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September 5, 2012

Tomorrow is the first day of school. All over New York City, students are packing lunches, filling backpacks with new school supplies. My kid is not. He won’t be going to school tomorrow, because New York Public Schools won’t let him.
Despite the fact that my child, like every other resident of the city, is guaranteed a free public education until he graduates from high school or turns 21, whichever comes first, there is no room in the proverbial inn.

Our District, which I’ll call District X, is one of many in New York City that subscribes to what the DOE calls “middle school choice.” This means that instead of going to your local zoned school, as you do in elementary school, you have to apply to middle school. The application is not complicated, but there are many more mediocre or poorly performing schools than good ones. If, like AJ, you’re a college-bound kid with a high IQ, competition is fierce. In 2010, one of the schools we applied for received 1719 applications for 419 spots. Another had 1265 applicants for just 181 seats.

The problem is compounded when you move into the district from somewhere else. The application process began last fall and assignments were made in the spring, months ago. Kids moving into the district late are at the mercy of the school principals – if you can even get them to talk to you. And the principals, in turn, are faced with classroom size caps that can limit their ability to help.

It feels a bit like parental failure not to have our kid in school on the first day, but honestly, we did what we could. NYC Public Schools wouldn’t let us begin the process until we arrived in the city – AJ had to be there in person. No advanced planning allowed. Since we arrived on Labor Day weekend, that meant we had one day to figure it out. Not possible, as it turned out.

We went first to a nearby Catholic School that we’d been talking with and which suddenly stopped returning our phone calls in the last week or so. We were blown off once again, although they took a message. We then got on the subway and headed to a NYC Public Schools Regional Enrollment Center, which was extremely well organized and appeared to be working like a well-oiled machine. We were greeted at street level and shown to the stairs to the basement of Brooklyn Tech, which was housing the center. Someone else met us there, checked that we had our paperwork and showed us to a short line. After waiting for just a couple of minutes, we were given a form to fill out with a number on it and told to wait until the number was called. It took maybe 5 minutes and we met with an administrator who checked our paperwork and assigned us to a school counselor. We spent the next two hours with her as she looked through AJ’s files and ran around trying to figure out how to assign us to an appropriate school. She really took our case to heart and tried to go to bat for us. We left with referrals to two of the best Middle Schools in the city.

One of them was not far from the enrollment center, so after a lunch break, AJ and I hoofed it over there, where we were met by a surly security guard talking with a bunch of people who rolled their eyes at us and said (to themselves, but loudly so we could here) they didn’t know why they kept sending people over here. The security guard gave us directions for the office where we were met by a curt secretary who wouldn’t take our name or look at our information. She finally agreed to contact the parent coordinator and told us to sit in the hall, which we did with a row of other mothers and children. After a half an hour, when no one went in or out, I went back in to find out where the bathroom was for AJ and asked if anyone was going to be coming. “Probably not. She didn’t answer her phone.” I got the coordinator’s number and left. I called the parent coordinator and got someone on the line immediately. She told us that their hands were tied. Classes are capped at 33 and they are all full.

We went through the same process with the other school on our list.

Both the enrollment center and the schools are doing their jobs. It’s the system that’s broken. And we’re stuck doing the legwork, shuttling between the schools and the enrollment center, miles apart,without benefit of a car.

So today we go back to the enrollment center and try the whole thing again. We’re feeling like Tom Hanks in The Terminal or like we’re stuck in a scene from Brazil.

On the plus side, Mr. Spy bought AJ and new scooter yesterday, so he at least will have a little more fun today.

In other news, now that the roof-work has begun on our house, our buyers are now having trouble with their loan and we no longer have a closing date set and our furniture has been delayed until next week. So we’re looking at being bankrupt, uneducated, and very uncomfortable for the indefinite future.

How was your Tuesday?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2012 2:16 pm

    Reading this made me anxious. The “in person” requirement is so crazy. It seems like this would be easier on everyone if it could be done over the phone. I hope the mortgage trouble isn’t really trouble. From what our various real estate professionals said, it’s begun to be busy again and so closings are being delayed as the banks can’t keep up.

  2. September 5, 2012 7:49 pm

    oh crap. will keep fingers crossed

  3. September 6, 2012 5:31 am

    Wow, that sucks. I hope something opens up for him. When we lived in Buffalo, NY, I had to deal with a similar situation, trying to get my son into a particularly desirable magnet school for kindergarten. My mother died the day before a big, mandatory IQ assessment, which my son and I attended, because if you didn’t attend, you didn’t get in and no excuse–not even a death in the family– was acceptable.

    Is homeschooling an option? My kids have mostly gone to public school, but I have homeschooled here and there at times when our needs were not met by the public schools.

  4. September 6, 2012 6:30 am

    It really sounds like free public schooling is broken.

  5. September 6, 2012 11:45 am

    All things considered, not as rotten as your Tuesday.

    Try to remember that the universe unfolds as it should.

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