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How to Apply for A School You Are Not Zoned For

June 10, 2008

Asmira wrote in with this question for school consultant, Joyce Szuflita of www.nycschoolhelp.com.  Joyce has been answering questions for A Child Grows readers and thanks to her, we are gaining some insight into the whole school process.

I would like to know what the procedure for a variance is for public schools.  Our daughter is almost 4, so we are starting to think about all this madness now since our zoned school is not very promising.

Joyce: Let me say right off the bat that the “procedure” for a variance (officially called a “Placement Exception Request”) is almost sure to change with the kindergarten registration reorganization next year.  In light of the pre-k registration disaster, there is no telling what form it will take or how much blood will be spilled. It has been reported that it may be a similar choice process to the pre-k registration. The difference being that there are almost surely enough seats for zoned children to go around and in the shuffle maybe enough seats for some out of zone students to go to schools of their choice.

As it stands now there is an official DOE way to do things and a local common practice. Either way you have to make a good case for not going to your zoned school. Sibling, medical, safety and child care issues are considered legitimate reasons to request a change but expect to present as much documentation as possible to support your request. If you have another reason, you have to make a compelling case and back it up with documentation. There are no guarantees of a variance because it is all contingent on seats filled by in-zone students. The official way to do it is to go to the District Enrollment Office (for the General Ed population it is in the basement of Brooklyn Tech HS on South Elliott St. the door farthest to the east with the ramp ) and pick up a Placement Exception Request Form. Fill it out according to the specified guidelines and submit it. The notification is very late, usually after school starts in Sept. The way everybody in the neighborhood does it though, is to go to the Principal of the school that you prefer and begin talking. If there is space and they will consider you, they will let you know what steps they would like you to take to complete the process. As I said, this process will doubtless be completely changed sometime next year.

As a parent you know what environment is good for your child, but don’t use hearsay, test scores only, or cosmetic features to be the whole judge of any school. Tour your zoned school and read their website. Talk to the Principal of your zoned school face to face and be honest about your concerns. See what kind of reaction you get. In some changing neighborhoods where parents automatically opt out, it is impossible for a Principal to address the changing needs of the community. You may still decide to send your child elsewhere, but you  may help to inform changes that will turn the school around in the future. Or you may decide that it is worth the risk to take a chance on the school across the street.

For more on Joyce Szuflita, check out her listing here and her site here: www.nycschoolhelp.com