New York City parents are crying foul over a kindergarten enrollment program they say has increased waiting lists at sought-after schools by making it easier for families to submit fraudulent addresses.
The citywide rollout of Kindergarten Connect was announced in September to streamline the enrollment process online. Schools don’t verify residence until children are enrolled at the end of May. Lengthy waiting lists at some schools are sparking concern of an increase in applicants misrepresenting their addresses, according to parents and school officials.
For Erin Kelly, this meant being redirected by the Department of Education to a school she never applied to for her four-year-old daughter, after a soaring number of applications were directed to the school in her zone.
“It’s really not acceptable,” Kelly said. “We’ve lived in the neighborhood for six years, and PS 199 has been our zoned school. We followed all the directions and did what we were supposed to do, understanding there had always been waitlists, but they had always been cleared.”
As of April 27, the waiting list for PS 199 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side surged to more than 100 students for families residing in its zone from 39 last year, a school official told Kelly in an e-mail. Her daughter is number 87 in line. The parent coordinator for PS 199 didn’t return calls for comment.
“If we knew there was a real possibility that she wouldn’t get into the zoned school, we would have looked at other options more vigorously,” Kelly said.
Waiting lists have fallen citywide through the new online enrollment program, according to the New York Department of Education, and more than 80 percent of students were connected to one of their top three kindergarten choices. Because of the matching program, 20,000 more families received an offer this year compared with last year, said Harry Hartfield, a spokesman for the department.
The number of students on a zoned-school waiting list citywide dropped to 1,242 students this year from 2,361 last year, according to the Education Department.
The delay in verifying addresses, though, has pushed back the burden from January to the May 23 enrollment deadline, giving giving parents less time to find alternatives, said Liz Phillips, the principal at PS 321 in Brooklyn.
“That created an incredible panic because we’ve never had a kindergarten waiting list,” Phillips said.
The school has 27 zoned children on the waiting list, which is likely to subside as the school checks addresses, Phillips said. More than 100 families accepted for admission haven’t yet contacted the school to enroll, she said, leading her to believe that many of them don’t actually live in the zoned area.
“For desirable schools, people lie about addresses,” she said. “We try very hard to catch that. I understand parents want what’s best for the kids but it’s not fair to the truly zoned addressed.”
Most New York City public-school children attend elementary school in the zone where they live and are given preference to their zoned school. Those who live out of the area can apply if there are extra slots.
“Families must show extensive proof of address before they can register their child in the school,” Hartfield said in an e-mail. “Families cannot accept the placement without these documents. If there is reason to suspect that something is falsified, the school can pursue an address investigation.”
He declined to comment on whether bigger waiting lists at some schools was directly connected to Kindergarten Connect.
More than 7,000 couldn’t be offered a choice listed on their application. Of this population, 8.7 percent received offers to zoned schools, while 2.1 percent either didn’t have space available in a zoned school or received an offer to another school.
“This occurred primarily because families placed only one school on their application and that school could not accommodate every student,” Hartfield said. “Those students remain on the waitlist for the schools where they applied. We anticipate that many families will get offers from schools where they are waitlisted.”
Kelly said her daughter wasn’t accepted at any of the three schools she listed on her application.
Parents waiting in their zones still want clarity on why their students were placed as they were.
Mike Woodsworth, whose zoned school is PS 39 in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, is concerned that his son can’t go to kindergarten in the same area he went to preschool. The Woodsworths are number nine on a waiting list of 14, in a school that typically admits its zoned families.
“We live within eyesight of our zoned school,” said Woodsworth, who works as a high school teacher in Queens. “Moving him into the other school that’s three-quarters of a mile away, that’s a hassle.”