Raleigh, N.C. — As students enrolled in year-round schools returned to the classroom Monday, some parents still didn't know what school their children were supposed to attend, and that created some tense moments at the headquarters of the Wake County Public School System.
Those headed back to class, and incoming kindergartners, are the first to experience the school system's new student assignment plan based on parental choice.
The plan, called "controlled choice," is a compromise reached after the Wake County Board of Education voted in 2010 to replace the district's long-standing method of assigning students based on socio-economic diversity. Families pick a school from a pool of choices based on proximity and available capacity.
School leaders say the majority of families are happy with their school choice, and they are working with others who recently moved into the area or are trying to get a transfer.
Judy Peppler, Wake schools chief information officer, counseled patience. "We knew a lot of families that hadn't registered yet or were new to the system would have to come in today, so we've been trying to have it be a process and a flow, but it just takes time," she said.
The school system pulled in additional staffers to help parents with paperwork, documentation and navigating their choices.
Parent Nicole Warren called the atmosphere "a mob scene." She moved and did not get the first choice for her children.
"I'm disappointed," she said. "It looks like it will be great to offer all these different schools, and you can chose all different things. But not if it's not going to happen, there is no need to offer something that's not going to happen."
Nat Bascom, who relocated from Utah to attend law school at Duke University, said he and his wife chose Wake County specifically for the schools. But he was frustrated when he tried to register his three children.
"We came here for good schools for our kids, and now we don't know what school they're going to go to," he said. "Then on top of that, we don't have the certainty of them going to that same school the year after that or the year after that, because the system just got made up!"
Renee Jackson had to call out from work Monday. "This is ridiculous," she said.
"I just thought you go to the school and register just like I did when they were in kindergarten. Register at school and they start at the school. But it's not quite that way in Wake County, I guess," Jackson said.
Officials say the asked all parents to come to central headquarters to keep the chaos from disrupting schools where classes have already begun.
"The first day of school always has a few hiccups that you have to work through, but at this point we're feeling good about it," Peppler said. "I know parents here are having to wait a bit here, but we're working through it as quickly as we can."
Even as students and teachers settle into a routine, the school board is planning to upend them again. They agreed last month to revisit the issue of student reassignment again before the 2013-14 school year.