Two weeks into the city's new online application system for children entering kindergarten in September, there is some confusion about how it works. We don't have all the answers to parents' questions, but here's what we know so far. 

Q: My child is turning five years old in 2014. How do I sign him up for school? 

This year the city began a new kindergarten application system called Kindergarten Connect. Between Jan. 13 and Feb. 14 you may apply online, by telephone at 718-935-2400 from 8 am to 6 pm Monday-Friday or in person at a Department of Education enrollment office. There is one application and you may list up to 20 schools.


Q. Can't I just go to my neighborhood school?  

A: Not just yet. During the initial application period you cannot sign your child up in person at your zoned school, although school personnel are supposed to help you figure out how to use the system and answer your questions.

Q: What if I miss the deadline?

A: If you miss the Feb. 14 online deadline, you can go to an enrollment center and apply. You may still be able to apply by phone (the DOE hasn't made made that clear yet.) After the DOE makes kindergarten offers in early April, the admissions process will revert to the schools. At that time, you may apply directly at your zoned school.

Q: What's a zoned school and how do I know what my zoned school is? 

A: The city is divided into 32 districts. The districts are divided into geographic zones. Each of these areas has an elementary school that serves the zone. To find your zoned school, enter your address into the search box on the DOE's website: or call 311. There are three exceptions: Districts 1 (Lower East Side), 7 (South Bronx) and 23 (East New York) no longer have zoned schools. Parents apply to any school in the district. 

Q: Twenty schools is a lot of schools. How many should I apply to and how do I rank them?

A: Keep in mind your child will only be accepted by one school on that list. Only apply to the schools that you know you'd like your child to attend. In reality, most families end up attending their zoned school and that's where you have priority in admissions. (See the listing of priority in admissions on each school page in your borough's elementary school directory). Rank the schools in order of your preference, but know that most of the very popular, over-subscribed schools will not accept any students from outside of the zone. But, you don't lose anything by listing it on your application.

Q: I've heard that the schools in my neighborhood are overcrowded? Am I guaranteed a seat?

A: Except for a few very overcrowded school zones, most schools have space for all their zoned students. There may be a waitlist early in the spring if there are more applicants than seats but in most schools, the waitlist clears by June as students accept seats in other schools or move. Rezoning over the past few years has taken care of some, although not all, overcrowding in schools. Pockets remain in areas such as downtown Manhattan or Sunset Park in Brooklyn. New schools have opened to help alleviate overcrowding. Here's the link to a list of schools opening in September.

Q. We'd be fine if our child went to our zoned school but we'd like to apply to some other schools also. If we put say 5 schools ahead of our zoned school on the application, and we are not accepted by any of them, is there a chance that we would not get into the zoned school?

A: You have priority at your zoned school no matter where you list it on the application. 

Q: How do I know whether whether a school is good or not?

A: Our advice: visit any school you are considering applying to. Most offer tours. The DOE has a partial list of tours ongoing now, otherwise check school websites or call the parent coordinator. Watch our video "What to look for on a school tour". Read our school profiles and take a look at the comments section to see what others have to say about the school. Additional data will be available for every elementary school later this week in our new InsideStats section. Look beyond the test scores – there are many other important indicators of success.

Q: What if I don't get accepted at any school?

A: You are guaranteed admission to kindergarten if your child was born in 2009. If you don't get accepted at any school on your list, you will be assigned to your zoned school (or in unzoned districts, a school in your district). If your zoned school is overcrowded, the DOE enrollment office will assign you to a different school. In addition, you will be put on waitlists for schools you ranked ahead of the school that admits your child.  You can stay on the waitlist until October.

Q: What are my chances at getting accepted at a zoned school if I don't live in the school's zone?

A: That depends on where you live. If it's a very popular, or overcrowded, school, your chances are slim to none. Check the elementary school directory to see if the school accepted any out of zone children last year. That will give you a sense of your chances of acceptance -- although it's not 100 percent accurate.

Q: If I am persistent and keep waiting it out and let the school know I'm interested, will my chances be any better?

A: We'd like to say yes, but that's not always the case. It's the DOE's enrollment office, not the school, that decides whether a school can accept out of zone students. A parent coordinator at a popular Upper East Side School told us that although the school opened an extra kindergarten class to accommodate waitlisted students, the school was not allowed to accept out of zone students even when they had space. Her advice: "I tell parents, 'you really need to move to our zone' if you want a space. You can't count on the waitlist." In other schools, including brand new schools, your chances of getting in off of a waitlist might be better.

Q: What are unzoned schools?

A: There are some schools in every borough that are unzoned and accept students via lottery or another system. You can search for unzoned schools on Insideschools. The directories also lists non-zoned schools but you'll have to look on each school's page to see its admissions priority and whether it has a zone. Most -- but not all -- unzoned schools give preference to district residents.

Q: What about charter schools? How do I apply to those?

A: Charter schools are public schools that are operated independently of the DOE. You can't apply to charter schools on Kindergarten Connect. You need to submit your application to those schools directly, or via an online common application for some of them. The deadline for applying is April 1. Charter schools hold lotteries to determine who gets accepted. Siblings of current students get priority in admission, as do residents of the district where the charter is located. You may get accepted to a charter school and to a regular DOE school and then decide between the two.

Q: My child took the gifted & talented exam. Do I rank those schools on Kindergarten Connect?

A: No. You must wait until you find out whether your child qualifies for a G&T program before applying to the specific schools that offer them. Be aware that many more children qualify for G&T than there are seats available. You'll find out in April whether your child qualified for a program. You then apply to programs but you won't find out until June if your child has secured a place. At that point you decide which school he will attend.

Q: I am applying for a dual language Spanish/English program. How do schools determine whether my son is actually fluent in Spanish?

A: Schools will have an opportunity to see which applicants are matched with the dual language program. It's up to the schools to verify language fluency in March, before offer letters are sent out to families in early April. Dual language programs are supposed to enroll 50 percent native English speakers and 50 percents students native speakers of the other language. It doesn't always work out that way especially as neighborhood populations change. Some programs do have space for students from out of zone who are native speakers of a language other than English. That's a question to ask when you visit the school.

Q: My child has special needs but we haven't had our Turning Five meeting yet which will determine his IEP (Individualized Education Program.) Should we apply now anyway?

A: Yes! The DOE is encouraging every student entering kindergarten in September to apply now. The school that admits your child is expected to implement your child's IEP, unless your child's IEP recommends a specialized (District 75) school or a specialized program in a community school such as ASD Nest/Horizon. If the school that admits your child does not have the type of class or services listed on your child's IEP, you are encouraged to e-mail the DOE at [email protected]. You can copy Advocates for Children at [email protected] on your e-mail to the DOE so that AFC can track parents' concerns and the DOE's responses, according to Randi Levine, a staff lawyer at AFC. For more help, you might want to call the Education Helpline at 1-866-427-6033.

More questions? See the DOE's website, watch a video here or email [email protected]. See Advocates' kindergarten guide here.

Or, ask your questions below and we'll do our best to answer.