A controversy that has been bubbling under the surface for weeks has finally come to a head as the Brick school district announced Monday that it will re-do its lottery process to determine which regular education students will be afforded the option of attending preschool classes.
Special education students receive preschool by law, but the state this year funded a program to greatly expand the number of preschool classes offered in the district in order to blend special education and regular education students in one setting. Most of the classes will be held at the Warren H. Wolf Elementary School on Chambers Bridge Road.
Interest in the program has been so significant that the district decided to utilize a lottery system at determine which students could attend. The plan was approved by the state Department of Education, however it has come under heavy criticism by parents in recent weeks. At the last meeting of the Board of Education, it was revealed that students who are already in the middle of the program must apply for the lottery like everyone else, and may not be able to attend their second year. In the wake of the meeting, multiple parents contacted Shorebeat confidentially, saying their children were left off the lottery list. Most of the parents declined to have their names published, fearing that speaking out could cost their children a spot in the program. Some told Shorebeat that they had contacted a state hotline and reported the Brick district’s process. The state Department of Education has not yet responded to a request for comment as to whether or not they ordered the second lottery.
“Pure BS,” said one parent who contacted Shorebeat, opining that the district may open itself up to a lawsuit because of the error. “Names already drawn, parents made plans, kids told and excited and now a re-do.”
In a letter issued Monday to parents, Superintendent Gerard Dalton said there was an “error discovered in the lottery process.”
“Following the initial lottery and notification process, it was discovered that a portion of the registrants had not been processed and included in the original lottery,” Dalton wrote. “Therefore, the lottery was not inclusive of the entire group seeking entry into the program.”
The letter went on to say that a new lottery will be held to fill 150 regular education seats in the program. The students who had already selected have had their names removed from the list of attendees and will be placed back into the new lottery drawing.
The new lottery will be held Monday, May 20 in the multi-purpose room at Warren H. Wolf Elementary School. Impacted families are welcome to attend and there will be an information session beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Dalton, responding to a number of questions sent via e-mail from Shorebeat, said he has been in contact with the DOE to resolve the issue and guide him on how to reallocate the selections.
“A portion of the applications had mistakenly not been processed, when that was discovered as referenced in the response above, we made the choice to repeat the lottery process to be inclusive of all applications,” said Dalton.
At the May 2 meeting of the Board of Education, Kristen Hanson, the district’s Director of Special Services, said students’ names were placed into a bag and were pulled one-by-one until 150 were assigned a number.
“Each child got their own ticket, if you will,” said Hanson. “Each of those were put into a giant container and every child got their number.”
But the complaints about the process of selection didn’t end there. Sharon Cantillo, the former Board of Education president whose grandchildren attend school in the district, said she was upset after learning students in the middle of the program were not grandfathered in to complete its second year. Meanwhile, the state has touted access to preschool as a vital step in preparing students for kindergarten and elementary school.
When Cantillo told Hanson that she was aware of some children not being included in the lottery, Hanson responded: “I had not heard that.”
On the issue of students already enrolled in the program not being able to continue in preschool, Hanson replied at the meeting only that the district’s plan was approved by the state.
On Monday, Dalton clarified the issue, saying Brick agreed on the policy to place all potential preschool students in the lottery, though the plan was, indeed, given state approval.
“It was a district decision based on the information learned in mandated training sessions held prior to the grant application,” Dalton said.
In his letter to parents, Dalton called the scenario “disappointing and concerning.”
“We are taking all steps necessary to correct actions that caused this error and to insure a more accurate lottery registration process in the future,” he wrote.