July 29, 2008

Separate but Equal in Kindergarten

To the editor:

It is nearly August and the large retail chains have lined the shelves with brand new crayons, five-subject notebooks and smooth- writing gel pens. Children will return to school soon. On Aug. 25, many parents will engage in a collective sigh of relief. However, some of the parents of kindergartners will seethe at the quiet policy of "separate but equal" the Clark County School District employs.

I teach in one of the local high schools, so I am unversed in the machinations of the elementary school, but I have learned plenty in process of attempting to acquire a zone variance for my 5-year-old son. The schools in the poorest areas offer their students full-day kindergarten at no cost. This assures that the parents from these schools will not demand that their kindergartner be allowed to attend a school out of his or her zone. (Parents of children zoned for underperforming schools have the right to send them to a school of their choice that performs better.)

In other areas, there are tuition-based, full-day kindergarten programs. Some schools have programs with two full-day classrooms, while other schools do not have one. If one lives within the zones of these schools, one is pretty much guaranteed placement. If one does not live within the proper zones, one can apply for a zone variance, but there are no guarantees. This helps keep outsiders out, not to mention the $300 a month fee to keep the poor people away.

I live closer to two schools that have tuition-based, full-day programs. My home, however, is zoned for a school that does not have one. When asked, the principal of my zoned school said it was because the special education program took up a lot of space. An elementary school, to which I live closest, turned down my application for a zone variance for my son. Supposedly, they are completely full with zoned children.

I have a hard time with the fact that, had I purchased my home a block over, my son would have a spot in a full-day program. Thinking back, I probably should have applied at seven or eight schools instead of the one I really wanted - hint, hint to those who find themselves in my shoes in the future.

In the eyes of the law, we are all supposed to be equal, but I feel quite oppressed when my son cannot receive the same public school education as other children. I would even enroll him in a school in a deprived area for the full-day opportunity, except, I have been told, they do not grant zone variances, either.

Private school is not an option because I teach for the Clark County School District. I refuse to be a hypocrite. I even turned down my parents when they offered me tuition for private school for my kids. Call me crazy, but I really believe in public education.

In my opinion, if the district cannot offer the same services to everyone equally, it should not offer them at all.

Until the full-day kindergarten policy changes, the children will remain "separate but equal."

Naomi Rajsky


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