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Superintendent Roger León   and school board chair Josephine Garcia (right) at a board meeting. The district has not told parents what caused a delay that has kept them waiting to learn where their children will go to school this fall.

Superintendent Roger León and school board chair Josephine Garcia (right) at a board meeting. The district has not told parents what caused a delay that has kept them waiting to learn where their children will go to school this fall.

Newark families are ‘on edge’ as district delays school placements without explanation

Several days after missing the deadline to tell Newark families what schools their children will attend this fall, district officials have yet to publicly explain the delay or say exactly when it will end.

The district’s lack of transparency has heightened the uncertainty for parents such as Jennifer Williams, who applied to transfer her two children to a different school for the coming year. She was expecting to learn where they had been placed on Monday, the date the district promised to notify parents.

Instead, families received an automated call Monday saying the placement letters were delayed and to keep checking the district website. Williams hasn’t heard anything since then and the website has yet to be updated.

“I’m on edge,” said Williams, whose children currently attend Peshine Avenue School. “I’m feeling a little angry about it because I don’t know where my kids are going to be in September. I don’t even know if they have a seat.”

Williams believes the district should have told parents what caused the delay and when they will receive their school matches.

“You have parents who are trying to organize their lives and their days based on where their kids are going to be in school,” she said. “Everything is on hold.”

Families with children entering pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, or high school in September, or those hoping to switch schools, had to submit applications by Feb. 15. They could choose from any of Newark’s more than 60 district-run schools and more than 10 charter schools that participate in the citywide enrollment system, called Newark Enrolls.

The district then is supposed to use a computer program to match students to schools based on their preferences and other factors such as the number of available seats and whether students have any special needs. On April 15, families were scheduled to receive letters telling them which schools their children had been matched with.

Instead, the district sent out the robocall and posted an alert on its website saying there had been a delay, adding that the district was “working diligently to finalize Newark Enrolls match letters.” The alert also said to monitor the site for updates. None was posted as of Thursday evening.

In an email to Chalkbeat Thursday, the chair of the Newark school board repeated that message.

“The district has been in direct communication with our parents/guardians regarding match letters,” said board chair Josephine Garcia. “We look forward to sending out the match letters in the coming days. Any parent who has a question should continue to monitor our website for further updates.”

She did not respond to a follow-up question asking what caused the delay.

This is the first enrollment cycle under the administration of Superintendent Roger León, who assumed that role in July. Since then, the officials who oversaw student enrollment and several staffers in that office have left the district. They do not appear to have been replaced.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to emails Wednesday and Thursday asking about the cause of the delay.

Members of the public could have questioned officials about the delay at a board meeting Monday evening. However, the district cancelled the meeting just hours before it was scheduled to start.

While parents have been left in the dark about the enrollment delay, León did offer a brief explanation to a group of students this week. During a student town-hall meeting Wednesday at Science Park High School, which was not advertised on the district website, a student asked about the delay.

León responded that there were “a lot of complications” with the enrollment system, said Bradley Gonmiah, a Science Park student who attended the meeting. Gonmiah said the superintendent gave one specific example: The online application allowed families to request that their children be given “sibling preference” to attend their chosen school even if they did not have siblings there. León did not explain why the district failed to identify that issue early enough to prevent a delay.

Wilhelmina Holder, a longtime education activist who heads a council for high school parents, said she was “shocked” by the delay and the district’s lack of transparency.

Parents are “frustrated with waiting — they want to know what’s going on,” Holder added, saying the district’s minimal communication has made the situation worse.

“Whatever problem they’re having, they should share it,” she said. “People have a right to know.”

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