An admissions error has resulted in 144 students receiving an offer to the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies, a coveted high school, after they were initially informed they didn’t get in.

While some worried it could cause a ripple effect at other schools, the education department pushed back, saying the number of affected students was small enough to avoid that.

Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the education department, confirmed Tuesday there was an error, and that no existing offers to Lab would be rescinded because of the snafu. An education department official attributed the mistakes to an error in how the Lab school had ranked applicants and said the issue has not happened at any other school this year.

“We want the admissions process to work for students and families, and this was an isolated error made by the school,” Cohen said in a statement. “We’ve reached out and provided an offer to every student that should have received one, and apologize for the mistake and the confusion it caused.”

Confusing Calls

Eric Goldberg, a parent and member of District 2’s Community Education Council, said he was notified Monday afternoon that his daughter was one of the students who had been accepted to Lab, her first choice, after she thought she hadn’t received that match and had already accepted an offer to another school.

An education department employee called Goldberg to inform him of the admissions error, and that his daughter has until Friday to decide whether she’s going to stick with her original choice or opt for Lab. Goldberg said he has heard from at least 25 other families who received the same phone call that he did.

He said he’s aware of students who were also newly accepted to Lab but had already accepted offers to Frank McCourt, School of the Future, and Baruch College Campus high schools next year.
“I think the larger implications are first around the transparency of the high school admissions process,” Goldberg said. “There’s limited information available about how schools rank and screen students, and without that transparency, it’s impossible for oversight to identify any issues, you know, with the process.”

He also worried about the downstream impact — that if one student was incorrectly matched, then what about the spot that student chose to take instead? Did it belong to another student?

A department official said the error doesn’t impact offers at other schools because there was a “small enough number” of students assigned to any single school who have now been accepted to Lab. The official also said that this first round of high school offers accounts for attrition.

A Messed-up Match Game

But some found the mistakes unsettling in a process they already consider fraught.

“Unless [the DOE is] going to remedy this by going back and redoing all the matches, then, yeah, it does have a detrimental effect on other kids because their matches were messed up too, and so on and so forth,” said Mahalia Watson, founder of the website Let’s Talk Schools, an online guide for parents navigating their school options.

Getting into a high school in New York City can often feel like a labyrinthine process for students and their families. It involves students choosing their top 12 schools, which have their own criteria for admitting students. And ultimately, the education department’s Office of Enrollment uses an algorithm to match students to schools.

This year the process has been particularly trying for many families, partly because of a new online system to submit high school applications, Watson said. When the site was initially launched, guidance counselors reported glitches and a poorly designed portal for schools as barriers for getting all their eighth graders to apply to high school.

The education department rolled out the new system as an effort to modernize the process, officials have said.

“I know it’s the first year that they’re doing everything online, and so in some aspects it’s been easier for parents, but in other aspects working out the kinks has led to some difficulties and delay,” Watson said.

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: