PO Box 2502
Madison, WI 53701
August 2021 – Is Wisconsin’s “Kindergarten Requirement” Enforceable?
A Wisconsin law passed in 2009 states public schools may not enroll a child in first grade unless that child has completed 5-year-old kindergarten, or applies for and receives an exemption to this requirement.
Does this law mean a school can refuse to enroll a child in first grade? The answer is we don’t know for certain. The law has never been challenged or tested in the courts. However, it appears unenforceable.
For a child who did not complete kindergarten, but wants to enroll in first grade, the confusing state of the law is this:
First, public schools are charged with educating every child in their district who wants to attend. Under the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, district schools “shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years.” This means that public schools must accept all children who live in their districts. There are specific exceptions only for children who are currently expelled from public school.
Generally, public schools should provide each child with an appropriate education. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction states “The district is responsible for providing a welcoming environment for all age-eligible children and their families through curriculum adaptation, teacher placement options, consultation with school specialists, and referrals for further evaluations.” (DPI.gov, “Frequently Asked Questions: Four- and Five-year-old Kindergarten”).
Under the 2009 law, school districts must have and follow a written policy for exempting children from the requirement that they complete kindergarten before enrolling in the first grade. While school districts can set their own policies for exemption, the law requires that exemptions include children who moved from an out-of-state district where they were not required to complete kindergarten, or they were exempted from a kindergarten requirement.
What would happen if a school were to refuse to enroll a child who did not complete kindergarten into the first grade, even after the parent applied for an exemption? The final answer is we do not know because this law has not been court-tested. However, because the law creates a situation in which a school MUST enroll a child somewhere, and placing a child in a class that is inappropriate for them is generally not acceptable, it is likely that a court challenge to this law would end with the law being found unenforceable. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know for certain.