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CPS Offers No Recourse in Application Mix-up: 'Not a Glitch on Our End'

By Ted Cox | March 3, 2015 2:38pm
 CPS parents talk about a meeting with district officials Tuesday.
CPS parents talk about a meeting with district officials Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — About 20 parents, shocked that their children's applications to selective-enrollment schools hadn't been received and that they weren't notified until the process was complete, met with Chicago Public Schools officials Tuesday.

"They wanted to make sure that we knew we were being heard," said Meghan O'Callaghan outside CPS headquarters following the meeting.

Yet, aside from one CPS official promising to take the the issue to Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district made no indication it was budging on the matter, and CPS officials told the media there was no movement on the controversy.

"This is not a glitch on our end," said CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey. "This was not a snafu."

 West Edgewater parent Catherine McHenry said she was never informed of any problem with her child's application.
West Edgewater parent Catherine McHenry said she was never informed of any problem with her child's application.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"This is not our mistake," he added.

According to McCaffrey, CPS received more than 80,000 completed applications for various selective-enrollment programs for next fall, from 5-year-olds seeking a slot in a magnet school to eighth-graders looking for a space in one of the 11 selective-enrollment high schools, as well as International Baccalaureate and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs.

McCaffrey insisted 1,271 families had been informed their applications were incomplete, and that 446 of those went on to complete their applications.

Yet that was small solace to the more than 800 other families who were simply rejected in the end, many of whom insisted they had completed the process and never been warned of a problem.

A group of those parents met with CPS officials Tuesday morning.

"We all intended to apply," said West Edgewater parent Catherine McHenry after the meeting. "We all thought we applied. No one notified us as to any discrepancy."

McHenry said many told the same story: that they had been contacted with a CPS robocall warning of the deadline to apply, but checked off the list of things to do as already done and thought they were finished with the process.

"None of the robocalls or emails ever indicated that there was an error or problem with a particular application," said O'Callaghan, a Bucktown parent trying to get her daughter into a first-grade program.

According to McHenry, the parents were told part of the problem was that CPS went to a two-part process in which a child had to schedule a test and then apply separately to the schools he or she was trying to get into.

"I did both," insisted McHenry, "but I was not aware they didn't have my application. I received no letter, no email, no specific phone call.

"I was under the assumption I had applied," she added.

McHenry said her son, trying to test into one of six classical and gifted elementary schools, had even taken the test. Then two weeks ago, she said she received a letter from CPS thanking the student for taking the test, but adding, "We're not going to score you, since you didn't submit the application."

"That was the first time that I knew about this," she said.

O'Callaghan echoed that. "I had scheduled the test, and I thought I had selected schools, but apparently I had not made a school selection or I had and it didn't go through," she said. "Nothing was ever communicated to me that my application was incomplete."

The question is what happens from here.

"We are suggesting to CPS that the communication is flawed," McHenry said of the meeting. "The website could be improved."

"My understanding is that they heard our concerns and are considering our stories," O'Callaghan said. "I don't know if it's indeed under consideration or not.

"They did not suggest they were moving one way or another," she added. "They suggested they may be considering it, but there was absolutely nothing to suggest which way they were leaning."

Other parents said they were struck by how the group had presented themselves as meticulous, committed, responsible parents who were diplomatically trying to make their case for some sort of reconsideration, but that they decided not to talk with the media afterward out of fears aggravating CPS would only weaken their appeal and steel CPS against any sort of compromise.

McCaffrey said, at this point, the disappointed parents were welcome to apply for any spots left open at the end of the process, adding, "Not every school is always filled."

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