actually, May is the cruelest month

This week, 65 families who were on the wait list for a “coveted” NYC public kindergarten got acceptance letters in the mail. Their kids were in! Shouting, rejoicing, dancing in the streets.

The next day, they got calls from the Department of Education. Whoops, our bad. Your kids didn’t get in. Wailing, cursing, crying out to the gods.

There are so many things about this story (in the Wall Street Journal) that cry out for further investigation. There were SIXTY-FIVE families on a waiting list for one kindergarten? Was that the whole list? Or were these sixty-five just, you know the first in line? Out of three or four hundred? 

And why this kindergarten, those of you not from NYC may ask? Why not just send them somewhere else?  Because of what author Jonathan Kozol calls the “shame of our nation… a national horror hidden in plain view.”  There are some really good public schools in Manhattan. There are many more failing ones. And so our children are not guaranteed a decent education in our public schools. In my neighborhood (the Upper West Side) there are two schools everyone wants their kids in, and hundreds of families fighting tooth and nail for those spots. That’s why there are at least 65 more children who want to be in this one kindergarten this fall than there are spaces.

The families who were put through the wringer this week (“infuriating and negligent,” one mother called the error) have been offered spots in a brand new kindergarten, one that is being created in a nearby intermediate school. Why is there room at this intermediate school? Because it’s being SHUT DOWN for being so terrible. Let’s hope this new beginning will be something different. But it’s certainly understandable that these parents are wary of their kids being the guinea pigs.

There’s plenty of fodder here to mock the hovering neurotic New York parents who are freaking out about where their kids are going to go to kindergarten. But I’m on their side. It’s a terrible situation to be in, and we, as a nation of mothers, shouldn’t put up with a public school system that can be so shabby.