Ed Note: Parents of prospective pre-K and kindergarten students had lots of questions at the Feb. 8 Insideschools forum at the New School. There wasn’t time to answer each one individually, so we grouped together similar questions and Judy will answer them. Here, she tackles questions about schools that may not have enough room for all zoned students.
Q: My child falls into the second priority for admission to kindergarten. Within this second priority how is admissions decided? Is it first-come first-served, random, or based on our actual address? Of course, we would be crushed if our child had to be waitlisted as a zoned child so I am wondering what we can do to increase our chances.
The Department of Education has established priority guidelines for all children applying to kindergarten. These are outlined on the DOE’s website and in the new Elementary School Directory. First priority goes to zoned students whose siblings will be enrolled in grades K-5 in September 2012. Second priority goes to zoned students who don't have siblings enrolled in the school – your situation.
The reality is that most zoned schools do have space for all zoned students. In the instances when they do not, kindergarten slots are decided by a random lottery for each priority group. They are not decided on a first-come, first-served basis.
For example, if there are more zoned siblings than spots, there is a lottery among that group of siblings. Of course if there are slots left after siblings are placed, then the next group, zoned kids without siblings, is placed. And so on down the priority list.
Call the parent coordinator to find out how many zoned siblings she anticipates will enroll and the number of kindergarten slots. Or ask that question when you visit the school for a tour or open house. The system is supposed to be open and fair so I can't recommend any way to increase your chances – and all addresses are considered equal within the zone. But, as Clara Hemphill said at the Insideschools forum, waiting lists open up during the spring and summer and often all zoned kids are placed by September. If not, they are assigned a seat in a nearby school - all kids are guaranteed a spot in a public school kindergarten.
There may be a bright spot in this round of kindergarten admissions. Admissions policy is spelled out in a Chancellor’s regulation, A-101. A revised version, to be voted on at the March 1 meeting of the Panel for Education Policy (PEP), says that zoned schools have the obligation to accommodate all zoned students and that all available space must be used to accommodate them.
As a result, there could be a better chance this year that more zoned kids will attend their zoned schools. Of course there is a downside – to make space for them all, some extra programs such as gifted and talented or dual language could be scrapped at some schools. Or the school could lose a “specialty” room – say for art, science or music, to make space for additional classrooms.
Q: What happens if your child is denied access to your zoned school? What are the options?
A: Your district is required to offer you a seat in another school. If you an opening occurs laterat your zoned school, you can take that seat, or choose to stay at the other school. You can return to your zoned school for 1st grade, providing there is space.
Q: If my child doesn't get into my zoned school and is assigned to another neighorhood school, is transportation provided?
A: Yes, as long as your residence is located one-half mile or more from the school. The DOE has a formula for providing busing which is based on age and distance from home. You can read it on the Office of Pupil Transportation website.
Q: For schools with waitlists, how is the waitlist decided?
Waitlist priorities are the same as the original priority list. All the names are pulled, even if all students cannot be placed initially. The results of the lottery determine the waitlist and you will be told where you stand.
Q: What do you recommend parents do while waiting it out?
A: While on the waiting list, keep in touch with the school to check on your status. Even if you accept an alternate school offered by the enrollment office, you can investigate other possibilities. The enrollment office should have information on schools with openings. If you suspect now that there may be overcrowding in your zoned school, apply to other schools as well. You can apply to as many schools as you wish, including unzoned, gifted & talented and charter schools. Remember, applications are due by March 2.
Good luck to all!