UPDATE: The School District of Philadelphia decided tonight that Penn Alexander will go to a lottery system for kindergarten. See Superintendent William Hite’s statement here.
At the risk of contributing to the hysteria surrounding kindergarten registration at the Penn Alexander School, we feel compelled to post something. The line has already begun and as of about noon included about 70 people.
Registration for next year’s kindergarten class begins Tuesday morning. Small clusters of parents nervously huddled and strategized along the 4200 block of Locust Street this morning. They spoke about the provisions and shelter they will need to stand in line for four days. One parent said she rented an RV to park near the school.
All vowed that they would not start the line, but that they would be nearby ready to join it if someone else did. That happened about two hours later, when a woman – a prospective student’s grandmother – started the line.
“I am a nervous person, I saw people standing around and I didn’t know what to do,” said the woman, who is holding a spot for her son.
She was in a line that had started earlier – at about 8:20 a.m. – but broke up after parents of current Penn Alexander students, who had just dropped their kids off, asked the lined-up parents to leave. One reader wrote us:
“I could hardly believe my eyes but at 8:20 this morning there were parents lining up outside Penn Alexander for registration, which I believe starts Tuesday morning. Other parents or community members were confronting them and asking them to leave, threatening to call the cops to disperse them. A child was shivering in her mother’s arms. Is there any talk of moving to a lottery next year? The current way seems insane. If kindergarten registration is going to be a physical endurance test they might as well schedule a footrace from a mile away and award spots to the parents that finish first. (Not a serious suggestion, just pointing out the absurdity of awarding spots to parents who camp out in the cold for 4 days.)”
Here is a timeline to illustrate how we got here.
• 2010 – The line started in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. This is the year where things seemed to have changed.
• 2011 - The line started at about 10 p.m. the night before registration began, prompting television news crews to interview parents. A spot in kindergarten becomes even more coveted when the District announces that students who did not attend PAS for kindergarten may not get a spot in first grade due to overcrowding.
• 2012 – The line last year started 24 hours before registration began. The Spruce Hill Community Association distributed a letter to parents in line calling for community residents to make their voices heard on the issue. It began, “No one should have to line up in the cold for nearly 24 hours to register their child for kindergarten.”
If the trend of lining up earlier and earlier continues, that 24-hour wait will soon seem like the good old days of kindergarten registration when all you needed was a cup of coffee, some snacks and a sleeping bag. Now you need an RV.
The line could become a public health issue. It is already a social justice issue.
The first-come-first-served system, of course, favors those who are connected and can rearrange their lives for a few days. Some will just not be able to compete – those who work inflexible jobs, single moms or parents for whatever reason simply can’t spy on that stretch of Locust Street along the school’s north side waiting for the line to start. That said, no parents can be blamed for doing what they perceive is best for their child.
The School District of Philadelphia last year approved a additional kindergarten class that the University of Pennsylvania funded. But some kids were still turned away. The District and the School Reform Commission has bigger, whale-sized fish to fry – budget shortfalls, school closures, failing schools. Those are profoundly important issues.
Shouldn’t devising an admission system that keeps parents off the sidewalk be comparatively easy?
– Mike Lyons (editor)