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The unauthorized guide to getting your child into the Buffalo Public Schools

One of the most confusing things for parents living in Buffalo is figuring out how to register your child for the public schools.

It doesn't help that the deadline for registration is usually the first week in December -- a full nine months before school actually starts the following September. And this year, the deadline is even earlier -- Nov. 28.

Lorraine ElementaryI hear from plenty of people every year who complain that they missed a deadline they had no idea existed.

(Go ahead -- just try finding this info on the Buffalo Public Schools website. I dare you. Oh, it's there. Kind of. But you have to find it. First, you have to know enough to look under Departments on the top menu. Then you have to know to look under Central Registration Center, which doesn't sound to me like it has much to do with children. Once you get to that page, you'll see a deadline off to the right. Except that it's not the correct deadline. Oy.)

It almost seems as though the district goes out of its way to make it difficult for parents to navigate the system. I've heard board members complaining about it for a year and a half now -- but parents I talk to are still every bit as confused as they were when I started covering this beat.

So here's some info to help you navigate the system.

Do me a favor. Spread the word. Post this on Facebook. Print out copies and pass them out at your child's preschool. Tell every parent you bump into at Wegmans.

The first thing you need to know is that you have to get a copy of the student registration application. They are supposed to be available at student registration, 33 Ash St., as well as every school in the district.

Although I've heard from more than one parent that that's not the case. One mother was practically in tears when she emailed me to tell me that she started hunting down an application at City Hall. You know, that place where the people who run the district work. Well, they didn't have any applications there.

They told her she could get an application at an elementary school. Guess what? The school she went to didn't have any applications. Finally, she landed one at Ash Street. So here's the moral of that story: If you're planning to pick up an application somewhere, call ahead and make sure they actually have applications.

District spokeswoman Elena Cala tells me that applications were also sent to Head Start programs, private schools and charter schools. Again, if you're planning to pick up an application at any of those places, I'd strongly advise you to call ahead.

Curiously, you can't find a copy of this mysterious application anywhere on the BPS website.

So guess what? I scanned one in and uploaded it for you. Here it is: a pirated copy of the 2012-13 BPS student application.

But pay attention: You can read it, print it, and use it to familiarize yourself with your choices. But you cannot actually fill this out and submit it to the district. You have to get one of the BPS-authorized original applications.

You see, I thought it would make things easy for people like you if I could upload a copy of the application and save people a trip down to Ash Street. So I asked Cala if that would work.

No, she said. Because apparently once Ash Street gets your application, they scan it in. And if they try to scan in a printout of that pdf I uploaded for you, certain arrows won't line up, and it won't scan properly.

So, sorry, folks. I tried.

But at the very least, you can use my pirated application to get some pretty important info.

The vast majority of students are placed through a computerized lottery process. (Programs that have some criterion for admission, like City Honors or Olmsted, work differently. You can find info on those admissions processes on Page 3 of the pdf.)

(For those of you who are wondering: This application is only for schools in the Buffalo Public Schools. Charter schools have a completely separate application process. Each charter school runs its own admissions lottery. Their deadlines are generally in early April. That will be the subject of another blog post down the road.)

So back to the info you will find in this pdf for public schools in the general lottery.

Bennett ParkOn the first page, you'll see the age requirements for kindergarten and pre-k throughout the district -- as well as the three-year-old program at Bennett Park Montessori. (Yes, there is a free, all-day, public program in Buffalo for three-year-olds. It's another one of those resources that the district doesn't seem to want people to know about.)

That first page also explains that if your child has a sibling at the school you want him/her to attend, he/she will get preference in the lottery. And if you live within 1.5 miles of the school, your child also gets preference.

But here's the catch: You have to make sure you indicate a sibling preference or proximity preference on your application.

Not sure whether you live within 1.5 miles of a certain school? I'm told the BPS transportation people double-check proximities. In other words, you're better off putting down a proximity preference on the application. If it turns out you live more than 1.5 miles away, they'll weed you out. But if you do not put down a proximity preference -- and it turns out you do live within 1.5 miles of the school -- you lose.

Now, the rules are a little different for Discovery School 67 and Olmsted School 64. Both of those set aside a certain percentage of seats for people living in each school's old attendance zone. This is different from living within 1.5 miles of the school. I don't know why. I also don't know why the district does not provide a list of eligible addresses for each school.

But here's the good news: I got both lists from the district. Here's the list of eligible addresses for the Discovery School attendance zone. And here's the list of eligible addresses for Olmsted 64's attendance zone.

(Contrary to popular opinion, there are no neighborhood seats reserved for Olmsted 156, which is a grades 5-12 building. I've even heard one board member say repeatedly that there are neighborhood seats reserved for that school. It's not true.)

Now, back to the pdf of that application.

On Page 2, you will find a list of schools that have made some sort of warning list under No Child Left Behind. If your child attends one of these schools, you are legally entitled to move them to a higher-performing school.

On Page 4 of the pdf, you will find a list of all the programs in the district, the address for each one, the grade range for each one, and an indication of whether uniforms are required. On this page, you will also find the number for each program and a three-letter program code (GEN). (You will find school numbers and program codes for the criterion-based programs on Page 3 of the pdf.)

When you fill out the application, you will need both the number and program code for each school you want to apply to.

The last three pages of the pdf are copies of the pages you are going to have to fill out and submit to Ash Street.

As you'll see, you can list up to five choices. List them in order of your preference. 

Things can get a little confusing. In some cases, you can apply for more than one program at the same school. For instance, you can apply for a general seat at Olmsted 64 (in which case you'd use GEN as your program code) -- and you can also apply for a seat in the dual language immersion program there (program code IMP) -- and you can apply for a seat in the gifted and talented program there (program code G/T). So you could, theoretically, put down Olmsted three different times, using a different program code each time.

Legally, the district has to give your child a seat somewhere in the district. But it doesn't have to be a school at the top of your list. A little more than half of applicants get their first choice. Another 20 percent get their second choice.

The final thing you need to know is that the Ash Street center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday the week of Thanksgiving, and then 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday all other weeks. But remember, the applications are due on Monday, Nov. 28.

Here's the phone number for Ash Street: 816-3717.

Good luck.

If all goes as planned, you should find out by April 15 which school your child got a seat in.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |