New Orleans School Enrollment Process a Disaster

More than 800 parents in New Orleans who were attempting to enroll their children in the school of their choice did not get to do that last week.

The parents had been told to be at the Recovery School District’s (RSD) Family Resource Center at 7:30 a.m. for summer enrollment.  Only 20 people at a time were allowed inside the center.  Eventually, about midday, the parents were told to go home and that summer enrollment would begin on the next day at a different location.

Natalie Shepherd, reporting for WWL-TV in New Orleans, said that these parents were trying to get seats in schools that were not taken in the spring during the OneApp process.

“This is the final round where you get apps,” said father Eldon Anderson. “I did two apps actually this year and both failed. My kids weren’t accepted to no schools. So I had to come here and actually try to get placement for my kids.”

The parents were given water to stave off the heat – temperatures hit the low 90s with a heat index well above 100 – and later in the day they stood in the rain.

“More people showed up beyond our capacity,” said Dana Peterson, the Recovery School District deputy superintendent of external affairs. “I think we just wanted to start over tomorrow so we wouldn’t have people waiting outside all day long.”

Many parents had taken the day off to participate in the enrollment process.  Some would not be able to be off again the next day.

“I can’t afford to keep coming here every day and be turned back around, turned back around, turned back around,” said mother Leslie Howard. “They need to come up with a new system. They need to come up with something better than this.”

This was a negative mark on an enrollment process that has been lauded across the nation and was introduced to make enrollment easier for New Orleans’ families.

Danielle Dreilinger, writing for The Times-Picayune, says that the families also faced parking problems because of a lack of space.  Many parents had to move their cars three or four times to avoid receiving a ticket or being towed. The crowd was so large that soon a voter registration team showed up to register voters, as well as a woman selling snacks and a snow cone truck.

Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans has had a decentralized education system.  Now, it is made up of charter schools and run by the state Recovery School District.  This means that every family has to choose where their children will go to school.  In the beginning, that meant going to individual schools and filling out an application.

Since 2012, the process was centralized through the OneApp process for New Orleans schools and some schools in the Orleans Parish School Board’s domain.  Seventy of the city’s 80 schools participate.

This process was put in place to make things easier for parents and to ensure that enrollments were handled professionally.  In the winter, if parents are happy with the school chosen for their child, that is where the child will attend school.  If not, they choose up to eight other schools and using rules, like attempting to keep siblings in the same school, their child is matched to one of the eight.  Families not happy with their choice, or who are new to the system must enroll on a first-come, first-served basis.  Wednesday was the day for that process.

Kristi Rosales Fajardo, a community organizer with non-profit VAYLA, said:

“I spoke to an RSD employee (who) assured me that when I brought my families, they would be able to support. And now that we’re here, they’re telling us we need to turn around.”

A civil rights complaint has been filed charging the RSD and Orleans Parish School Board for not giving  immigrant parents equal access.