As Mia McIntyre navigates her first rodeo of school choice for her daughter, she’s found it fairly easy, but with some surprisingly stressful points in Delaware’s process.
Xavia Davis finds the process burdensome and said she was treated rudely by district employees who seemed entitled to know why she wanted to choice her children away from the district.
Nicole Kowal, a teacher at Providence Creek Academy in Clayton, also thinks the process isn’t easy.
“But I don’t think it was as cumbersome for me as it would be for a lot of parents who don’t work in a school setting,” she said.
Working your way through the state’s school choice system is an annual tradition for thousands of Delaware parents trying to get their children into one of Delaware’s 200-plus public schools they think will most benefit them.
At least, they say, parents are not longer required to fill out forms and deliver them to schools they’d like to choice into. Now the entire process is online.
The window for school choice is from Nov. 6 to Jan. 10, 2024.
First, though, parents must register their children for the school they are assigned to through their district’s feeder pattern.
Many parents question the need for that when they have no intention of sending their child to that school, and several parents said it allows the home district to grill them about why they are choicing out.
Parents also find it irritating that it’s hard to track when schools have open houses or information nights. McIntyre was stunned to find out that some schools do it at the start of a new school year, rather than waiting until October or November.
Mia and her daughter attended Red Clay’s McKean High School’s school choice information night Wednesday. It’s one of several they’ve gone to for information to help determine where they’d like to apply for the 2024-2025 academic year.
“I’m also very proactive, so I was looking early on and reading about what the process was and finding out what I need to know,” she said.
I’ve gotten a lot of the information and her school was very supportive in sending us information about the process,” McIntyre.
Even so, she said, the burden is on the parents to stay engaged with schools they are interested in.
“I follow them on Facebook, I follow them on Instagram,” she said. “So it kind of was more so myself getting everything together.”
She was surprised that some schools started open houses very early into the school year, which she didn’t know and missed.
“I’ve never done choice since we just moved to Delaware, so when she looked at a school and said she wanted to go there, we originally thought that’s all we had to do.”
Her daughter said Wednesday that she’s interested in a career in nursing, so she’s looking for school with a nursing program or pathway.
Schools sometimes have a waitlist if they have more choice applicants than open seats. They also have preferences for applicants.
The preferences include whether a student already has a sibling in the school, if they’re applying to a specific program or if they already live within a five-mile radius of the school they’re applying to.
Nicole Kowal also is a rookie to the choice process. Her daughter is in kindergarden at Providence Creek Academy, where she teaches.
“I already kind of had an idea of what it would take for me to need to enroll her,” Kowal said.
She knew she would have to fill out choice paperwork for Providence Creek and then rescind her daughter’s spot in the Appoquinimink School District.
But she understands why the state wants choice families to register, especially for kindergarten.
The districts make staffing and other plans based on registrations, and there may be more children who want to attend a school, but not as many early education seats, she said.
Some parents find it to be a waste of time and effort to register a student in a home district school when they have no plans of sending their child there.
Davis finds navigating the system burdensome on top of her job, getting the kids to and from school, and picking them up for sports and other activities.
She was unhappy about being grilled by her local district.
“I was treated rudely, and once they knew that I was switching him out of that school, they were dragging their feet and giving a bit of attitude,” Davis said. “They asked me specifically if they could know the reason why I wanted to take my kid out of the school, and I told them I don’t owe them that explanation and that’s a personal choice.”
Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter School’s Network, has repeatedly said that it doesn’t matter whether a parent sends their child to a charter, district or even private school, as long as it’s the best choice for the child.
Parents should not be made to feel bad for making the best decision for their child’s future, she said.
Davis said it’s unfair to expect every parent to know exactly what to do when and how.
Schools need to do a better job of sending information to parents rather than putting the burden on parents to find it on their own time, she said.
“The whole experience overall was just a mess,” Davis said. “I could see some parents being so frustrated that they just say, ‘Oh, I don’t care, I’m not going back.’ and then it looks like that parent needs to go to truancy.”
Davis found herself attracted to schools that offered a safe learning environment and whose representatives communicated well with parents and staff.
She also pointed out that transportation is sometimes a burden and parents need to consider that when picking a school.
McIntyre said she would like the state to implement some specific forums.
“Maybe a choice forum to say these are the choice forums for vocational schools, these are the choice forums for charter schools, because I didn’t get any information,” she said. “I had to find that out myself.”
Because McIntyre does a lot of research for her job, she believes it may have been easier for her to find what she was looking for.
But most parents simply do not have the time to just sit down to dig and discover all they need to know, she said.
Kowal said it’s really important that parents do not get overwhelmed by the process.
“If choicing is what you really want for your child, then I would make sure to have them ask as many questions and don’t let anyone deter you or make you feel bad,” she said. “A lot of parents feel like they’re asking for too much or they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Ignore that feeling, she said.
“It doesn’t matter. Your kid is what is important and you are their advocate,” she said. “So if you want them to choice into a school, then that is what you need to do. And then just keep asking questions, be the squeaky wheel.”
She also suggested reaching out to other parents on social media or in person for help and advice.
“You’re not the first person to choice your child into school,” she said. “There are parents who have been through the process before for years, so there are resources. Look around and use them to do what is best for your kid and your family.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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