UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Education creates an "absurd" information gap by not telling parents where their children fall on elementary school waitlists, a system that must get revised immediately, education leaders argued.
In recent years, several of the Upper West Side's elementary schools — primarily P.S. 199, P.S. 87 and P.S. 9 — have had more students eligible to attend them than there are kindergarten seats, leading to waitlists that in at least one case ballooned to 90 students.
The lengthy lists led to anxiety and fierce lobbying among parents to get their children a spot, and became a contributing factor in the decision to rezone the southern part of the school district so that students are more evenly distributed.
Some savvy parents know that just being on a waitlist doesn't automatically mean their child won't eventually get a place at that school; sometimes families chose to move or to send their child to private school, thereby freeing up a space as the school year approaches, Community Education Council 3 members said at a Monday night meeting.
But other parents view getting placed on a kindergarten waitlist as a fait accompli and assume that they'll have to either consider another option — moving, or charter or private schools — or send their child to the school the DOE listed as their alternate, members said.
This lack of clarity as to whether a student will get moved off a waitlist and be offered a seat by the start of the school year is compounded by the fact that the DOE does not include a student's waitlist number in the offer letters that get sent out in March, CEC members said.
In the eyes of the DOE, if a family is "not inquiring there’s no reason for them to offer [the waitlist number]," Superintendent Ilene Altschul told CEC members Monday.
As a matter of course, the DOE does not include the waitlist number in the official communication a family receives, but if they ask the school where they're waitlisted for it, they can receive the number, she said.
But CEC members were baffled by this policy.
"This does seem a little absurd for that information not to be given proactively," said CEC member Daniel Katz.
"Our next door neighbor was waitlisted at [P.S.] 87, they freaked out and moved to New Jersey," he said. "By the time they were told they were fourth on the waitlist, they were already busy enrolling in New Jersey."
While not everyone will take such extreme measures, he continued, there should be a better flow of information about waitlist placement, he said.
Knowing that you have a high waitlist number can play a huge role in guiding your choices as a parent and should be part of the standard package of information the DOE hands out, not something parents have to hunt for, members said.
"There are different types of parents in the system. There are parents who will reach out and there are those who do not," said CEC member Theresa Hammonds.
"Should we be responsible to inform them that they have a right to ask for [the waitlist number]?" she asked her colleagues.
Altschul agreed to ask the DOE's Office of Enrollment whether that information could be included in offer letters to families as standard practice. CEC members said they'd ask schools to work on informing waitlisted parents of their waitlist number.