Newark families are unable to enroll in schools online while district switches to new system

A plan to make it easier for Newark parents to enroll their children in public schools is — at least temporarily — making the process harder.

Last month, the district announced that it is replacing the current enrollment system, which allows families to apply online to most traditional and charter schools. A district official said the new system “will make the online application experience for parents less cumbersome.”

But no one mentioned that the current system, called Newark Enrolls, would be unavailable to families while the district makes the switch. That means that, unlike in years past, families cannot log onto a website this summer and enroll their children in schools with open seats. Instead, they must trek to a downtown enrollment office to find placements for the fall.

The online enrollment tool has already been disabled for the past three weeks, and officials have not said when the new system will be up and running. The website simply refers families to the downtown office “until further notice.”

“Newark Enrolls is currently in the process of onboarding a new enrollment system,” the website says. “During this transition, the online Family Enrollment Portal will not be accessible.”

Families who applied to Newark schools by the February deadline and are happy with their placements will not be affected by the outage. But families who recently moved to the district will now have to visit the enrollment center rather than enroll online. 

In addition, parents who are dissatisfied with the schools where their children were placed can no longer use the website over the summer to find alternatives or add their names to school waitlists. They also must travel to the enrollment office at 765 Broad Street. (Officials have said they eventually plan to close that office and handle enrollment matters at neighborhood schools instead.)

The gap in online service is just the latest enrollment snag since Roger León took over as superintendent last year.

In April, the district was late in telling families which schools they were matched with. Before that, the district postponed a new test that students must take to get into the district’s popular magnet schools. In each case, officials did not publicly explain the delays.

Wilhelmina Holder, a longtime parent advocate, said some “glitches” were to be expected as the new administration tries to revamp enrollment. But she said the district owes parents a thorough explanation and, when possible, a warning about any disruptions to the enrollment process.

“Communication is key to anything — we can even put up with a mess if we know about it ahead of time,” she said. “It all comes down to respect.”

In response to questions Monday, a district spokeswoman forwarded the message on the enrollment website. She added that families will be able to enroll in schools online again once the new system is operational, but did not say when that will be.

León and his deputies have said the previous enrollment system was deeply flawed and needed to be replaced. In June, the school board approved a nearly $163,000 contract with the San Francisco-based technology company, SchoolMint, to provide a new system for the district.

Charter school leaders, who must voluntarily sign on to the district-run enrollment system each year, have been frustrated with the new administration’s handling of the enrollment process, said a person close to the charter sector. Besides the delays, the district also sent charter schools fewer students this year and has not shared enrollment data with the schools, despite an agreement to do so, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to describe private conversations with charter leaders.

“It’s definitely been a rocky road this past year,” the person said.