Parents Irate Over Public High School Notification Delays

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Photo: iStockphoto

An ongoing lawsuit over the closing of nineteen public schools has delayed notification for 80,000 of the city's eighth-graders waiting to hear from the Department of Education about where they'll be going to high school, and parents are steaming mad. Letters assigning the kids to their schools were to be available March 24, but now there's no scheduled date for them to be sent out. In a memo circulated yesterday and posted online, NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein said he understood that parents "are anxious to receive this information," and regrets the delay, but that's cold comfort to those lying in wait.

An Upper West Side middle-school administrator says they fielded calls all day yesterday from anxious parents. "It's a terrible situation," he admits, adding that they didn't hear about the holdout until Tuesday. His school sent an e-mail out to families yesterday, but many others didn't. "I found out only because I checked the Department of Education website," says Maria, a Brooklyn mother, who took offense at the short missive. (It consisted of five sentences.) "It's a simple note, and it's not explaining anything," she says. "They should have a better explanation."

Wrote one parent on the education website, Insideschools.org:

"I AM SO ANGRY I DONT KNOW WHAT TO SAY, MY 13 YR OLD DAUGHTER HAS HER STOMACH TIED UP IN KNOTS WAITING FOR THIS DAY, ONLY TO HEAR SHE HAS TO WAIT LONGER. The students themselves were not informed in school, leaving many of them to return home last night thinking that they will be finding out about there high school choice today, only to find out today that this will not happen. There has got be be a better way of doing this."

When asked when the letters will be mailed, a spokesperson for the Department of Education says he "can''t comment on the litigation." A clerk at the Supreme Court who answered the phone when we called would only say that the judge's ruling will be handed down "shortly."

It's been said that nothing comes easily in New York City. And that's certainly true for the public high-school admissions process. Here, there's no such thing as a catchment high school that eighth-graders automatically gain entry to just by living in a certain neighborhood. (There's not even a guarantee of a local kindergarten spot anymore — that thousands of kids that have been wait-listed for kindergartens is another major source of complaints from parents.)

There are tests to take (like the SHSAT, which is administered to students hoping for specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science); auditions to nail (LaGuardia); forms to fill out (most schools). Most everything comes due in the fall of eighth grade, and then the waiting begins. As if middle school weren't agonizing enough, now students are bifurcated into two distinct camps — the in-the-knows and the in-the-darks. Students who sat for the SHSAT received word of their school assignments in February, and those accepted to private schools are already resting easy. Those who opted out, didn't accept their assignments, or didn't get into their picks (public or private) have had to sit and wait. And no one knows for how much longer. (The Department of Education says about 5,000 kids already know where they're going; that number doesn't include those going private.) "It's a travesty," says an Upper West Side mother whose son has lost sleep over the debacle.

Like many other parents, Maria gave a Catholic school a $500 deposit to secure a space for her son should he fail to get into the school of his choice; if they don't hear by mid-April about the public-school options, she'll have to forfeit the money. "It's disappointing," says her son. "I want to know already."