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Summer school waitlists and rejections spark confusion among NYC families

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Alex Zimmerman, Chalkbeat New York

Summer school waitlists and rejections spark confusion among NYC families was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters

After more than a year of full-time remote learning, Queens mom Kwan Southerland was excited to sign her 7-year-old daughter up for the city’s in-person summer school program, available for the first time to any city resident.

But over a month after submitting applications to multiple summer school sites, Southerland received a puzzling email: Her daughter was not accepted because the program is “full at this time.” The message didn’t include information about alternate locations with openings. Another summer school location she applied to has yet to respond.

The rejection surprised Southerland. The city has promised a summer school slot for any New York City student who wants one, rather than just students who fell behind during the year, and its website promises that “no student will be turned away.” Many parents said they are excited about the program, known as Summer Rising, because it will combine academics and enrichment activities including field trips and games. The program runs each day until 6 p.m. for elementary students and 4 p.m. for middle schoolers. (High school schedules vary.)

“They shouldn’t advertise or portray something that’s going to be available to someone when it’s not,” she said. “My daughter was home for 14 months, and I wanted her to get back to the socialization aspect of being with children.”

Southerland isn’t alone. 

Parents across the city have received messages indicating that they have not been accepted to the summer school programs they applied to, or have been waitlisted. The messages have sparked confusion because it’s unclear if the city will ultimately match every family with a summer school that has openings and how that process might unfold.

After this story initially published, education department spokesperson Sarah Casasnovas said families will receive offers to attend another summer school site if they weren’t accepted to programs when they first applied. Families should receive additional information by the end of next week, Casasnovas said, though she acknowledged some families will remain on waitlists beyond next week. (Officials did not say how many students have applied or are currently on waiting lists.)

photo of woman tutoring young boy
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

With the program’s start date less than a month away, some parents are making other plans for fear that they won’t be assigned to a convenient site or given a slot at all. Sutherland, who was furloughed during the pandemic, plans to take her daughter on outings to parks, the aquarium, or zoo as a backup. The lack of clarity may be particularly difficult for low-income families, who expected several weeks of free programming during the summer.

Seymour, a Queens dad who asked to be identified only by his last name, said the family applied for their two children to attend a summer school site on April 26, the day applications opened. One of his children was waitlisted, and the other was rejected, he recently found out.

Worried that they wouldn’t get seats, Seymour started applying to other summer school sites, though none of them have so far accepted his children, who are 7 and 9 years old. 

Seymour said the family had been hoping for a reprieve from a year that included a mix of remote and in-person learning and thought the summer program could give their children a chance to socialize and have fun at school.

“It was just frustrating,” he said of the scramble to find a summer school seat. “I was really excited for the kids, knowing that other kids would be joining them and just try to recapture what they lost last year.”

The family’s backup plan is to keep their children at home, as Seymour is able to supervise them since he is working remotely. They’ve also looked into other summer programs, but are worried they have already filled up.

To accommodate as many as 190,000 students this summer, up to half of all buildings are expected to host summer school. But schools have had little time to plan. It’s been tricky to get some teachers on board to staff the morning academic portion of the program after a tumultuous school year, and it’s also taken time to hash out arrangements with the nonprofits running the afternoon enrichment.

Advocates have raised other concerns about access to the summer program, particularly for homeless students and those with disabilities. City officials are not planning to provide round-trip bus transportation for students who typically get it during the school year, a decision some argue violates the law.

“Our commitment to families on Summer Rising has not wavered — every family who is interested will have a seat in one of our hundreds of programs across the City,” Casasnovas wrote in a statement. “Our priority is to match children with their home school or a school within their community, and we are working with DYCD to match families with sites on a rolling basis.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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