After delay, Newark families receive school placements for the fall

After a nearly weeklong delay, the Newark school system told families where their children will go to school next this fall. Now, families can either accept those school placements or seek new ones.

The district sent out the notifications last weekend, nearly a week after the scheduled release date and several days into the weeklong spring break. On Thursday, a district spokeswoman said that the extra time was necessary to ensure that students with special needs were placed in the proper classrooms.

“This meticulous process took longer than initially anticipated,” spokeswoman Tracy Munford said in an email. “We believe this was the best course to take to get the right result for every child.”

Starting Monday when classes resume, families who are unhappy with their school placements or who missed the February application deadline can search for open seats on the district’s enrollment website. The online enrollment system, which is used by all traditional schools and many charter schools, will show which schools still have seats available now that the district has matched most students to schools.

While some students will be happy with their placements, many will not be: Last year, just 41 percent of incoming ninth-graders were matched to the high school they ranked first on their applications. Each year, many more students apply to the district’s selective magnet high schools than the schools can accommodate.

Students who were not matched with any of the high schools where they applied are automatically assigned to their nearest traditional high school, which tend to receive far fewer applications than the popular magnet schools.

This year, just over 12,000 families applied to new schools for the fall using the online system, called Newark Enrolls, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat. That number reflects a decrease of about 500 applications from the previous year.

Officials may be asked about that decline, as well as the match-release delay, at next week’s school board meeting. Munford said the district is compiling enrollment information to share at Tuesday’s meeting. It remains to be seen whether that information will include how many students were matched with their top choices — the indicator that matters most to families.

Since the notifications were sent out on Sunday, some parents have expressed concerns about the schools their children were matched with.

On a Facebook page for South Ward residents, one parent posted this week that her son had been matched with their third-choice school, which is a 17-minute walk from their home, rather than their first-choice school down the street.

Another parent wrote that her daughter had been unexpectedly assigned to a new school rather than the one she has attended the past three years. And a third parent said her son and daughter were separated even though she requested that they attend the same elementary school.

“Do they even care if you request to keep the children together?” the parent wrote.

The online system that opens Monday will allow families who are dissatisfied with their placements to enroll at schools with open seats or add their children to waitlists at high-demand schools.

Families whose children have disabilities or are still learning English are encouraged to visit the district’s Family Support Center at 765 Broad Street to get help finding a school that can meet their needs.