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The Butterfly Effect: Good and Bad News About Your NYC Public School Waitlist

Spring is a major holding pattern for New York City families. Middle school placement, Universal Pre-K, and Gifted & Talented scores are due “any minute.” Kindergarten General Education, charter schools, and high school offers are out.

But the process is far from over. High schools hold a Second Round for those unhappy with their initial assignments, followed by an additional appeals process, and Kindergartens and charter schools anticipate much waitlist movement once G&T notifications are available.

Parents are — in a word — crazed, especially as deadline after deadline is announced – and blithely ignored. The Department of Education (DOE) is unconcerned. They insist that everything is running smoothly, even as their new, very expensive Parent Portal produces glitch after glitch, and, as one dad reports, “On March 19 I sent an email to G&T office asking them about the results. Twenty two days later, I received a prompt answer.” (For those curious what the answer was, here it is: G&T results will be shared with families in mid-April. Enlightening!)

However, there is good — and bad — news to be had. See the latest developments below:

The Bad

While Kindergartens and charter schools hold waitlists (though one DOE employee cautions parents not to trust their veracity), high schools technically do not. The Second Round is for high schools that didn’t fill up in the First Round. All high schools overaccept, expecting up to half the students to whom they offered enrollment, to turn them down, which is why it’s almost impossible to get a seat in a school that filled in the First Round.

However, an anomaly turned up last week when the highly-coveted District 2 priority New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies (colloquially known as “Upper Lab,” or just “Lab”) unexpectedly offered placement to 144-150 (accounts vary) students who hadn’t been accepted during the First Round.

The DOE claimed a ranking error had been discovered, and these students were supposed to have been accepted in the first place. Considering that, according to the 2019 High School Directory (a guidance counselor acquaintance calls it “The Big Book Of Lies”), Lab is supposed to accept 90 General Education students and 13 students with special needs, for a total of 103 (about 200 offers when factoring in attrition), leaving out around 150 kids is a heck of a mistake to make! How did the school not notice that hardly anyone was registering?

The DOE insists their little snafu means nothing. One hundred fifty kids out of 70,000+ applying citywide is a blip on the radar! A rounding error! A drop in the bucket! (Insert your favorite cliche here!)

Except that those 150 kids don’t exist in a vacuum. If 150 kids who should have gotten a spot at Lab got seats elsewhere, that means 150 kids who should have gotten seats at those schools, didn’t. And then 150 kids who would have gotten seats at schools where they did, didn’t. And so on, and so on, and so on. It’s a classic butterfly effect.

Now some kids have offers to two schools (the DOE is letting them decide; the first mistaken offer hasn’t been revoked), while others were given their last choice, or placed in a school they didn’t even rank! To quote Chancellor Carranza’s oft-repeated refrain, “How is that OK?”

(Hey, remember how Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilman Brad Lander wanted their children to attend diverse middle schools, but couldn’t figure out how to make that happen and were forced at gunpoint to accept offers to Brooklyn District 15’s wealthiest, whitest, and highest-achieving middle school? Maybe this is how it happened! A technical error! Not their faults at all!)

Whichever way you do the math, and no matter what the DOE says, a lot more than 150 students were affected.

The Good

But there is a silver lining — for parents on Kindergarten and charter school waitlists, at least. When they’re allowed to work properly, waitlists do move every time a new variable is introduced into the equation.

Private schools and Hunter College Elementary notified families in February. When General Ed placements came out in March, a handful of parents who’d been holding private schools spots as insurance against not getting into their first-choice public school, withdrew, which allowed other families to get a spot. Conversely, some parents who’d applied to the out-of-zone public school of their dreams didn’t get a spot and were assigned to their zoned school. Because they had the private school in their back pocket, they turned down the seat at their zoned school, which then went to someone else.

The same happened when charter schools notified in April, and it will definitely happen once G&T programs make their offers in late May/early June.

That’s when the waitlists really start moving, continuing throughout the summer and into the fall, until rolls are closed on or around October 31.

So, parents, don’t give up hope! It’s not over till it’s over! The Butterfly Effect can work for —  and against — you.

No matter what the DOE claims.

What do you think?

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