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Columbia Spectator Staff

Applications for Gifted and Talented programs in the citywide public school system were released this morning, and changes in admissions policies have both parents and elected officials looking for better solutions.

The new policy removes sibling preference and catchment preferences while making it harder to go to a program out of a localized educational district. In the past students who were recognized as gifted or talented were guaranteed a space in the same G&T program in which an older sibling was already enrolled or because of catchment in the G&T program of their assigned local school. Students' placement will now be based on standardized intelligence tests alone.

Though teacher recommendations are still required for admission into a G&T program, it is unclear what, if any, weight will be placed on these recommendations.

The changes, which followed a series of meetings on how to improve the admissions system for the advanced programs, came directly from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Many see them as an unfair burden on parents and a quick fix with far too many flaws.

Under the new system, a child who is not accepted into a program at their sibling's school will be offered a place in that schools' General Education program. But if a parent opted to send their child to another G&T program, they would need to get their children to two different schools every morning.

"The person who is in charge is Mr. Klein, and he is interested in making his life simple, not [the lives] of the parents in schools," said Ira Gershenhorn, parent of a fifth grader in PS 166's G&T program. Gershenhorn cited the removal of sibling preference as the biggest concern, arguing that a parent who has kids in two separate schools will be less involved in both. "It's wonderful that parents are involved, but it's a lot to ask for parents to be involved in two schools."

Representatives from the Department of Education did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails by press time.

The changes stemmed from a desire to create a more equitable system for Gifted and Talented admissions, according to a member of the District 3 Community Education Council, a parent advisory board for local public schools. Prior to the removal of sibling and catchment preference, it was likely that all spots in a given G&T program would be filled before any non-catchment or non-sibling applicant had a chance, she said. The board member spoke on condition of anonymity in order to preserve her ability to lobby against the changes.

There are some local areas that are not caught in the sphere of any G&T programs.

Anne Hall, a parent of a first grader in the Gifted and Talented program at PS 9 on 84th Street, agreed. "In general. I think it is absolutely detrimental to take away the sibling [preference policy], she said. "[PS 9] relies so much on the funding of parents. You cannot have that kind of involvement in two or three different schools."

Still, Washington Acero, father of a six-year-old at the dual-language G&T program at PS 165, on 109th Street, was not worried about how the new policy would affect his four-yearâ€"old son, Jhona. "It would be OK," he said. "Jhona [would] go to a different school."

The changes mandated by the Department of Education raise questions about the autonomy of District 3 decision-makers. "Four years ago, District 3 made all its own decisions," Gershenhorn said. "They would never have taken word from the central office. The whole situation is ludicrous."

Local parents have petitioned Klein to consider changing the new policy. CEC members and the Community District 3 Presidents' Council, a group of local PTA presidents, have encouraged parents to send letters to Klein expressing their displeasure with the new system. The Council also passed a unanimous resolution opposing the changes, placing emphasis on the negative impact of sibling-blind placement. The resolution was then forwarded to the DOE and elected officials on October 28.

Responding to concerns of her constituents, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-West Side) sent a letter to Chancellor Klein asking him to revise the new policies.

"Families should be together at all costs," said Tyler Smith, Brewer's spokesman. "Financially it's crucial, it's crucial to community. Time and time again, it is shown that [parent involvement enhanced by children going to the same school] makes better schools," he said.

Brewer also asked that catchment preference be reinstated, but suggested that catchment areas be redrawn so that every area has a G&T program. Asked yesterday about the effectiveness of the letter in changing policies that are to go into effect today, Smith said "we'll have to wait and see."

Sumaiya Ahmed and Emily Msall contributed reporting for this article.