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LES schools land exemption from city-wide kindergarten rules

Lower East Side parents who want to ensure their pre-k students stay in the same school for kindergarten will now be able to do so, though a citywide policy bans schools from giving admissions preference to their own pre-k students.

Parents in Manhattan’s District 1 have been lobbying for the exemption for more than a year. The district’s parent council, elected officials and the Department of Education have hammered out a nearly-final deal, presented to parents at a public meeting last night.

Last school year the DOE began barring schools from giving admissions preference to students already enrolled in their own pre-k programs.

Lisa Donlan, the president of the parent’s council, said that the policy ran counter to the district’s historical commitment to having full-day pre-k programs that are considered fully integrated into the school’s culture, whereas many districts have half-day pre-k programs that are almost considered separate from the school itself.

State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents the neighborhood, said that the particularities of District 1’s zoning policies also made the exemption important for the neighborhood. Rather than being guaranteed a spot at a zoned school, Lower East Side parents all apply for kindergarten seats.

“The question of where you send your kid to kindergarten is a different question here than it is in other parts of the city,” he said.

The city granted an exemption to the rules for one District 1 school, Shuang Wen, whose parents argued that their children should be able to continue the Mandarin dual-language program that starts at the school in pre-k. At the time, city officials said it was a one-year change dependent on the school working towards an even split between Chinese- and English-speaking students.

District 1 schools are not the only ones who have objected to the city’s kindergarten admissions policies, which are intended to simplify the process and level the playing field for students who attended private pre-k programs or want to switch schools. But some principals have said they quietly ignore the rules, using their own discretion to screen to give preference to their own pre-k students, increase racial or socio-economic diversity or picked students they believe will help boost test scores.

Squadron said that while this exemption may be more appropriate in District 1 than in other neighborhoods, the process — which involved months of negotiations between the Community Education Councils, the neighborhood’s elected officials and the DOE — could be followed elsewhere to develop admissions practices that suit each neighborhood.

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