Connect the dots

Friday, June 15, 2012

Red Tape First. Always.


Sick? No. Someone hurt? Nope. Home sick? Wish it was that, but no. We've had it being with each other everyday for the past 507 days? You would think so, but not that. 

So why are Alex and I  headed back to Brooklyn?

New York City fortunately has a pre-kindergarten program every fall that is offered for FREE to all NYC children who have reached or will reach the age of 4 by the December 31 of the same year. We planned our trip knowing that we would try to return by the fall of 2012 for Alex to attend. This past spring, I took advantage of the on-line application process and entered our names into the lottery. With our best chances being our zoned school, I put PS 11 first and a long shot but where I probably would return to work, Brooklyn New School or PS 146, second. This past week we received the results and somehow, we got lucky and got a spot at PS 11. I thought I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I decided to call the school to ask how we could complete the pre-registration while we were in Vietnam. The response: 
If you don't show up in person with your child by June 22, you will forfeit your spot.
I explained our situation and optimistically I thought that a simple Skype session or a letter from an attorney would suffice, but again the answer remained the same. I was then transferred to the principal who then explained that they were just following protocol but if the NYC Department of Education (NYC DOE) was willing to allow an alternate method of registration in writing, then the school would comply. I immediately looked up the Director of Elementary Admissions, Gentian Falstom's e-mail and sent her a plea to allow us to register while in Vietnam. Here was her colleague's response: 
I’m following up on behalf Gentian regarding your inquiry below.
I’m afraid that we cannot make an exception regarding the June 12 – 22 pre-k pre-registration requirement. These dates have been posted on our website, the pre-k directory, and in other pre-k communications materials since early this year.
Families are sometimes permitted to come in a couple of days late if there is a medical emergency or something of that nature, but there is no precedent for a school to hold a seat for the entire summer while a family is away.
For information about how to pursue pre-k options for when your family arrives back in the country, please see the pre-k webpage at

Best regards,
I sent a follow-up response which basically asked for a reason why it was not possible for us to verify our identities and proof of residence in an alternate manner. As of today, no response.

Apparently, in the age of Skype, Facetime, and video conferencing, the NYC DOE has decided to remain steadfastly in the middle ages when it comes to pre-registering our iPhone/iPad-versed pre-schoolers.

Let me also add that if verifying who we were was such an issue, then the NYC DOE could have just opened up my file to see that I was formerly employed by them as both a teacher and most recently, an occupational therapist. Proof that Alex exists? I could have easily scanned a copy of her passport, had an attorney verify her existence, sent a relative or friend with the original birth certificate or Skyped with them. 

As for the actual registration process, friends have told me that they didn't ask for photo ID or even look at the child while they filled out emergency contact information and permanent record envelopes. While I appreciated the offers from friends with children to show up as Alex and myself, I had already made known our situation to administrators and the director of elementary admissions herself. I didn't think that plan was viable now. 

Marc and I tossed around the idea of whether to put us on a plane back to NY or not. We decided that losing over $4000 (2 round trip plane tickets from Saigon to NYC + 2 new Vietnamese tourist visas to be expedited at the embassy in NY + the visa extension we originally got 2 days ago because we liked it here so much and wanted to stay longer than 30 days), not to mention wasting over 50 hours to get there and back, and a week in New York staying with family/friends since our home is currently being rented out for the year was worth it. 

So, it looks as though there is no way around the bureaucratic formalities that make absolutely no sense to me. We will rush down to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a flight to meet the June 22 deadline. Alex and I will happily be back to see friends and family. Although, I would have much rather donated that money to the school to fund a program or buy supplies for the children. So much for Children First. Always. It's Red Tape First. Always.


  1. The DOE does a lot of ridiculous things and this is clearly one of them. It's probably too late, but I wonder if an email to the Chancellor and to the Mayor directly would have made a difference. (they seem to be the only two people who can override the bureaucracy.)
    I've loved your posts. Good luck!
    (Leah's mom)

  2. Thanks Lisa! I hope Leah is well. I probably should have mentioned that the response I sent to Nick was copied to the Chancellor. I consider us very lucky to have had the chance to do this trip AND the spot we got at our zoned school, since I know others who weren't so fortunate, so I'm considering this a small glitch in the grand scheme of things.