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Penn Alexander protest, people lined up, closing, school, parents, petitions Credit: Amanda Suarez , Amanda Suarez

School officials announced Friday night that Penn Alexander School would select students for its incoming kindergarten class by a lottery system, even as about 70 parents stood in line to register.

Many parents lined up amongst tents on Locust Street voiced objection at the last-minute nature of the decision. The deadline for students to register for schools outside of their neighborhood passed on Nov. 30, and deadlines for private school registration have also passed.

Previously, Penn Alexander — which was founded in a partnership between Penn and the School District of Philadelphia — filled spots on a first-come, first-serve basis. The line to register has begun hours before actual registration in past years. This year’s registration was scheduled to open Tuesday.

Under the lottery system, parents will have to submit an application to Penn Alexander by April 1, according to a statement by school district Superintendent William Hite. The school district will conduct a lottery later that month.

Students whose parents lined up today will not receive higher priority.

“I know Penn was consulted,” Director of Communications for the Philadelphia School District Fernando Gallard said to the crowd of assembled parents.

“The decision to change the registration process at Penn Alexander was made by the School District,” Vice President for Community and Government Affairs Jeffrey Cooper said in an email. “As a courtesy, the School District advised Penn of the decision and Penn confirmed that the registration process is at the discretion of the School District.”

After placing a call to Hite, Gallard announced at approximately 7 p.m. there would be a meeting on Tuesday with the 70 parents who were at the school.

“[The superintendent] is willing … to listen to your point of view,” he said.

Hite’s statement said the decision was made to “make this process more efficient and less challenging for parents in the catchment area.”

However, parents remained unsatisfied and discussed possible options for action moving forward.

“People are talking about going to get a temporary injunction,” Allan Balridge, a father of pre-kindergarten twins, said. He added that the change was “unacceptable.”

Parent Steve Shade, who left work early to get in line, said he heard parents discussing legal action.

“Some of the parents are attorneys,” he said.

For many of the parents, Penn Alexander is their first and only choice for their children.

“There is no plan B,” said the mother of a 5-year-old who wished to remain anonymous because of her connection with the University. She had been waiting in line since 10 a.m. and did not plan to leave. “We moved here for a better future.”

“[Penn Alexander] is the reason we’re in the neighborhood,” Balridge added.

This is not the first time Penn Alexander’s admissions have caused controversy. In spring 2011, the school announced that it would no longer automatically accept all students within its catchment zone due to overcrowding. In October of that year, parents submitted a petition with over 450 signatures to the Penn administration — which pays $1,300 for each student in the school — in protest of the new policy.

While the administration said in a January 2012 Daily Pennsylvanian article that it could not influence the operations of Penn Alexander, community leaders argued that the University should take a more active role in solving the overcrowding problem.

Last year, Penn announced that it would fund an additional kindergarten class this school year, at an additional cost of $120,000 per year.

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