The Education Department is taking some steps to address the city's annual pile of nightmare stories about kindergarten enrollment. But the underlying issue of too many kids for the number of seats in some neighborhoods will persist.
First up, the DOE may close "non-mandatory" programs at schools that cannot find spots for all of their zoned students. "It is the primary obligation of zoned schools to serve zoned students," the proposed wording reads. While no specifics are offered, it is likely that gifted and talented programs and dual language programs may disappear from some packed schools. This year PS 153 in Maspeth, Queens, which had close to 30 kids on its kindergarten waitlist last March, is no longer accepting kindergarteners into its G and T program.
The DOE may eliminate some pre-kindergarten programs to make way for kindergarten classes. Last year packed PS 107 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was forced to get rid of its only pre-k class after its initial kindergarten waitlist hit close to 50 zoned kids.
The DOE also wants to change what happens to students if they do get bumped from their zoned school. Those children will get priority for any openings at their local school for first grade the following year. Still, they are not guaranteed a spot in their zoned school.
Some of the proposed changes also read as a warning to school leaders. Schools must serve all of their zoned kindergarteners, space permitting, regardless of when they register. This clarification is presumably addressed to those instances where schools have turned away parents, telling them there is no room, in favor of out of zoned students who registered early.
Also, it is now only the Office of Enrollment that can decide whether a non-zoned student can be admitted before one who is zoned, in special circumstances such as admission to a dual language program or a program aimed at autistic students.
In addition, any student who is bumped out of his or her zoned school can bump other students who could have gone to their zoned school but chose to enroll at another school instead.
The city is trying to cope with a significant problem. There were more than 3,000 kids on kindergarten waitlists last March, up from 2,000 the year before, although the list thinned down significantly by the start of the school year.
DOE officials also want to tweak the pre-kindergarten enrollment process, giving priority to students who are zoned for the school before those who have siblings in the building but are out of zone. Even as some pre-k slots go unused, more parents are applying for coveted full-day slots. Last year more than 28,000 kids applied but only 68% got spots, down from 72% the year before.
The changes to Chancellor's Regulation A-101 will be voted on at the February 9 meeting of the Panel on Educational Policy (PEP).