To Red-Shirt or Not? Includes updates from 2013 policy change [Updated 2017]

In light of changes to “red-shirt” changes in 2013 – Park Slope Parents have updated all you need to know. With advice updated January, 2015 and again in May, 2017

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In New York City public schools, parents used to be able to postpone enrollment of their children’s kindergarten start date if the child’s birthday fell close to the cut-off date and not quite ready yet. This practice is commonly called “redshirting.”

 However, in 2013 the Department of Education (DOE) cracked down on “redshirting.” It is no longer left to the principal's and parent's discretion whether a kid is ready to start school - kids must start school with their birth year.

Hypothetically, if a parent kept their child out of kindergarten by an extra year, they would then be obligated to enroll him in first grade the following year.

NYC resources:

A link to the new regulations here

Pre-K

Kindergarten Admissions

But some parents are still genuinely concerned, asking what if my child isn’t ready?

 

One parent writes on her experience with the new regulations:

“For those who feel strongly that their child should be held back (and still want to use their zoned public school) there are two ways to achieve this. One is to have your child repeat kindergarten if you have a very strong case. The other is to send your child to an extra year of pre-school, then kindergarten at a private school, and finally enroll them in the first grade at your public school. Neither of these options appeals to me, but just wanted to share them. Many parents directed me to Joyce Szuflita who can help you wade through all your school questions.”

If you are still considering “red-shirting” – whether it is through repeating kindergarten or through an extra year of preschool – here are what parents have shared about their children’s experience, whether they decided to “red-shirt” or not:

 

It’s hard to be the OLDEST kid in the grade:

“Our son was born in December 2002, and we held him back (he's now repeating 1st grade)... There are issues, though, with being the oldest kid in the class (and he is the only kid in his entire grade who did this). Our son has some speech delays, etc, so that's why we pushed this. If I had a kid who was not delayed, I would never suggest trying this in NYC, especially if he was born in August.

I think it can be awkward to be the oldest kid in the class. Also, other kids notice that you are older, so there was some teasing, etc. We're kinda past that now, but it was not pleasant. Anyway, in his case it made sense because now his confidence is much better academically. So, just to note, he entered the school in the grade that he aged into, then repeated once in the school.”

 

And it can be hard being the YOUNGEST kid in the grade as “red-shirted” students can hold an unfair advantage over “non redshirted” pupils:

“The only thing I would add to parents redshirting kids is please, for the sake of the rest of the class, if 2nd and 3rd grade come along and you feel your child isn't "challenged" enough, either hold your peace or consider skipping a grade. My non redshirted December girl really struggled in 2nd grade because she was intimidated by the kids in her class who were over a year older (and sometimes over a foot taller) than her. When I asked her why she wasn't participating in class like she used to (and it was noted on her report card) she quietly responded that the other kids knew the answers faster. When I talked to the teacher about it she admitted that parents of older kids often pressure to push the curriculum. She is in 4th grade now and while I still see the gap between her and her red shirted classmates, I can see it lessening and she has regained her confidence. But I'm not going to lie, it still angers me that she went through that. I just ask that if in later years your child seems bored or smarter than the majority of the class, remember that it is in all likelihood a result of redshirting and nothing else.”

 

Repeating kindergarten could potentially pose problems:

“I would have preferred holding them back a year but now think they will do alright in first grade next year. You can matriculate your son in Kindergarten next year and if you really feel he is not ready for first grade the following year you can write a letter requesting he be held back (I think you need a professional's opinion to back you up, maybe a doctor or a psychologist).

What I have noticed though is that in Kindergarten they really start to form friends and grasp the concept of going from one grade to the next with their classmates, and holding them back could really leave some psychological scars so I would't do it unless really necessary.”

-

“Unless you find a good private Kindergarten program to keep your son in for two years (or some serious home schooling), I wouldn't recommend waiting until first grade to introduce him to school. Also, remember your son will not be the youngest in his class. There will be Sep, Oct, Nov and Dec birthdays.

 There is a lot of emphasis on reading and writing in Kindergarten (way too much for my taste but that's how it is) and if your son has had no schooling he will be very behind in first grade. If you want to register for Kindergarten next fall the school's are already starting the application process. Your child is guaranteed a spot in a Kindergarten class but not necessarily in your neighborhood so it's important to apply early.”

 

Repeating Kindergarten can even be impossible as an option:

“As for repeating kindergarten, I was told that that would not be an option. Apparently, you need to have a very strong case for doing that. Of course, you should talk to the principal at your kindergarten to discuss all of the possibilities and your concerns. Also, walk around the kindergarten and try and imagine your kid there. Does it feel right? When I did a tour two years ago, I just couldn't imagine my kids in that big school, eating lunch in the noisy cafeteria and doing other "big kid" stuff. When we showed up for school this year, I had no reservations."

 

If your kid is ready, your kid is ready! One parents has no regrets:

“My daughter's birthday is Dec. 31. You can't get any younger than that. She started kindergarten in 2008, at age 4 and two-thirds. We didn't really consider red-shirting her; her pre-school teacher said she was ready, and she was. She's now in fourth grade, and we've never had a reason to regret sending her when we did. Academically, socially, emotionally, she's on track and enjoys school (even with the requisite griping). Yes, there are some kids who are more mature -- in a few cases, much more -- but is that because of the extra ten months in age or just the uneven rate that kids mature? We've certainly had bumps here and there, but so has pretty much every family I know at one time or another. Nothing that to me seems directly attributable to her age.”

-

“I attended NYC schools, and I was always the very youngest in my class. My parents never considered red-shirting. I didn't mind being the youngest. I did mind being the smallest, as it always put me at the front of the girl's line when we traveled outside of the classroom (I was painfully shy, and you can't hide when you are always at the front of the line). My son has attended NYC public schools, and has always been the youngest in his class. He started kindergarten at PS 29 when he was 4 1/2. He was academically and socially mature, but emotionally immature and he was overly sensitive to noise. The adjustment was difficult, but we got through.  He is now a senior in HS, and has classmates who are nearly 3 years older than he is. Despite his relative age, he has always been taller than most of his classmates. 

When I was a teen, being older than classmates meant adult privileges, such as a drivers' licence and the ability to drink legally (yeah, I'm that old). By contrast, my son has an urban social life (no one drives) and the legal age to drink has been moved to the other side of college. As a teen, I was consciously thankful that I would "get past high school" as young as possible. Over the years, I have asked my son if he ever wished that we had started a year later. He has always said no. In fact, he likes the idea that he has been able to achieve all that he has at a younger age than have his peers.”

 

One parent is glad she held her children back to allow for extra development as Kindergarten is increasingly more like First Grade:

"I kept my g/b December twins back and I am really glad I did. While I was one of the youngest kids in my grade, school was different in the 70s than it is today. Kindergarten back then was 3 hours of stories and play. Today, it's sitting and learning and, in our case at PS 10, homework. There are standards and expectations that make kindergarten more like first grade used to be. I wanted my kids to have an extra year of pre-k to learn in a less academic, more playful environment.

Many people, including teachers who told me they were ready, tried to dissuade me from this decision. But I am so glad I held back. Not only did they have a great year last year, today they are enjoying school and the myriad challenges it presents. I imagine they would have done okay but it would have been stressful for them as well as me.”

 

The case for an extra year of pre-school:

“I will chime in from the perspective of a parent who made this exact decision a year ago; which was to keep my son, who has a very-late-fall birthday, in his preschool for an additional year, instead of enrolling him into Kindergarten, at the local public school we are zoned for. I made the decision based on my very strong sense that my son was not socially nor emotionally ready for Kindergarten, and despite the significant financial challenge of paying for this third year of preschool, felt that another year of preschool was what he needed. I made this decision with the input of his preschool teachers, who knew him very well, and from my knowledge of my child; which was that his default was to not participate for reasons that appeared to be a lack of interest but I think more accurately were because he either didn't know how to do things, was unable or uncomfortable asking for help, was very reluctant to try new things, and/or took such a long time to get into something "new" that the rest of the kids were already on to something else. More significantly to me, was how I could see he was making a lot of progress learning how to navigate himself in the social world and the safe, sweet, comfortable tiny school that he knew, was the best place for him to continue on this path a bit longer. If my son had been "ready" socially and emotionally, I would have absolutely opted to enroll him last year, even if he had been the smallest and youngest child in the classroom. The difference between my kid last year and this year is so dramatic. He had that marvelous, magically final year at the Preschool, became hilariously attached to his teachers and buddies, and then was very ready to move on to Kindergarten at the end of the year. Now my son is very engaged in his Kindergarten year, as one of the older children and not the youngest. The transition was ridiculously smooth, he is sailing along, and so many of the things that were once so very difficult for him (speaking up, zippering his coat, remembering to eat, remembering to go to the bathroom, etc.) have all faded away. Doesn't mean there aren't the bumps in the road on occasion, just that he had the time to grow up at his pace- not in a hurry- and the burden of the financial expense of giving him this "extra" time, turned out to be a huge gift for my son. I have friends who made the decision to enroll their four +year olds into Kindergarten on schedule and those who decided to hold out a year and each family appears to have made the right decision for their child. I very much appreciated that the Principal supported the decision I made and am sorry if that support is no longer an option for parents in a similar situation.”

 

More advice, January 2015:

 

Holding a child back can intellectually frustrate them:

"Here is our experience on this topic. Our son has a year end birthday. We considered red shirting him and could have easily done so. But all of his teachers - preschool, pre k discouraged us. They felt he really needed the intellectual stimulation and holding him back would frustrate him. He is now a first grader at Basis, doing 2nd and 3rd grade work and thriving academically and socially. I do worry about middle school , as he is little, but I can tell that if he were in K now he would be losing his mind.
A lot depends on your individual kid but being the oldest can be a detriment as well. Here is our experience on this topic. Our son has a year end birthday. We considered red shirting him and could have easily done so. But all of his teachers - preschool, pre k discouraged us. They felt he really needed the intellectual stimulation and holding him back would frustrate him. He is now a first grader at Basis, doing 2nd and 3rd grade work and thriving academically and socially. I do worry about middle school , as he is little, but I can tell that if he were in K now he would be losing his mind.
A lot depends on your individual kid but being the oldest can be a detriment as well."

 

Many years of pre-school helps prepare children for Kindergarten:

"I wanted to share my experience with my son who has a late October birthday. He is a bright, fun guy who has always been a bit behind socially and emotionally. His fine motor skills are a bit on the slower end especially with actual writing. To be honest, my biggest concern was social/emotional as he is a bit immature and tends to fall apart with criticism (constructive or otherwise) and needs a lot of positive reinforcement to stay on track. He had a great year of public prek and I pushed them to make sure they felt he was ready - they did. He started Kindergarten this year (not without a few bumps) but I am really feeling good about it now. One of the things that helped him tremendously was that he had so many years of preschool (part-time 2s and 3s and full time 4s) which not every kid is lucky enough to have. This allowed him to easily understand the idea of routine, what to do for morning meeting, how to transition from one thing to another, etc. It seemed like the beginning of the year was really getting all the children on the same page (obviously with skill-building as well) but I felt that gave him time to kind of get more on track academically. I can honestly say I never got a representational picture from him at all until this year - last year was circles and lines that were not discernible that he would label as "tractor" or "rocket." All of a sudden he is drawing people and things. He is writing everywhere (not always easy to read - many letters and number backwards) and loves it. He is reading (a little bit) and feeling confident. I think there are many children in his class that are academically ahead of him at this point, but I can see that he will get there and catch up - maybe not this year but in the future for sure. He has also learned behaviorally that he can make mistakes - even big ones - and come back from it. His teachers are willing to give him another chance and that was a big lesson. I really am thrilled (still wish they had more centers and sat less, of course). He is in the ICT class without an IEP and I do think having the 2 teachers is great for him."

 

Save holding your child back for something to do later - when they might really need it:

"I also have a daughter with special needs that has a late December birthday who will go to prek in the fall (which seems amazing to me!). She has a number of special needs which have mostly affected her motor development at this point. I plan on sending her intentionally (whether or not we could get a variance) as I feel we may need that extra year at a later time if things become harder for her and I want to keep that year in my back pocket in case we need to have her repeat. Of course, if her teachers said she absolutely wasn't ready (not the case for either of my kids thus far), I would obviously take that into consideration. I plan on following closely again in prek and seeing what they suggest is best. I hope my experience helps."

 

On the Kindergarten curriculum:

"My daughter, in effect, repeated pre-k and part of kindergarten.  (She is in kindergarten now and is only just getting into new reading and math material.)   She had been in a kindergarten prep class in a day care center in NYC, but we live in a town in NJ that has a hard Oct 31 cutoff and so, with a Nov birthday, she went into pre-k as one of the oldest in her class. My daughter had done very well both socially and curriculum-wise as one of the youngest in her day care kindergarten prep class, and so I was somewhat worried that she'd be bored in her pre-k class in NJ.   (I was not so worried about her progress being stunted - she'll learn to read soon enough.)  She has done totally fine, and she's been very happy in school.  Yes, she was being given a lot of material that she had already had (e.g. pre-reading), but she was not bored with it, and also a good pre-k class is about so much more than that, such as center-based play. And she was exposed to enough new material - e.g. certain science related material. She is also extremely tall for her age, so given that she's also older, she really stands out as WAY taller than most of the kids in her class - that doesn't seem to have been an issue either."

 

One parent regrets not holding their kid back:

"Well I decided to bring on my experience, since my December kid is 17 now. It is to late for this, but I have regretted not holding her back, the primary grades were ok, but by 8th grade, her year older peers were at a different social/emotional level. High School was pretty much a struggle, because her older friends were experimenting with freedoms that she was not yet able to handle. This was detrimental in her academic life ....for self confidence as well!
There is no crystal ball to see how things will turn out, but please consider the teens years."

 

On solutions:

"To [the poster]'s question about what can be done to fix the issue. I can think of two solutions, although neither seems likely. One is to change the cutoff date to Jan. 1 so that all kids entering kindergarten are 5. The other is to advocate for an elementary school curriculum that better reflects the stages of childhood development. Right now the Common Core and testing rule the day and the pressure for results filters all the way down to preschool. When my kids were in private pre-k the teacher told me that the kid needed to learn to write their names so they would be ready for kindergarten. In kindergarten I was told they were getting homework so they would become accustomed to having homework in 1st grade and beyond. These arguments sounded so silly to me -- is there any study that shows that kids who don't write their names in pre-k won't be able to do it in k? Or that giving kids homework when they are too young to have any agency over it prepares them to do homework later in life? It seems to me we are living in a time when what we know to be true about child development is taking a back seat to the political will of people who seem to know or care very little about children or education. I have to hand it to the schools in our neighborhood -- I think they work very hard to meet the kids where they are at while also making sure that their teachers meet their marks in terms of the Common Core and testing. It's a tough balancing act."

 

In some circumstances, you may not have a choice:

"I don't have personal experience with this issue but wanted to add the note that you may not have a choice in the matter unless your child is actually held back while already in the system. A friend held back her son from entering kindergarten for various reasons, keeping him in private prek for an extra year, and when he went to his zoned school, ps 107, they made him enter 1st grade the next year anyway. The principal said she had no choice; she had to go by his birthdate even though technically he had not gone to kindergarten (which is not a mandated grade). So I would definitely check with the school your child will ultimately be attending before deciding to red shirt because it may not make a difference beyond that one year."

 

More advice, May 2017

 

Even if you wanted to red-shirt, NYC DOE might not even allow it:

"I am not 100% sure this is accurate, but I was told that the DOE would put your child in the grade they deem age appropriate until 2nd grade. So if you red shirted your child and even though he/she didn't attend kindergarten the DOE would put him/her in first grade. I was told via a friend that in order to actually red shirt your child would have to be in a private school until 2nd grade, which at that point the DOE wouldn't change their grade. I'm interested in hearing what relies you get! My youngest has a December birthday. I can't imagine sending her into school as a 4 year old even if it's just for the first 3 months."

similarly,

"I am not 100% sure but I am pretty sure that is not permitted. I suggest calling your local school asking to speak to a pupil secretary. They may have the answers you are looking for. All of that being said, there are plenty of kids who start Kindergarten at 4 and yes it is young, but they do great! Good luck with whatever you decide."

 

Consider a combination of private and public school:

"I think you have to enter him now if you want him to do kindergarten. (I'm pretty sure you don't have to do kindergarten.) If you wait, I believe he will be put into 1st grade next year. But I don't know for sure! I would call the DOE to find out. I think if you go public, yes, you have to enroll. Our son with a Nov 16th birthday will also be 4 when he starts K in Sept which is super young but we have gotten comfortable with it over the past 6 months of school tours, talking with his current preschool teachers, etc. If you can, you can check out Greene Hill school where your child would be in a 4s program. It's an awesome place and has flexible tuition rates. Or Co-op school also has a 4's program and low tuition/assistance.
It is very very difficult. If your son has an IEP (which requires a diagnosis) you can sue the City for pendency (which will cost you 5K or so) and keep your son in pre school with city services. Even then, there is a high risk that the City would put him in 1st grade the next year (a few schools reportedly are willing to make exceptions, but most don't). The City does this to discourage parents from red shirting. (The policy justification is that mostly only wealthy parents red shirt, so the practice was exacerbating inequities between rich and poor).
However, you can also put your child in private school for 2 years, and then put him back into the public system in first grade. Reportedly, if you have been out of the system for 2 years, they City will put not penalize you by putting your child ahead of where he should be. Private schools usually have a Sept 1 cut off, so your son would automatically be in pre-k next year in that system.
I have a son with a mild learning disability and a Dec birthday. I did a lot of research. In the end, we put him in a mainstream private school, so he is in pre-k instead of k. We will stay for at least two years.
Also, there are a reasonable number of kids who repeat kindergarten. From my research, most people were happy with this option. So, if your son were to start kindergarten and the teacher felt he was not ready for first grade, he could stay. It is reportedly done often enough that there is little stigma.

 similarly,

"You can do private school with an early cut off (so your kid is on the older end) until your kid is through kindergarten at the private school, and then when you go to the local school, they won't put the kid in second grade bc they won't have completed first. Expensive solution and I will warn you that once you experience private school and friendships are established it is very hard to go back. I'm on my seventh year of private school tuition with my late December boy myself and looking at at least another 3-7 years :). Worth every penny. Good luck making a decision and happy to discuss if you want - all my old posts are on the yahoo page too...
You can keep him out for K and pay for another year of preschool, but when he enters public school he has to go straight into first grade."

 

Another suggestion for private school: 

"I'm a public school teacher. It is not allowed in public schools. They basically put your child into the grade based on the year they are born. For example, a kid who is 5 turning 6 in the fall would be placed in first grade, even if they never did kindergarten, because of the birth year. Your best bet would be private school where the cut offs are different. Hope that helps, though not what you want to hear."

similarly,

"You can't red shirt in NYC public schools you have to start k the calendar year your child turns 5. I think in private school you can do what ever you want. My kids are fall babies too (twins) they are entering k this fall and are in upk now. Since it's a hard rule many kids in their class are their age and younger."

 

Go for it if you can:

"My son is now 13, born mid-Dec, and we pulled him back at the beginning of 1st grade. I have never regretted it. Now in 7th grade, and doing great (confident with 99 average), but he is still small for his age and I would say far better off being on the older end rather than youngest. However, it's an individual thing and he was clearly less mature as a 5 yo first grader, and the teacher and Asst. Principal at the time agreed. It was PS 321. I would hope it can be done when needed on an individual basis."

 

Try homeschooling instead:

"We are a homeschooling family and my understanding, based on when we need to start submitting paperwork, is that no child is required to be enrolled/registered until they are 6 years old, depending on their birthday. Compulsory schooling age in NYC is 6-17. Seems to me that you have an extra year before needing to enroll your child. I'm quite confident about this but getting a straight answer from the DOE is always a challenge!"

 similarly,

"I don't know too much about all the logistics but a neighbor of mine actually moved away because they wanted to keep their child home for another year and couldn't do it within the NYC DOE. I think they even tried school but within a couple weeks they thought otherwise. I think if they wanted to keep their child home, they would have do a bunch of paperwork to show he was receiving some kind of education. I googled it because I was curious since redshirting was common in years past. As a teacher, I totally understand the need for it and am a little confused as to why NYC uses the cutoff calendar it does. Anyway, if you decide to redshirt him maybe you should connect with the homeschooling community for support."

 

You can always repeat kindergarten twice, if you feel your child will benefit:

"I'm going to share my son's experience with you and hopefully it will be useful to you.
My son's birthday is November 30th and he was born 3 weeks premature so the school issue of delaying kindergarten was very pertinent to us. My son emotionally didn't seem ready . And he is physically much smaller than other kids plus at the start of kindergarten he didn't have the dexterity to grasp a pencil . He would grasp it in a fist .
I spoke to many parents and read forums and found out delaying kindergarten wasn't an option at all for public school.
However ... once you enter school there are things you can do ... like letting your child repeat kindergarten so he catches up age wise with other kids .
A mom told me ' just don't hand in homework and say your child can't do it ' as a means of getting the teacher and school to consider letting your kid repeat the year.
Another mom mentioned the school did not respond to her pleas for her son to repeat the year despite her informing them that her son had a developmental disability ( he was born with a condition where he is physically the size of a 4 year old even at age 8) She ended up having to bring the matter up to the then Education chancellor and eventually she got the school to let her son repeat the year.
I personally didn't go that route with our son because even though he struggled a lot in kindergarten my gut feeling was that he would be able to catch up as he does love learning and
We have an older very academic daughter so perhaps that helped motivate him . Also at the end of last year I went to the principal to request a nurturing classroom and he was put into an Inclusion class with three amazing supportive , caring and nurturing teachers. This year with all the great support at First grade my son 's self confidence grew and we noticed his reading, writing , social development has increased by leaps and bounds."

 

Further resources:

"I help edit Understood.org, a free, nonprofit digital resource for parents whose children have learning and attention issues. We have a section called "Decision Guide" that includes key questions to ask if you're debating whether to start kindergarten now or wait a year. It might not make sense to redshirt a child for academic reasons. But redshirting for social reasons might make sense. Every child is unique, and hindsight is always 20/20, but it sounds like you're getting good advice from your son's teachers."

 

More reading on the web:

Youngest Kid, Smartest Kid via New Yorker

and

Can your Kid Hack it in Kindergarten? via Slate.com 

 

Further Reading on Park Slope Parents:

Parents' advice about holding their child back a year

Education Advice: The Process

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