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About the Waitlists for Grades JK - 5

What is a waitlist?
A waitlist is an impartially-ordered list of students who were unable to be assigned to a particular school.

How do students get placed on a waitlist?
Students who do not receive their first choice of school during the school registration process are automatically placed on a waitlist for that school. If they receive their second or third choice of school, they are automatically placed on the waitlists of the school(s) they listed as a higher priority. If they receive none of their choices, they are placed on all three waitlists.

Another reason a student may be placed on a waitlist is that their parents have requested a transfer into a school that does not have seats available in their assignment category. 

How many waitlists may my child be on?
Students may be on up to 3 waitlists, with the exception of SEI and OSE students, who are automatically placed at the top of the waitlist for the school in which their program is located but also have the option of choosing 3 school waitlists.

What is the process for requesting a transfer?
Parents seeking to transfer their child may print, scan and email our “Request to Transfer” form posted online, send it by mail or complete the form in person at the Family Resource Center (FRC).

Transfers accepted between the summer months and December vacation will be considered current school year transfer requests, and transfers may be offered up until the December vacation. If you wish to transfer your child for the following school year, your transfer request will be accepted starting in January.

How are waitlists ordered? Are assignments made in the order of the waitlist?
Waitlists are initially established as a result of the Kindergarten Lottery. To learn more about how applications are ordered during the lottery, see the Kindergarten Registration booklet for more details.

After the Kindergarten waitlist is established, and at all other grades, new applications are added to the waitlist in the order in which the registration was completed or transfer request was received.

In addition to completion date, waitlists contain information about the student’s assignment category: Free/Reduced Lunch or Paid Lunch. For Immersion Programs, the waitlist notes whether the student speaks the program language. Waitlists also list the student’s gender to ensure that schools do not become imbalanced by gender. In some cases, a student from a particular category may be offered a seat ahead of a student with an earlier application date because they meet the criteria necessary to appropriately balance the school.

In general, waitlist positions are ordered by date. However, a seat must be available in your student’s assignment category (Free/Reduced Lunch or Paid Lunch) to be offered a transfer. Additional rules apply to immersion programs, hardship appeals, and other special situations. To learn more, please see the student’s assignment category, the Controlled Choice, and Waitlists and Transfers sections of our website.

Can waitlist positions change?
The ordering of the waitlist is impartial, but an individual student’s position on the waitlist may be affected by students entering the waitlist as a group, who are given priority ahead of students who are already on the waitlist in the following circumstances:

1) By School Committee policy, students who are mainstreaming to a general education classroom from a JK-5 Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) or Office of Special Education (OSE) classroom will be automatically placed at the top of the waitlist for the building in which their program is located, ahead of all others in their grade level.

2) Students who are granted a Hardship are placed behind mainstreaming students but ahead of all other students. If multiple families have been granted hardships, they are ordered by the date that the hardship was granted.

3) Because Junior Kindergartners and Kindergartners are on the same waitlist, waitlist positions will shift each year when the January Kindergarten Lottery takes place and when  Kindergartners renew in order to move up to the first grade waitlist, as follows:

  • Families who do not receive any of their choices in the Kindergarten Lottery are placed at the top of the JK/K waitlist for their three choices. These “mandatory assignments” are followed by people who received their third choice of school, who are followed by people who received their second choice of school.
  • Children who have renewed to remain on the waitlist and are moving from JK to Grade K follow all new incoming families.
  • When students move up to Grade 1, they may find their waitlist position has improved because some children on their Kindergarten waitlist were JKs who now remain on the waitlist for K.

What happens when a seat becomes available?
Seats are offered to the first student on the waitlist who meets the assignment criteria.  Parents have 48 hours to respond to the transfer offer.

Transfers may take place during the school year up until the December school vacation. Starting in January, students requesting a transfer will be placed on the waiting list for the following September. We will resume offering transfers during the month of July.

What happens if I miss the phone call?
You are responsible for making sure that your current phone numbers are on file with the Family Resource Center. During the summer months, we ask you to leave a vacation contact number or a letter stating in writing that you will accept the transfer if we are unable to contact you. This letter must be very specific about which transfer you will accept if you are on more than one waitlist. If we are unable to contact you by any of these means, you may reapply to the waiting list and your child’s name will be added as of the new filing date.

If I am offered a transfer but I’m not sure I still want to have my child change schools, may I decline it without losing my child’s place on the waiting list?
You may “defer” a transfer request up to two times during the school year and still maintain your child’s position on the waiting list. Parents/guardians may not defer during the Summer months. If you don’t accept a transfer offer, your child will be removed from the waitlist, although you may re-submit a transfer request at a later date.

How many times may my child transfer between schools?
By School Committee Policy, students may transfer once during the school year, up until the December school vacation.

Can my child be on a waitlist if he or she is not attending Cambridge Public Schools?
You must be a resident of Cambridge to keep your child on a CPS waitlist. Students who live in Cambridge but are homeschooled or attend a private, charter, or parochial school may be on a CPS waitlist as long as they are above Grade K.

Because of the high level of mobility in Cambridge, we have no way of knowing which students who do not appear for Kindergarten have left the system and which students are waiting to see if they receive one of their choices. It takes weeks to establish final enrollments, particularly for Kindergarten. Therefore, we do not allow Kindergartners to go onto a waitlist unless they attend a CPS School.

Are seats ever left open in a school?
There are several reasons that a seat may not be filled at a school.

First, seats will only be filled in compliance with the requirements of the Controlled Choice Policy. If a school grade level is imbalanced in terms of the percentage of students who qualify and do not qualify for the Free & Reduced Lunch Program, only students in the under-enrolled assignment category may be offered the seat. There may be instances where a student with assignment priority, such as gender or speaking the program language of an immersion program, will not be eligible because of their assignment category. 

In addition, seats may be left open to manage the enrollments of the Upper Schools. Each Upper School has 2 or 3 schools that feed into it, called triads. The target enrollment of the Upper School is 88 students, and so transfers may be blocked at an individual school when the combined enrollment of its triad exceeds the projected enrollment that would exist by the 6th grade. Called “capping,” this process begins as early as 1st grade transfers and new assignments. In some cases, there may be seats at 1 or 2 schools within a triad, but the enrollment of the triad as a whole has been capped.

In a handful of situations a seat may be left open because a student has received Principal and Superintendent approval to hold their seat during a sabbatical or family medical leave.

Finally, by School Committee policy, students may transfer only up until the December school vacation. If a student leaves a school after that time, his or her seat will remain open for the rest of the school year.

The Family Resource Center seeks to place students as quickly as possible, but there may be unavoidable delays in filling open seats if multiple families on a waitlist choose to defer. With each offer taking a minimum of 48 hours, and families sometimes needing time to transition their child, it can take time to fill a seat. In other cases, issues at the school level can result in the Family Resource Center being unaware of a vacancy.

How can I remove my child from a waitlist?
Please stop by the FRC, or email or call 617.349.6551 to request a waitlist removal form.