Accountability · Blog · Finding the Right School · School Choice

How It Really Works: Behind the Scenes of a NYC Public School Waitlist & More Parent Portal Glitches!

New York City families who’d been ripping their hair out for over two months finally learned where their children had been placed for General Education public school kindergarten on March 28th. The results had been posted for nearly a full day before the Department of Education notified anxiously waiting parents that they were available. When an eager mom called to register her child, the school was surprised to hear the offers were out, as they hadn’t received a list of accepted students yet!

My email began filling up immediately. I heard from parents who’d been assigned their last place choice. I heard from parents who’d been given none of their twelve choices and been placed in their zoned school, which they didn’t even rank.

The mom who, last month, wrote to ask whether school choice was a sham, sadly added a postscript: “It’s hard not to feel that our parent coordinator is completely correct.  Everyone just gets assigned to their zoned school. Getting out of it is a difficult process of persistence and navigating insanity with the understanding that most parents won’t succeed.”

I heard from parents who’d been wait-listed at their zoned school, and I heard from a parent who found out her zoned school had been changed after applications were due! I also heard from a DOE employee about why families shouldn’t trust what they’re told about the wait-list (see below).

Despite the stress this is unfortunately causing individual parents, all of the above were familiar, year after year laments. But 2019 also brought two brand new glitches.

I’d already written about the technical problems of the DOE’s new, highly-touted Parent Portal. Thanks to it, some families received letters that were just garbled text, impossible to read.

Meanwhile other parents received the (albeit readable) message that they’d gotten no placement at all.

That’s not supposed to happen. Ever since Kindergarten became mandatory in 2013, the DOE has been very clear that, while you are not entitled to a seat in your zoned Kindergarten, you are entitled to a seat somewhere, and, as several parents learned above, even if you did not receive a spot in any of your top twelve choices, you will be assigned to a school which still has space, whether it’s your zoned school or, if your zoned school is overcrowded, somewhere else.

This year, though, I heard:

“For kindergarten, nothing shows up in MySchools account. I went to a Family Welcome Center. They had no idea what is going on and why I didn’t receive an offer. I had a copy of the schools I had applied for. I realized how important it is to print when you are applying. They asked for that copy. They went in and they came out with an offer to my first choice. I don’t know if they added him at that moment or what happened. They didn’t want to explain to me. I think it’s because I insisted so much that they gave me an offer to my first choice. But in MySchools it still appears that I have no offer. I will call the school and see if I am in the list.”


“I spoke with a dashboard assistant for 26 minutes and they couldn’t help me. They said a glitch in the system is why my application disappeared!  All they could do is give me a ticket # but claimed they couldn’t fix that issue from their end.”

For all the families that reached out to me, I sent out reassurances that wait-lists do move a bit once charter schools hold their lotteries, and especially after Gifted & Talented placements are released in late May/early June. For tips on how to work the wait-list to your advantage, see this blog post, listen to this podcast, and watch this video.

It’s a process that continues throughout the summer and often into the fall. Parents with their heart set on a particular school should prepare for the possibility of their child starting Kindergarten in one location, but then receiving a call about an opening and transferring them after the academic year has already begun.

Based on my experience with hundreds of families, I know that anyone who tells you the wait-lists follow a straight queue is lying… either to you or to themselves.

A DOE employee was willing to go on the record (anonymously) to tell me how the wait-lists really work.

They report:

No parents should trust a waitlist. I work in a public school. I help with registration. I can see how we move kids around. For example, if a parent knows the parent coordinator or someone in the school, they are moved to the top.

Previous year attendance is also very important. If a child has been absent a lot, we move them further down the the list. Attendance affects the school. (Note: Funding is based on attendance.) If we know a child has been absent a lot in Pre-K with no excuse, the school doesn’t want them. Parents shouldn’t trust wait-lists because principals and secretaries modify them all the time.

(When I posted this account from a mother who claimed the school secretary deliberately kept her son out of their zoned school, readers questioned her version of events, doubting that a secretary had so much power.)

So, buckle down, families who didn’t get a seat at their first choice school. You thought the process would be over by now? Thanks to all the screw-ups, for some, it’s just beginning…..


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