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February 19, 2013

Ruling subjects kindergartners to attendance rules

HARRISBURG — A central Pennsylvania woman who told officials she had trouble getting her twin girls up in time for school lost a ruling Tuesday when a state appeals court said children who start school as kindergartners are subject to mandatory attendance rules.

The majority decision said state law requires attendance for those who are at least 8 years old, or those who have begun kindergarten.

“Although a school district is not required to provide kindergarten and parents are not required to enroll their child in kindergarten, once the election to enroll a child is made, the child is subject to the (Public School) Code’s compulsory attendance requirements,” wrote Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson.

The court by a 2-to-1 vote upheld a Snyder County judge’s decision against Jennifer Ann Kerstetter. She is appealing a district judge’s decision to convict her of three nontraffic citations for violating the law. Midd-West School District issued the citation over the girls’ three days of absences from West Beaver Elementary School in November and December 2011.

Kerstetter testified she had difficulty getting her daughters out of bed in the morning, and had acted based on reading information online that indicated Pennsylvania kindergartners were not considered to be of compulsory school age.

Phone messages left for Kerstetter’s lawyer and for the Snyder County district attorney’s office were not immediately returned Tuesday.

In the dissent, Senior Judge Rochelle S. Friedman said the intent of the mandatory attendance provision of the Public School Code “is to ensure that by age 8 a child is attending first grade, which a school district must provide, not kindergarten, which is optional.”

Students must remain enrolled until they turn 17 or graduate.

The county judge who heard the first appeal, and in June denied Kerstetter’s motion to dismiss the charges, said allowing parents to enroll kindergartners and then take them out of class whenever they wished essentially would create a system of free child care.

“School districts could not budget for materials, staff or meals if they would have absolutely no control or no idea how many students would be appearing on any given day,” wrote Snyder County Judge Michael Sholley.

The matter was sent back to the county court for further proceedings.




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