Blog · School Attendance Policy

NYC School Admissions…and Coronavirus?

At press time, there were no diagnosed cases of the novel coronavirus in New York City.

However, also at press time, several schools were asking families who had traveled to affected areas over the President’s Week Break to self-quarantine for 14 days.

All schools have been asking – begging! – for years for parents not to send in sick kids, camouflaging their symptoms by drugging them up and crossing fingers that the treatment would last the length of the day.

Some parents send sick kids to school because they need to work and don’t have access to back-up child care. Others are terrified of their child falling behind academically.

But there is another reason: 7th grade attendance is a factor in admissions to Screened High Schools. 4th grade attendance is a factor in admissions to Screened Middle Schools.

Even Pre-K attendance matters for Kindergarten admissions.

A source wrote to me last April:

No parents should trust a waitlist. I work in a public school. I help with registration. I can see how we move kids around. Previous year attendance is… very important. If a child has been absent a lot, we move them further down the list. Attendance affects the school. 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.

In 2017, I wrote about a proposed attempt to remove attendance from the Middle School Admissions rubric:

Currently, screened middle schools consider a student’s grades, test scores, and attendance record (sometimes alongside their own admissions exam, an interview, writing sample, or other portfolio items) when ranking students they wish to accept. This is then compared against the lists students make ranking schools. Now, a group of parents in Manhattan’s District 2 are lobbying to have attendance stricken from the rubric.

Who Will It Help: The Parents Council argues that looking at attendance hurts children in poverty and those without permanent housing, as their spotty record may keep them out of top-performing schools.

Who Will It Hurt: But what if the opposite is the case? What if seeing a child who lives in a shelter and/or is eligible for Free Lunch yet still manages to attend school regularly, is the kind of admirable commitment that boosts a candidate in a school’s eyes? The National Center for Education Statistics argues that attendance is an excellent predictor of a child’s ultimate school success. What if parents are more afraid that missed school days serve as a way to differentiate between children at the top of the rankings? When forced to choose between identical, high test scores and grades, the split decision often comes down to attendance. Getting rid of the attendance factor could make it easier for middle-class parents to hide their own children’s shortcomings, and end up doing nothing for those in poverty.

The District 2 resolution did not pass.

Yes, school attendance is an excellent predictor of a child’s ultimate school success. But that’s not the main reason NYC schools are obsessed with it, to the point of having both a citywide Attendance Works and a statewide Every Student Present initiative.

NYC schools are obsessed with attendance — and use it to sort kids for admission — because when kids miss school, schools lose money. It’s really that simple.

What’s not so simple is the decision families will be making this month and possibly for multiple months to come about whether or not to send their child to school. Is it just a runny nose, an allergy cough, or is it the beginning of something more serious? Risk possibly infecting others or risk getting eliminated from consideration from next year’s school placement? No school will tell you what the magic number is for admissions. Many offer a vague, “as long as it’s less than 10 days missed…” 

Fourteen days of self-quarantine is 10 missed school days. And what if you’ve already had other absences earlier in the year?

The Department of Education could put parents’ minds at ease — and help the public health effort — by calling for a moratorium on reported absences for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Screened schools could remove admissions considerations just for this year.

So far, NYC has announced no plans to close schools, the way Japan, China, and Iran have already done. Although England’s Public Health advised schools to remain open, some chose to close anyway, after pupils and staff returned from a trip to Italy.

Will select NYC schools — and families — follow suit? And will they be penalized for it?

How do you think NYC schools should respond? Tell us in the Comments!

What do you think?

One thought on “NYC School Admissions…and Coronavirus?

  1. “No parents should trust a waitlist. I work in a public school. I help with registration. I can see how we move kids around. Previous year attendance is… very important. If a child has been absent a lot, we move them further down the list.”

    I’d think this will no longer be the case, as middle-school acceptances this year will include where a 5th grader sits on a waitlist at each school where he or she has applied. Considering the great transparency, I’d think middle-school administrators would be compelled not to manipulate the rankings.

    “No school will tell you what the magic number is for admissions. Many offer a vague, ‘as long as it’s less than 10 days missed…'”

    Clinton in District 2 allows for only two absences before it affects a student’s overall score on its rubric.

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