NEW YORK CITY — Offers of coveted gifted and talented spots have been put on hold after a lawsuit challenging the Department of Education's methodology was filed.
It's the latest glitch in this year's admissions process. Applications have already been delayed twice after multiple scoring errors by testing giant Pearson.
Now offers are on hold until at least June 7, when the four parents who filed a lawsuit against the DOE, are due back in Manhattan Supreme Court for arguments.
The parents — two of whom had children with perfect scores — claimed that the admissions process was flawed in the way it calculated student eligibility and in giving priority to siblings of current students, a practice designed to keep families together.
After siblings are placed, the rest of those who qualify are entered into a lottery.
Though the DOE initially announced it would discontinue the sibling practice this year and also said it would use composite scores for placement — meaning students with perfect scores would get slots first, followed by those with one error and so on — the department later reversed course.
The parents' lawsuit alleges that the education department bowed to political pressure when going back on the promised reforms.
"It's discriminatory against people who only have one child or parents who have a gifted child and a not gifted child," said Stewart Karlin, the lawyer for the parents. "That's not the way Bronx Science or Stuyvesant High School do it."
With more than 2,560 kids qualifying for the 99th percentile, competition is fierce for the roughly 300 seats in the five elite citywide G&T programs — where a score in the 97th percentile or above is needed.
Under the DOE's policy, however, a sibling who scores in the 97th percentile has priority over another student who scores in the 99th percentile.
This outraged many parents of high-scoring children since it could mean a difference of 20 errors, they said.
"The low admission standard under the current percentile ranking system has not served children's best interests," a parent, who started a petition against the sibling rule, wrote to the judge hearing the case in support of the lawsuit.
This parent's son scored in the 99th percentile but didn’t win the lottery.
"At the beginning of kindergarten, he was able to read chapter books and add and subtract numbers," she wrote. "However, he had to sit through classes going over 'ABC' and counting from 1 to 5 with other children. As a result, he has lost interest in school."
Gennady Z., a parent of a 5-year-old who scored in the 99th percentile, was disheartened when he heard during the tours of NEST+m and the Brooklyn School of Inquiry that 20 percent of seats would go to siblings.
"It's frustrating knowing that the probability is roughly around 4 percent," said the Gravesend resident, who was not part of the lawsuit but applauded it.
James Vignone, a parent of a 4-year-old girl — an only child who scored in the 99th percentile — is not part of the lawsuit but also supported its arguments.
"You get a 99 anywhere else, and they roll out the red carpet," said Vignone, 35, an Upper East Sider who works in finance. "There's something fundamentally wrong here. My wife and I figured that by the time preschool wrapped up we'd know where we'd be sending our daughter to school."
His apartment's lease is up in July, and he's not sure whether he'll keep his family in New York.
"I'm seriously considering leaving because of the uncertainty and the way they handled this," regarding reversing course with the composite scores and sibling priority, he said.
"I realize it's one exam, and I'm not saying my daughter is a genius or the next Einstein," Vignone said. " But I don't feel like in a gen education program [her abilities] are going to be recognized or fostered."
The judge gave the DOE the go-ahead to begin matching students to programs even though letters can't be sent out.
"DOE has a mathematically sound and even-handed system for assessing gifted and talented students, and we will continue to assert that the claims raised lack merit," Carolyn Kruk, of the city's Law Department, said in a statement.