residence during the 2021-2022 school year, the bill requires the superintendent to transmit the written request, as soon as practicable, to the superintendent or other chief administrative officer of the student’s school of attendance.

     Under the bill, a school district is required to report the number of students who repeat a grade level pursuant to the provisions of the bill to the Department of Education by June 30, 2022.

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