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Education

Another Twist In Parent's Quest To Bring Transitional Kindergarten To Del Mar

Owen Fitzpatrick plays with a window shutter in his Del mar home, Jan. 30, 2018.
Nicholas McVicker
Owen Fitzpatrick plays with a window shutter in his Del mar home, Jan. 30, 2018.

Finally, an answer. But perhaps not the one a Del Mar parent was looking for.

A Senate policy analysis this month says not all school districts have to offer transitional kindergarten, or TK. The program is for four-year-olds whose birthdays are after the cutoff date for regular kindergarten. Most school districts offer the program, but a small number of wealthier districts that don’t receive direct funding for TK do not.

Locally, those districts include Del Mar Union, the Solana Beach School District, Encinitas Union and the Rancho Santa Fe Elementary School District.

Earlier this year, Katherine Fitzpatrick of Del Mar began to question whether that’s legal. Her son would be eligible for TK in a couple of years and, in her research, she found conflicting information on which districts must offer it.

RELATED: What All Parents Can Learn From This Mom’s Fight For Transitional Kindergarten In Del Mar

The question is included in an analysis on a bill that would expand TK to younger four-year-olds, likely in response to her calls to lawmakers asking for a clarification.

Is the offering of Transitional Kindergarten required? A verbal opinion by legislative counsel provides that under existing law, the offering of Transitional Kindergarten by school districts is not required in the same manner as traditional kindergarten. The author may wish to consider amending current law to ensure that the existing cohort of four-year-olds (those turning five between September 2 and December 2) can access Transitional Kindergarten, before expanding the program.

Fitzpatrick is hopeful this isn’t a door closing, but the clarification lawmakers needed to refine existing law.

“I was actually really encouraged by that hearing because it does seem that the senators do understand the need to clarify current legislation,” Fitzpatrick said.

She said she worries about lower-income families who wind up in wealthy enclaves where TK isn’t available and who can’t afford private preschool. Even in Del Mar, hundreds of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals at school.

“My family can potentially afford to send our son to a private preschool program, however, it most likely will not be a five-day-a-week program like TK,” Fitzpatrick said in an email. “These families may not even be able to afford any private programs at all, yet they also aren't being offered anything from their school districts.”

The state does offer subsidized preschool for low-income families, but many who fall outside of the eligibility requirements still could not afford something on their own.

The analysis hasn’t cleared everything up. The California Department of Education website still says districts like Del Mar Union must offer TK. A department spokesperson did not follow up on a request for comment. And the analysis may not be binding when it comes to what a district must offer. The Legislative Analyst's Office said only a lawmaker or the result of a parent lawsuit could change the language of the law and ultimately close this chapter for Fitzpatrick.

She said she has no plans to sue and will continue to push for the change as lawmakers work on other parts of the TK law.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled Monday to hear Senate Bill 837, which would extend TK to all four-year-olds in the districts that offer it by 2022.

Another Twist In Parent’s Quest To Bring Transitional Kindergarten To Del Mar
Del Mar Union is one in a small number of districts that don’t offer transitional kindergarten, even though the California Department of Education says they should under its interpretation of state law.