CITY HALL — Chicago Public Schools is scrambling to deliver acceptances — and rejections — for selective-enrollment high schools this week, after the mayor's opponents said the schools were playing politics in potentially delaying word until after the election.
CPS previously has set Feb. 20 as the date for notices to be sent out in the highly competitive process of issuing acceptances and rejections to the city's 11 selective-enrollment high schools.
After DNAinfo Chicago reported a potential delay Tuesday, the school district insisted it will get the job done on time.
"Chicago Public Schools is making every effort to inform students and parents of the status of their high school applications, and our expectation is that the letters will be issued as planned on Friday," said CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey late Tuesday.
The date had been eagerly anticipated by thousands of parents and students waiting to hear whether they would get one of the coveted spots at schools including Whitney Young Magnet, Walter Payton and Northside College Prep high schools, among others.
But CPS' Web page of frequently asked questions on the process suddenly stated this week that "notification letters will be mailed to your home in late February."
Ted Cox explains why the mayor's opponents are crying foul:
McCaffrey said earlier Tuesday the threatened delay was caused by the district addressing not just selective-enrollment high schools, but also magnet schools, military academies and International Baccalaureate programs. He said more than 50,000 letters would go out to CPS families, and "it is imperative that these letters contain accurate information."
According to McCaffrey, the district changed this year from having temporary workers aid the process, to "contracting with an outside vendor to handle the printing of letters and packaging of information."
He said that was tied to the district's recent shift of headquarters and space limitations in the new building.
"While we have full faith in the vendor to handle this assignment, we are going to audit the responses to ensure the information is correct," McCaffrey said. "As such, we may not be able to mail letters on Friday, Feb. 20, as planned, but we will work to get letters out as quickly as possible."
Yet McCaffrey said later in the day the district would make every effort to meet that deadline.
That was after candidates challenging Mayor Rahm Emanuel in next Tuesday's municipal election said they weren't buying it. They accused the administration of playing politics with schools.
"This is a serious accusation," Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago) said. "It deserves a response. Families are already subjected to unreasonable pressure in trying to get their students into the selective-enrollment schools. Each year, thousands of qualified students are turned away, because there are not enough seats."
"I'm not surprised," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). "Especially before an election."
Fioretti cited figures showing a year ago that CPS received 16,826 applications for 3,200 freshman slots at selective-enrollment high schools, with Walter Payton College Prep the toughest to test into.
"Rahm and the aldermen, all the ones that sided with him, are the ones people are gonna make sure they vote no on," he said, in the case of frustrated parents whose children are left out of the process. "Rahm and the administration are very clever here," Fioretti added. "It's another way to show he's controlling the CPS and shows that it's not independent. This is just about politics."
Garcia echoed that, saying the majority of students who apply for selective-enrollment schools end up frustrated.
"That will end when I'm mayor, because we will invest in educating all students," he added, "The lack of seats for qualified gifted students is only one example of [the administration's] neglect."
One parent, posting on a website Tuesday, said: "I hope this doesn't mean that they'll be delayed. My kid's anxiety level is through the roof as it is."
"How frustrating and maddening for families," said Jennie Biggs, a Bridgeport CPS parent and member of the grassroots group Raise Your Hand. "This is such a stressful time and with so much uncertainty in front of them, parents and students will not be happy with this news."
Biggs said she had posted the news on Facebook, and received comments from fellow parents calling the delay "absurd."
Rachel Azz speculated "this may have the reverse effect than they anticipated."
"It's very disturbing that the mayor and CPS may be manipulating something as high-stakes as this is for the students waiting for information," said Cassie Creswell, of More Than a Score. "The level of stress the admissions process places on children is completely inappropriate. I have heard the 'Hunger Games' analogy many times from both parents and youth, and frankly it's very apt.
"Whether an extra week or more will make a difference in families' decisions, extending students' stress and uncertainty in hopes of manipulating a political outcome is just callous.
"It clearly demonstrates that mayoral control of the schools does not take the politics out of running our school system and that this mayor is certainly not 'doing it for the kids.'"
In a Facebook post when the delivery was still in doubt, Scott Walker wrote in a Facebook post: "For what it's worth, I have already completed my early voting, so can my daughter's letter be sent?"
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