Some Districts Introduce Online Registration Amidst the Pandemic

by Rose Marie Paul, HMG-LI Family Resource Specialist

To meet safety guidelines due to the current pandemic, more and more school districts on Long Island are moving towards online registration for families entering Pre-K and Kindergarten. Families seeking services for developmental concerns for children ages 3 to 5 must also complete this registration process.

Registering your child for school on Long Island has never been easy, the traditional process for registering a new student typically involves completing the respective district’s registration packet, then calling the school to schedule an appointment to submit the packet for review. Now, some districts offer online registration in which parents visit the respective district’s registration page, click a link, complete the online registration form, and wait to receive an email and/or call back from the district once the application has been reviewed. Innovation – yeah! Moving into the modern world! Right?  From what we have seen here at Help Me Grow – Long Island (HMG-LI) whether this a good thing or a bad thing depends on the end user.

What are the pros? For districts that have gone virtual, the new process has provided greater flexibility for parents. Busy working parents can log in and sign up at 9pm when kids are asleep; they don’t need to take time off to pick up or drop off the packet of paperwork in person (or beg their mother-in-law to go do it.) All good. Districts have risen to the occasion to meet the needs of parents and provide contactless service in the age of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, most of the families that HMG-LI  worked with usually took about 3-4 weeks to complete a paper registration packet. In contrast, the families located in online-only districts are now completing the virtual registration packet in about 5-7 days. That is a huge improvement. This could be the result of not having to physically go to the school, the online application seeming less intimidating than a physical thick packet. The reason might never be known but we can celebrate the COVID-19 effort, and the secondary effect of making it easier for families.

Of course there is always a flip side. While some parents seem to be completing registration faster than ever, other parents seem to find themselves adrift. A parent recently reached out to me for assistance because she could not figure out why she could not get past the first registration page. She believed something to be wrong with the system. It turned out she was using dashes to input her child’s DOB instead of using slashes as the form required. Other families don’t own printer/scanners. So, completing and submitting the “Renter Affidavit” form proved to be a challenge for some. HMG-LI worked with a parent to find an alternative way to submit the form. I spoke to central registration and they informed us the parent could simply provide a JPG image of the completed form. The school gave the parent the option of either coming to the district to pick up the form and/or to waiting to receive the form by mail. That is district flexibility at its best – problem solved! Unfortunately, many of the parents we work with that are enrolling their first child for the first time get stuck and need assistance to advocate for themselves.  

As bi-lingual resource specialists for Help Me Grow – Long Island, we can help families navigate the ever-changing registration processes. We speak English, Spanish, Creole, and can always use Language Line should we need assistance in communicating with a family in another language. With permission from a parent, we are sometimes able to advocate for the child and speak to central registration offices, we are able to help decode certain terms and programs for parents, and we can help parents via phone call or text – whatever is easiest for them!

Is online registration a good thing or a bad thing? I guess that is not really the question; with COVID-19 it is the reality. But with every major change we need to acknowledge that some families will struggle to adapt. Some families don’t have access to a laptop or tablet and are trying to complete these forms on their phone; in some families the home language is not English; and some families are isolated, without extended family or connections to help them through the new process. These families are at highest risk for not being able to successfully complete the online forms and take the next steps. HMG-LI is here to help fill those gaps for families in the short term, and in the long term we strive to help families build self-efficacy and support systems in their community so they can better manage changes and challenges as they arise in order to raise healthy happy children on Long Island.

“Thank you so much, you’ve been such a great help, and I’m definitely going to refer other families to you!”

FROM A PARENT ASSISTED BY HMG-LI FAMILY RESOURCE SPECIALIST

Families with children 0-5 in Nassau and Suffolk counties can contact Help Me Grow – Long Island for free support managing school enrollment and accessing many other services for their children, in addition to learning about developmental milestones and free developmental screenings.

To use Help Me Grow – Long Island:

Rose Marie Paul works at Docs for Tots as a Bilingual Family Resource Specialist for Help Me Grow — Long Island. She received her Bachelor of Science from Queens College in 2017, where she studied Psychology. In her previous position, Rose served the community as a Bilingual Care Manager at Hispanic Counseling Center for over 2 years. She was responsible for assisting developmentally disabled individuals and their families with accessing a variety of resources and services to meet their needs. As a Care Manager, Rose was able to provide advocacy for children in need of speech, physical, occupational, and behavioral therapies at CSE meetings. 

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