Arlington, VA

Arlington school officials are planning some major changes to how parents register for the “Extended Day” program, following a variety of technical snafus with sign-ups over the last few years.

Parents looking to enroll their kids in the program, which provides low-cost before and after school care for students, will now be able to submit applications from April 1-May 15 each year.

If schools have enough room, anyone who applied before the May 15 deadline will earn a spot in the daycare service. At schools that receive more applications than they have “Extended Day” slots available, however, applicants will be entered into a “random, double blind lottery” to sort out who earns a spot in the program.

That represents a distinct change from the school system’s old process, which opened up registration on an online portal at a set time (often late at night), and only accepted applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.

That prompted parents to race to register all at once, resulting in a series of system crashes the last few years. Just last year, frustrated parents raced to the school system’s offices in an attempt to register in person, as the technical glitches persisted.

“We understand that the stress of being online early to register was a major imposition for many families and often led to system ‘crashes’ because so many people tried to access the system at the same time,” APS staff wrote in an online announcement explaining the “Extended Day” changes. “This new process will allow everyone to register anytime within the six-week period and all will now have the same opportunity for enrollment.”

School officials wrote that the program saw a substantial increase in enrollment over the last decade — growing from “about 2,600 to over 4,300” students — which they believe contributed to some of the school system’s technical glitches.

APS staff hope this new process means that “all families will have the same opportunity to register, regardless of the time registration opens, access to computers, work schedules and other extenuating factors.”

Officials stressed that no decisions about “Extended Day” enrollment will be made until after May 15 under this new system, and any child who misses out on a spot in a lottery process will be placed on a waitlist. The school system noted that nine elementary schools (Abingdon, Arlington Science Focus, Ashlawn, Claremont, Glebe, Henry, Key, McKinley and Tuckahoe) have reached capacity for the program in the past, making them likely spots for lotteries.

School officials also urge any parents applying for an option school to wait until those results are released on May 1 before applying for “Extended Day” inclusion.

The new process has already irked at least one parent, who told ARLnow that they’re concerned that the school system has created “an entirely new registration process, without a public discussion.”

“If you are going to run a true lottery process, as they seem intent on doing, they need to conclude it much earlier than May 15, so families have an opportunity to make other arrangements if they don’t get lucky,” the parent wrote in an email, declining to give their name.

The school system’s “Extended Day” webpage says that APS plans to post additional information on the new registration process on Monday (March 4).

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