New pre-k policy baffles some parents – QNS.com

New pre-k policy baffles some parents

Parents beware! Do not take it for granted that you can simply send your kids to the schools to which they are zoned.
Michele Bacharier recently discovered that her daughter could not go to pre-kindergarten at the school she is zoned for because no seats are available.
Over the past few days, parents who applied in April to enroll their children in public school pre-k programs have been hearing from the Department of Education (DOE) on whether their children were admitted.
This spring, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein implemented a new pre-k enrollment policy that has allowed more parents to apply for the seats of any public school pre-k program. Under the new policy, parents can easily apply for up to five schools at a time, sending their applications to the DOE, which assigns the spots.
In the past, each principal distributed their school’s slots. In addition, applying to several schools simultaneously was harder because of the different application criteria for each school. The new policy requires all schools to have the same admission requirements.
Despite the convenience of multiple submissions, Bacharier applied to three schools, rather than five, thinking she had a good chance because her daughter was zoned for her first choice - P.S. 205 in Bayside. Her other two choices were also local schools. Nevertheless, Bacharier’s daughter got into none - all the seats were taken.
“You go to your neighborhood school only to find out, no, you can’t come here,” she said.
It is unclear why Bacharier’s daughter was rejected given that the DOE gives priority to students applying to their zoned schools.
In-district students applying to a school they are not zoned for get less priority, followed by out-of-borough applicants, according to the DOE.
However, within each of these categories, siblings of students already enrolled at a school have the highest priority.
When the number of applicants who meet the same criteria exceeds the number of seats available, admission is determined through a lottery.
There was a need for this new system. The old one favored only those parents who knew how to navigate a maze of pre-k programs with different admission requirements, explained Marty Barr, executive director for elementary school enrollment in the office of student enrollment, which assigned the pre-k seats.
There are still not enough public school pre-k seats for all the students in the city; however, the new system provides the same admission information to all parents and all schools are open to all kids, Barr explained. Therefore, the new system is fairer, he said.
“How is that fair?” said Bacharier, pointing out that children not zoned for her first-choice school were admitted, while her daughter was not.
Bacharier said she doubts that all the seats at P.S. 205 - and at the other two schools she applied to - were assigned to siblings.
Six out of the 36 pre-k seats available at P.S. 205 went to children not zoned for the school, admitted principal Susan Sherer.
Douglas Baker, whose daughter did not get a seat either, also considers the new system unfair.
A resident of Jamaica Estates, Baker applied to only one school - P.S. 178. He thought he had a good chance because his daughter is zoned for it.
He chose the school because of its great reputation. In addition, taking his daughter to other schools would have been hard because he walks with a cane and finds driving difficult. To emphasize the importance of proximity, Baker included a doctor’s note about his disability in his application.
“I’m one block away; I put in a doctor’s note; I told myself, ‘I’ll get some compassion.’”
Instead, he got disappointment. “You shouldn’t feel like you have to hit the lottery to send your child to school one block away, to the school she’s zoned for,” Baker explained.
The parents whose children did get an assignment have until June 13 to pre-register or they will be dropped, said Barr.
At the end of the month, a second application round will take place, allowing parents to reapply to the schools that rejected them, said Barr. This time they might get the seats because someone may give them up for spots at other schools, Barr explained.
“Do I have to sit on the hope that someone might give up their seat?” Bacharier said. “I don’t think I’ll participate. To get rejected again?”
In addition, Bacharier said she does not want to wait till the end of the summer to find out where her daughter will go.
She said she will probably send her to a private school, which will cost her about $6,000 a year. “I’m not going to leave my child ignorant,” Bacharier explained.
The number of parents who are upset constitutes only a small percentage of applicants, said Barr. According to preliminary data, about 80 percent of the parents got an assignment and out of those, about 90 percent got their first choices, Barr explained.
This, of course, is hardly any solace to Bacharier. “Our children turned into guinea pigs this year,” she said.
“I’m afraid for kindergarten. I don’t want to go through this again,” she added, referring to Klein’s plan to implement the same policy for kindergarten next year.

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