For two weeks, parents in Cincinnati have camped out in inclement winter weather. The reason – filing enrollment papers last week to attempt to get their children in a Cincinnati magnet school, says Kristy Davis of WLWT-TV.
The enrollment time had been changed by school officials from January to November in order to avoid extreme weather for parents who lined up for days to ensure their child could get a spot. Still, the weather did not cooperate.
The city called it the Magnet School Campout. In Mount Washington, parents were camping out to enroll their children into Sands Montessori when a nearby church opened its doors to parents to allow them a warm place to sleep. Once parents got their children enrolled, they returned to bring parents who were still in line coffee and doughnuts, pizzas and firewood.
The stakes are high. Once enrollment happens successfully, younger children in the same family have priority in being accepted into the magnet school.
Greg Landsman, a parent of two preschoolers and executive director of the StrivePartnership, an initiative to improve education for every child, says that parents who want their children in higher-performing magnet schools are willing to do whatever is necessary to enroll their children. In an opinion piece for Cincinnati.com, he states that in some cases, that means 10 days of camping out in severe weather.
Landsman adds that the people who camp out are able to miss work for 10 days, have a spouse and family who will watch their kids, or take whatever steps are necessary to be there so their kids can enroll. People who live in a neighborhoods with lower-performing schools likely do not have that support. They can enter a lottery for a place in one of the magnets, but the odds are against them.
A better way, says Landsman, is for families to invest in children before they attend school. Brain development is rapid from the prenatal period to age five. With parents’ support and two years of quality preschool, kids will be prepared and all schools will get better, he thinks, rendering lotteries and camping out unnecessary.
A Silverton parent, Betsy Anderkin, writes on Cincinnati.com that camping out is absolutely worth it. She says the experience is actually a good one; she likes meeting other parents and appreciates the way the community comes together to help the parents get through the wait.
However, she explained, the reason parents are out there in the first place is because Cincinnati’s education system is broken. There are only three choices for young families, as she sees it: they can send their children to neighborhood public schools, they can pay for private schools, or they can home school their children. None of these choices were right for her family, so she camped out for a better magnet school option.
She thinks the camp out is crazy, but the sacrifice gave her family the answer they needed. She asks the public not to ridicule the campers, as it’s the only way they have to get their children in a great school.
But sometimes the worst case scenario happens. The Fairview-Clifton German Language School handed out 64 acceptance letters for the 2015-2016 school year, but only had room for 44 students, says WLWT-TV. Reporter Emily Wood explains that in CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan’s opinion, the school should have spoken with district officials before telling parents they had lost their places after waiting in the cold for two weeks to get a spot.
“When they realized their mistake, they took back letters and turned some parents away, which was inappropriate,” Ronan said.
The school had forgotten to count the number of lottery spots that had already been handed out earlier in the month.
“We have a system in place. This was human error. When they should have been looking at the electronic numbers, I think the school staff was counting by hand,” Ronan said. “We’re sorry that happened, but you have to make the situation right for the families who support the district.”
CPS will hire a new teacher and find classroom space in the school or off-site so that the extra students will be accommodated.