Legislation that would put holding back students in parents’ hands draws praise from Florida mom

Lisa Buie

Brody Cholnik’s mother, Nicole, chose to send the 5-year-old to a private school so she could retain control of her choice to decide if he should repeat kindergarten. New legislation could put that choice in the hands of public school families.

When Nicole Cholnik learned earlier this year that her 5-year-old son’s district school principal would get the final say in whether he would be allowed to repeat kindergarten, she took matters into their own hands and enrolled him in a private Montessori kindergarten program.

“We thought out of the box,” said Cholnik, who was dismayed to learn that she and her husband would have no say next year in what would happen to Brody, who had struggled during online pre-kindergarten when the coronavirus pandemic began in the spring.

But a bill filed by state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, would prevent other parents from having to pay out of pocket for private school if they disagreed with a principal’s decision. SB 200 would let parents decide whether their children need to repeat a grade next year.

The bill follows through on an announcement that Gov. Ron DeSantis made last spring that parents would be allowed to hold their children back a grade in the fall if they had concerns about learning losses from online instruction.

DeSantis did not issue an executive order, and later guidance from Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran softened the governor’s stance by recognizing that while parents have a right to provide input, the final decision regarding student retention rests with school officials.

Berman’s bill would secure that authority for parents, which came as welcome news to Cholnik.

Private kindergarten has alleviated stress for the family and has allowed Brody’s teachers to pursue different approaches to find out the best method of education for him, she said. Most important, it ensures that she and her husband will be the ones to decide whether he begins the 2021-22 school year at his district school as a first-grader or a kindergartener.

“We know our kids best,” she said. “We should have a say in our kids’ future.”

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