TWEED COURTHOUSE — Frustrated parents and advocates from across the city took to the steps of the Department of Education headquarters Thursday afternoon to demand a delay of the controversial Kindergarten Connect online application system, set to launch in early 2014.
Joined by Manhattan Borough President-Elect Gale Brewer, as well as City Councilmen Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez, the parents described the new system as a "ticking time bomb" that would erupt right as the city's incoming mayor assumes office.
They claim the online application was introduced without enough community feedback and could confuse users transitioning to the new system.
"We call on Mayor-Elect [Bill] de Blasio to pull the brakes on Kindergarten Connect so that the families of New York City are not pushed into chaos and confusion in this new year," said Victoria Frye, a parent member of the District 6 Community Education Council in Northern Manhattan.
The Department of Education has pitched Kindergarten Connect as a way to streamline the application process for parents, allowing families to fill out one centralized application instead of having to apply to each school separately. The DOE also said the new system will make the application process fairer, eliminating situations in which some children receive offers to multiple schools while others receive none and are wait-listed.
But some parents have criticized the system, saying that it was introduced without community input. They noted that information materials for the system are only printed in English, and that many schools and Head Start programs haven't been trained on the system.
"It appears as if the Department of Education is trying to move this forward before 12-31-13 in order to have this for their legacy," said Jackson, chairman of the City Council's education committee. "But this is set up for failure down the road."
Coupled with the new system, the DOE pushed kindergarten application deadlines up to Feb. 14. The new deadline is two weeks earlier than the traditional date of the first week of March , and several parents and teachers said the deadlines caught them off guard. In fact, several parents said in November that elementary schools in uptown's District 6 weren't scheduling tours until late February and early March, before the old deadline but after the new one.
DOE officials responded to the claims Thursday afternoon, saying that that the department has been in touch with schools since August about the changes and has asked several schools to schedule tours earlier.
And while the system wasn't piloted in zoned districts, the DOE officials said Kindergarten Connect will not change the existing zoned admissions criteria.
Countering the CEC's claims, DOE officials added that parents without internet access or non-English speakers will be able to call a help line or drop in to one of thirteen different enrollment offices around the city to get assistance with the application. Materials for the application process will be made available in nine different languages, officials said, and help line or enrollment office visitors will be able to receive assistance in over 150 languages.
A representative for de Blasio did not immediately comment.