Admissions Deadline Confusion
Sandy Delays High School Decisions
By Sophia Hollander
Applying to high school in New York has become even more fraught in recent years, with increasingly competitive—and costly—private schools, a rise in test preparation for specialized public schools and a proliferation of options that can seem daunting to navigate.
Now for some New York City families there may be an additional, agonizing twist.
This year, eighth-graders won't find out whether they won a coveted spot in a top public high school until two days after the March 13 deadline for private-school tuition deposits, which can cost thousands of dollars. The Department of Education said this week they had to push the notification process back two weeks because of delays related to superstorm Sandy.
That could force parents to take a costly gamble.
The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York initially insisted it would not change its deadline for deposits, but following inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the group said late Friday that it would reconsider.
Still, until a decision is made, some parents and school officials bemoaned the additional layer of stress.
"It's very upsetting," said Alex Ragone, director of the middle and upper school at City and Country School in Manhattan, which runs through eighth grade. "I think that it's a really difficult decision to make when you don't have the information you need to make an educated decision."
For years, private schools have required deposits months before the city releases admissions decisions for its Gifted and Talented elementary-school program. As a result, some families are forced to pay a full year's tuition for a school their children will never attend.
"I've seen it be a real problem for families," said Cynthia Rogers, the high-school placement director at Manhattan Country School, which charges families on a sliding scale for tuition. "The more we can have these two entities in sync, the better."
Last year, the Department of Education changed the date of its high-school notifications so that students were informed in mid-February about which public schools had accepted them, including the specialized high schools. For the first time, parents were able to make decisions about where to enroll their children before the deposit deadline.
It "worked so well," Ms. Rogers said. Now, "I'm concerned that we will find ourselves where we used to be years ago—where families had to just give up a spot at the independent schools and just wait and hope that they get a match."
Department of Education spokeswoman Erin Hughes said that if private schools are interested, city officials "would be happy to sit with them to figure out how better to align."
Although public high schools submit their admissions decisions to the Department of Education by the end of January, it takes three to four weeks to review the data, run matches, follow up with schools and check accuracy, school officials said. An additional two weeks are required for print production and distribution.
The new dates would primarily hurt parents who are "stretching to pay private school tuition" in the first place, Mr. Ragone said.
Private-school deadlines are set by ISAAGNY. At a meeting last week, several schools urged the organization to shift its deadline, said multiple participants. The organization declined to make any changes then, saying individual schools could offer extensions to affected families, said Patricia Hayot, a designated spokeswoman for the group and head of school at Chapin, a Manhattan private school.
"By not changing the date we gave our schools the flexibility to deal with all the families on a case by case basis," said Ms. Hayot, who estimated that 15 to 20% of private-school high-school applicants will be affected.
But late Friday, Ms. Hayot said that after hearing from numerous schools, the organization would hold a meeting to re-evaluate its position.
Regardless of the final decision, Chapin will be offering extensions, she said. "I think the assumption is that we all will be doing that," she said. "I can't imagine a school not doing that."
But several schools said that they had yet to make a decision on how to proceed.
"We're taking the ISAAGNY decision under advisement and planning on making an announcement soon," said Kevin Ramsey, director of communications at Trinity School in Manhattan, which requires a $3,700 deposit for new families.
At Friends Seminary, "the administration is still discussing options and we do not have a decision yet," said Harriet Burnett, director of admissions, in a statement.
Last year, Friends required families to make an $8,000 deposit by the deadline.
Other schools said they would issue extensions depending on a family's particular situation, including Grace Church, which started a new high school this year, and Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, parents are "just crossing their fingers and hoping somebody will budge," said Evie Gurney, the director of high-school placement at Bank Street School for Children. About 25% of her eighth-graders are caught in this situation, she said.
"They don't need to have more stress at this point," she said. But she noted it may be even more challenging for public school students considering a switch to private school, as counselors may not have the connections or relationships to secure an extension.
For them, she said, "I think it's going to be very, very difficult."
—Lisa Fleisher contributed to this article.
This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on January 25, 2013. Find it online