As Classes Start, Some Paterson Parents Upset Over The District's Registration Process
Thursday, September 6, 2012 • 12:40am
PATERSON, NJ – Ten-year-old Natalie Placencio won’t be in school when classes start today. She had finished fourth grade at School 29 and was expecting to move to the upper grades at School 7. But now she will have to wait until the middle of next week to start school because of problems that came up during her registration.
“She was hyped about getting ready for school and starting a new chapter with the older kids,’’ said Natalie’s mother, Jackie Torres. “I have to tell you, she cried. She said, ‘It’s not fair.’’’
School board members say they have received numerous complaints from parents like Torres who have had problems with Paterson Public Schools’ new registration process, one that requires parents to sign up their children at the district’s central offices at 90 Delaware Avenue instead of at the individual schools. The number of parent inquiries and registrations seems to have overwhelmed the district’s staff.
One parent, Natasha Quinones, said she had been calling for two weeks to try to get through to someone who could schedule an appointment for her to sign her daughter up for kindergarten. Another parent, Vickie Franklin, said she was on hold waiting to be transferred to a district official when the lines somehow became crossed and she ended up speaking with someone else who had called the district with a complaint. A third parent, Yocastra Abreu, said she called the district 22 times one day without success and then when she got through the next day she said she was put on hold for so long that she was able to drive to the district offices before anyone took her call.
“Difficulty is not the word,’’ said Abreu. “It’s been so bad I want to move out of Paterson.’’
“I have no confidence in the district,’’ said Franklin. “They don’t do what they’re supposed to do.’’
District officials say they are doing the best they can. “People just have to be patient with the process,’’ said school board member Chrystal Cleaves. “Everyone will get registered. All the kids will get into a school. But we have more students than we have bodies in the department. It’s a challenge.’’
“The challenge we have is that there are only so many hours in the day,’’ said district spokeswoman Terry Corallo, who is overseeing the registration process. “In the past two days, we were able to register close to 200 students.’’
The vast majority of Paterson’s 29,000 school children do not have to register, Corallo said. They are already enrolled. Most of the folks flocking to Delaware Avenue this week are parents of kindergarten children and people who recently moved into Paterson. There also are many parents who have filed petitions to try to have their children transferred from one school to another.
Corallo said she wants to make some changes for next year’s registration. For example, she said registration should start earlier next year, possibly in the spring, to avert the last-minute rush as the start of school approaches. Also, she said, the district may need to double the number of staff members assigned to registrations. Currently, she said, there are 15 handling the work, including five school nurses on temporary assignment. Finally, Corallo said, she wants to secure additional phone lines for registration next year. Now there are five people taking those calls, she said.
The district has a registration appointment schedule that spills into the middle of next week, officials said. “These are people who just called us this week,’’ Corallo said of parents who won’t be able to sign their children up for school until after the start of classes.
But some parents tell a different story. Torres, for example, estimates she left 40 voice messages since May at different district offices in an attempt to get her youngest child registered for kindergarten. No one got back to her for months, she said. Finally, she said she was given an appointment on Wednesday. That’s when she learned that her older daughter, Natalie, would not automatically transfer from School 29 to School 7, she said.
Someone at the district’s central offices told her she had to go to School 7 to get Natalie registered, Torres said. But the staff at School 7 would not accept the paperwork she had brought to prove her address, she said. These were the same documents that staff members at the central offices had approved earlier in the day for her younger daughter’s kindergarten registration, Torres said.
“It doesn’t make sense,’’ said the frustrated parent.
When asked about Torres’ situation, Corallo contacted the school’s principal. She later said that questions about the family’s residence had been raised by someone at Natalie’s previous school and that those concerns had been forwarded to staff School 7. Corallo said the district had a responsibility to be vigilant in checking those residency documents, especially because School 7 was a popular school.
Many of the registration complaints came from parents who were trying to have their children transferred to different schools. Franklin was among them. She said her daughter had attended School 21 the previous two years and had severe problems there. On August 22, Franklin said she filed a petition seeking a transfer. As of late Wednesday afternoon, Franklin was still unable to get her daughter removed from School 21.
Abreu was more fortunate. She has two children at School 9 and the district had assigned her son entering kindergarten to School 20. “I had bad experiences at School 20 with my older one,’’ she said.
After enduring long waits on the phone, Abreu finally found someone who was able to help her. The district couldn’t comply with her request to put her youngest child in kindergarten at School 9. Those classes already were filled. So they gave him a slot at Martin Luther King school. Abreu was satisfied. “This woman is an angel,’’ she said, nodding at the district employee who helped her.
The scarcity of kindergarten slots at School 9 is an annual occurrence, said Corallo. This year, for example, the overflow was somewhere between 25 and 50 kindergarten children, she said. Many are assigned to MLK school. Usually, by the time they reach first grade, enough slots open up at School 9 to accommodate them, according to Corallo.
But in the meantime, those parents have to send their children to a school more than a mile away. Yolanda Ariadella was among them. That means her daughter will be attending sixth grade at School 9, while her son goes to kindergarten at MLK.
“They wanted to be together,’’ she said through an interpreter.