600 New Orleans families in danger of losing school seat

The Recovery School District issued a public warning on Friday, telling reporters at a hastily arranged news conference that 600 families are in danger of losing the seat they’ve been guaranteed for their child at a school this coming fall.

The Recovery District, which took over most city schools after Hurricane Katrina, and the Orleans Parish School Board, which was left with a small group of higher-performing campuses, had been working for months to hash out the details of a new common enrollment system, known as OneApp.

But the School Board voted abruptly last week to close out the OneApp process as it applies to five of its schools and require that all students newly assigned to those schools register for the fall by July 8. Anyone who doesn’t register will lose their spot.

“We really don’t know of these 600 families who’s been reached, what the plan is to notify them that this decision has been made and they could lose their seats,” Recovery District Superintendent Patrick Dobard said. “On such short notice, it’s going to be extremely difficult for families.”

Still, if Friday’s announcement was a sincere effort to get the word out to families, it was also an attempt by frustrated state officials to publicly shame the school board into changing course.

The OneApp is a response to years of complaints from families about how difficult it can be to register their children in a city dominated by independent charter schools, each of which used to handle its own enrollment process. Parents had to trudge from one school to another looking for an open spot. Charters faced accusations that they shut some students out, or at least encouraged them to go elsewhere because of behavior problems or special needs that can be expensive for schools to deal with.

All charters in the Recovery District, along with a handful of traditional schools, have now been folded into the new system, which gives parents the opportunity to rank up to eight schools and assigns them a place based on an algorithm that takes factors such as sibling preference and geographical proximity into account.

Initially, the School Board took steps toward joining as well, but it didn’t feel that it could force its own charter schools to join immediately, since there is no language in their charter contracts that requires it. But the board did place its five traditional schools in the OneApp this year.

After complaints from some principals, however, who worry that students enrolling through the OneApp may not register early enough or go elsewhere without letting them know, the School Board voted to set the July 8 deadline for registration. After that, schools will be left to fill any slots that open up on their own.

Dobard said he has staff members trying to contact all 600 families affected by the policy change. He said the Recovery District will work with families to find another seat for anyone who loses a spot with an OPSB school because of the new deadline.