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On Parenting
Posted at 06:28 PM ET, 06/21/2011

DC school waitlists: How to endure the purgatory?

The school year is barely over, but many parents have already been worrying for months about where their children will attend school come fall. The problem is especially acute this year as a record-breaking number of families applied for entry into Washington DC’s top public schools.

City schools saw a more than 25 percent increase in unique applicants and many of the most popular schools have waitlists stretching into the several hundreds. As of this week, 5,498 students remain on the DCPS waiting lists, according to school officials.

The squeeze has caused a spillover effect to the charters and private schools in the region, especially in the younger grades.

One of the most popular charters, the Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School received double the amount of applicants from last year. More than 525 children applied for 60 available spots in the 2011-2012 academic year. “It was just heatbreaking the number the “Nos” we had to send out,” said Diane Cottman, LAMB’s executive director.

She said the school placed every family on their waitlist, their spot determined by lottery.

The pattern has been repeated throughout the city. DC Urban Moms and Dads has hosted several conversations this spring about waitlists and how to handle them. My favorite was “Any cures for waitlist OCD?” It was filled with mini-confessionals from parents who have been compulsively checking their status on waitlist at schools.

“I am completely obsessed with getting off the waitlist at one DCPS school. Optimistically, given the school’s popularity and my rank, I would put my child’s chances of getting in at about 30-40 percent. And yet, I visit the Web site every couple of days, read the PTA blogs, take the tour, put Outlook reminders down to place my “follow up” calls.

HELP!! I don’t know how I can survive through September!!” wrote the first poster.

Constantly checking is energy-sucking, yes, but this year there might not be a cure. Most schools tell their waitlisted parents to patiently, silently wait in line. School officials are also providing hope.

DC schools spokesman Frederick Lewis said he expects many families will, in fact, get off the waitlist. “Many or even most of those students have been admitted to other DCPS schools — either because they are holding out for a more preferred option, or because they simply haven’t let the schools know,” he wrote me in an e-mail.

But the other students must wait (and wait and wait) to find out. And they better not get caught turning their attention elsewhere. Here’s the official notice from DCPS about how each school’s staff will manage their waitlists:

“The school will call you at the phone number(s) listed on your application. Schools will seek to contact applicants using multiple phone numbers if available, but must move on to the next applicant on the waitlist if they do not receive a response from you within two business days [my emphasis]. If you plan to be inaccessible at the phone number(s) listed on your application, please let the school know where you can be reached.”

Message: If you are in Waitlist Purgatory, don’t even think about a vacation unless you plan to check voicemail regularly.

Are you on a waitlist? What’s your strategy to keep from going insane?

By  |  06:28 PM ET, 06/21/2011

 
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