WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Parents and staff at uptown elementary schools say the Department of Education has kept them in the dark about the city's new online kindergarten application deadline, leading several schools to schedule tours after the date has passed.
Kindergarten applications were traditionally due in the first week of March. This year the Department of Education brought the deadline forward to February as part of its new Kindergarten Connect process, which allows families to apply online and by phone rather than in person.
That shift has thrown off the usual schedule of school tours, confusing school administrators and making it harder for families to learn about their options, parents and teachers said at a community meeting last week.
"The timeline has shifted," said an assistant principal at one uptown elementary school, declining to provide her name for fear of angering the DOE.
"Now [applications] are due mid-February, but schools haven't been told that. So that's why schools are scheduling tours later on, because they don't have that information.
"So parents are going to be touring after the deadline for admissions."
The assistant principal first heard about the new enrollment process in late October, when the DOE's enrollment office called to ask if she had questions about it.
"I can't ask questions if I've never seen a webinar or attended a workshop," the assistant principal said.
Hudson Heights mom Allison James, who organized a kindergarten fair with a presentation on the new system, said she was surprised that schools didn't have more information about it.
"A lot of schools found out from me when I called them about the kindergarten fair," James said.
Several parents said at a Nov. 7 community meeting that they had called schools to ask about tours this fall only to be told tours weren't being held until February or March — some of them after the new application deadline.
"If this hasn't been coordinated with school tours, how can you make an educated decision?" said Anastasia O'Malley, an uptown mom.
A DOE spokesman confirmed to DNAinfo New York this week that the deadline for applications had been pushed up to February, but did not give an exact date.
The DOE has positioned Kindergarten Connect as a way to streamline the elementary school application process by letting parents fill out a single application instead of several at individual schools.
Parents can rank up to 20 programs — including a school's dual-language and general education programs — and the system will then match kids with schools based on admissions priorities, including school zones.
Families will receive kindergarten offers in April and may be waitlisted at schools higher on their list if space is not available.
Students will continue to have priority at their zoned schools, as will students with siblings at a school or those who attended pre-K at the school they are applying to, the DOE said.
The benefit of Kindergarten Connect, DOE representative Daniel Hildreth told parents at last week's meeting, is that it eliminates a situation in which some families could receive multiple kindergarten offers while other families received none.
But some parents were wary of the new system, saying they were confused about how the city would decide which children would get offers to what schools.
"I don't know if you submit your ticket to the Great Oz and then he decides," Hudson Heights dad David Crowder-Sklar said, adding that he was going through the application process for the first time.
Several parents said they were concerned that getting only one kindergarten offer would cut down on their kids' options and force them to make decisions earlier in the process, rather than waiting until the spring to make a final choice.
"As a parent, you still have to go through that hard choice of deciding where your child will go," Crowder-Sklar said. "Only this new system forces you to do that now, through the prioritization of schools on your application."