Volume 22, Number 10 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 17 - 23, 2009
In a Downtown Express column two months ago, Dep. Mayor Dennis Walcott wrote that most students on the waitlists for P.S. 89 and 234 would be able to attend, but few have gotten slots yet for September.
Most waitlisted students still denied first choice
By Julie Shapiro
When Netta Levy found out that her daughter was No. 13 on the waitlist for kindergarten at P.S. 234, she wasn’t thrilled but she wasn’t too worried either.
Levy knew she was better off than some of her friends, who were lower down on the randomly ordered 56-person list. And she assumed that at least 13 of the children slated to attend P.S. 234 would opt for private school or gifted programs instead.
But now, nearly four months after the kindergarten decisions went out, only nine children have been accepted into P.S. 234 from the waitlist. And at P.S. 89, only five children have been accepted off the waitlist, while 20 remain.
“It feels very far away,” Levy said this week. “It’s the not knowing…. It’s part of this very, very frustrating ping-pong game where no one had the answers.”
Levy’s daughter and the other children on the waitlists do have seats for the fall, just not the seats they want. They will be attending one of Downtown’s two new schools, P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City and the Spruce Street School, which are opening kindergarten classes in temporary space this fall in Tweed Courthouse.
While Lower Manhattan children are better off than those in other neighborhoods who don’t have any kindergarten seat at all, many Downtown parents are disappointed with not getting their first choice.
Caryn Tanen, whose son is on the P.S. 234 waitlist, said she and other parents were initially hopeful about being accepted, especially after reading a column by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, published in the May 15 – 21 issue of Downtown Express.
In the column, Walcott acknowledged the waitlists, which at that point had dropped from 81 students to about 75 students.
“We know that most of these students will be accepted in the coming months,” Walcott wrote, since “53 students zoned for P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 have been offered a placement in a gifted program, and some families may choose a non-public school option.”
Tanen took comfort in Walcott’s statement, but it soon became apparent that even with the gifted acceptances, the large waitlists were there to stay.
“It’s so upsetting,” Tanen said. Walcott’s column, she said, “made it sound like [we shouldn’t] worry. Was that just completely fictitious to put parents at bay for a while?”
Will Havemann, D.O.E. spokesperson, said more children could still be admitted off the waitlists, and it was too soon to say that Walcott’s pronouncement had been incorrect. But parents expect few children to drop out of the kindergarten classes between now and the beginning of school, since most families have already made final decisions for next fall.
Havemann did not know how long the schools would continue accepting students off the waitlist. The schools will not accept any more children over the summer, since they are closed, he said.
“It’s up to the schools to determine how best to do it,” Havemann said. “It’s a shared goal [between the principals and the D.O.E.] to make sure we give parents information as soon as possible.”
Problems with kindergarten admissions were among the issues advocates discussed when weighing whether or not the state Legislature ought to renew mayoral control of the schools. The Assembly approved mayoral control before it expired June 30, but the mayor’s power lapsed when the Senate disarray prevented them from approving any bills. The Senate was slated to take up mayoral control Wed., July 15 but as of midday it was unclear whether Democrats planned to discuss it. Some senators do not approve of the Assembly bill and are proposing modifications that the Bloomberg administration would not support, according to news reports.
The larger questions of school policy aside, the waitlisted Lower Manhattan parents are frustrated about being caught in limbo. Tanen used to tell her son that one day he would go to P.S. 234, near their Tribeca home, but she hasn’t mentioned it recently and hopes he won’t ask. Tanen said she bought an apartment close to P.S. 234 so she would be able to walk her son to school.
Tanen, Levy and others are still angry that the city did not zone the new schools for this fall, dividing families among the schools based on geography. Instead, there was a lottery for seats, which meant a family living in the Financial District had the same chance of getting into P.S. 234 as a family living on the same block as the school.
Levy said she is torn between embracing P.S./I.S. 276, which admitted her daughter, and holding out for P.S. 234.
“The process, especially as a first-time parent, has been very painful,” Levy said. “No one has taken responsibility for anything…. It’s still a question mark.”
The D.O.E. once said children who weren’t able to get a seat in P.S. 89 or P.S. 234 this fall would have the opportunity to transfer in for first grade, but this week Havemann said the city has not yet made a decision and does not have a timeline for making one.
Those who have gotten into P.S. 234 off the waitlist said their luck was bittersweet and even a bit uncomfortable.
“It’s hard to be happy, since some of our friends aren’t in,” said Paulette Goto, whose daughter Juliet received a 234 seat from the waitlist.
She said the complicated, ever-changing admissions process convinced her to move Juliet to private school when she gets older, just to avoid dealing with the D.O.E. again. And, as Gotto said, private school admissions couldn’t be much more difficult than the public school process for this fall.
“We feel like we just got into the most elite private school in the city,” Gotto said.