Party Line

Parents who send their kids to New York private schools are infamously competitive about test scores, but come fall, there is another, more subtle arena for one-upmanship: the meet-and-greet cocktail party, usually held at an apartment for parents whose kids are in the same class.

But administrators have long worried that these parties may alienate couples with kids on scholarship, who sometimes have to travel uncomfortably far from their neighborhoods and tax brackets. Indeed, Spence (who knew it was so socially sensitive?) was the first to decree that such parties can take place only on school property. Now Trinity (where parents distribute a sensitivity periodical called The Diversity Page) is encouraging everyone to keep the fun on school grounds. At Brearley, there have been potlucks (!) at homes and at school.

“It’s absolutely preposterous,” says Victoria Goldman, author of The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools. “There’s nothing these schools can do to make everybody play in the sandboxes nicely!”

That certainly seems to be the view at normally diversity-sensitive Saint Ann’s, which evinces total indifference to where the parties take place. As does Dalton, where one parent reports: “Both years that I’ve been there, there’s been a cocktail party at the same house. It’s an impressive apartment, nicer than anyone else’s, and everybody’s there and suitably impressed.” “Anyone who attends any of these things goes partly to check out the real estate,” adds one Trinity parent, reflecting on the bad old days of penthouse PTA entertaining.

Another parent—at a school where catered affairs in meticulously decorated brownstones have given way to badly lit, pass-the-fruit-plate functions on school property—carps, “It was a lot of fun seeing how the other tenth of one percent lives. And the hors d’oeuvre now are a pale shadow of what they were.”

Party Line