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RSD’s OneApp program continues to be controversial

1st October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Codifying the application and enrollment process for public schools in Orleans Parish continues to be a sticking point for administrators, parents and elected officials as the Recovery School District attempts to corral more schools under the umbrella of its OneApp program for the second year in a row, a process that has garnered both cheers and jeers from stakeholders.

RSD believes a common enrollment system would “expand the number of schools accessible to parents in Orleans Parish” and help “lift the burden [of] parents…having to navigate a multitude of autonomous schools to find the right choice for their child,” according to information provided to news outlets announcing RSD’s renewed push for centralized enrollment.

Few parents and community members disagree with RSD’s assertions about the benefits of streamlined enrollment, but the process to date has garnered some criticism from local education observers.

Deirdre Johnson Burel, who heads the Orleans Public Edu­cation Network, says the OneApp process thus far has been marred by a lack of information for parents seeking to use the application. “Parents are still not aware of all the choices they have under the single application,” Johnson Burel says. “They are not aware that they can choose to keep their child at one school while still applying for another or where they can obtain the application.”

Johnson Burel says RSD needs to do a better job of informing parents about how the process works. “I would also like to see this application available at some barber shops and salons,” she adds, noting the difficulty some parents have in finding a copy of the form.

Centralized enrollment has also been slowed by the reluctance of some schools to adopt the plan, with some charter school administrators stating that parents of their students are content with the application process and that further changes to the system are not necessary.

But Johnson Burel contends that a one-size-fits-all approach to public school enrollment in Orleans Parish will help eliminate the ability of charter operators to “game the system.” Currently, she says, administrators have the ability to hide the actual number of open seats at a particular school and can more easily pick and choose what students are allowed to enroll.

“I don’t want people to have the opportunity to discriminate again­st students. A centralized system for enrollment will allow parents to see how many seats are available at any school and would be able to better track students who have fallen through the cracks in the system.”

But while some schools have been slow to utilize the OneApp ap­proach, RSD officials say no schools to date have refused to participate in the plan. “We have not heard from any school that they will not participate in the program,” says Gabriela Fighetti, who directs enrollment for RSD.

Fighetti, however, could not provide concrete details about how RSD would convince reluctant schools in the second year of the district’s effort to join others in creating a single enrollment structure.

But longtime education advocate and District 3 School Board candidate Karran Harper Royal says parents and community members are the key to achieving a single enrollment system.

“Stake­holders should demand accountability and transparency in the process,” Harper Ro­yal says, charging area residents to mobilize and be vo­cal about the issue. “Parents and community members should de­mand public hearings on the OneApp so that the problems can be uncovered and resolved.”

RSD has enlisted parents and community members to help flesh out the details of the OneApp plan and has created two committees to advise the school district on implementing centralized enrollment.

But Johnson Burel argues that “it’s not the existence of the thing that matters, but it is what it does that matters,” referring to the RSD parent and community advisory committees. She believes the advisory panels will only be effective if they are given the chance to make real changes to the process and not be relegated to a strictly consultative role.

The issue of centralized enrollment has made its way into the race for Orleans Parish School Board, with incumbents and challengers weighing in on different sides of the issue.

Incumbent board member Lour­des Moran says achieving streamlined enrollment is important for parents and students and recounts her own experience with enrolling her granddaughter in public school. “It was a nightmare,” Moran says, adding, “I had to go through all of this stuff to enroll her and had to meet all of these requirements. Fortunately, I have a job that allows me some flexibility to do all of this, but what if I didn’t?”

Harper Royal also adds her view that the single application approach, in its current form, is not beneficial for students with special needs because it gives parents “the impression that they don’t have to visit schools to make a choice and that it will protect [students] from being discriminated.”

RSD, however, has promised to continue its plan to work out the kinks in the OneApp system. “We are working,” district officials say, “to invite all public schools to be involved.”

This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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