Citing coronavirus, Newark delays release of school matches for the fall

The Newark school district is delaying the release of school matches by more than a month, leaving thousands of families to wait several extra weeks to learn which schools their children will attend this fall.

Families who applied to any traditional school and certain charter schools in Newark were due to find out Sunday where students had been placed. However, a note tucked away on the district’s enrollment website says matches will not be released on schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“As a result of the extraordinary circumstances we are all facing due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Newark Enrolls match letter will not be released on April 12, 2020,” says the note at the bottom of a page on the enrollment website. “Newark Enrolls will update your account with additional information regarding the match letter availability as it is confirmed.”

Families were scheduled to receive school matches on April 12, but the release has been postponed. (Newark Enrolls)

The website does not provide an updated timeline, but a person with knowledge of the district’s plans said the expected release date is May 20.

Each year, families and students anxiously await their school matches, which the district determines based on each family’s preferences and other factors, including available seats and students’ special needs. Anticipation runs especially high among the hundreds of eighth-graders who take an entrance exam in hopes of nabbing a spot in one of the district’s coveted magnet high schools.

Families with children entering kindergarten or high school, or those hoping to switch schools, had until Feb. 14 to apply to up to eight schools for the coming academic year. They could choose from more than 70 options, including any school run by the district or the 11 charter school operators that participate in the universal enrollment system, called Newark Enrolls. The other seven charter operators in Newark hold their own admissions lotteries.

The district notified charter schools on Thursday that the match results would be delayed, according to the person familiar with the district’s plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity. As of Friday afternoon, the district had not posted a message to families on its main website. Last year, when the match letters were also delayed, the district put a notice on its homepage.  

The district also has not said whether families will be able to go online and switch schools if they are unhappy with their matches. In previous years, after the district matched students to schools, families could use an online portal to enroll in schools that still had open seats. 

However, district officials scrapped that option last year, saying they wanted to prevent families from switching to schools that don’t offer the special services they require. Now, families must visit a district school and ask an employee for help if they missed the enrollment period or want to change schools. 

Charter school supporters protested that policy change, arguing that it creates unnecessary barriers for families trying to find the right school. As a compromise, the district agreed to “explore the possibility” of restoring a tool that allows families to enroll online at schools after the admissions period. However, more than five months later, the district still has not said whether such a tool will be available to families this year.