Parents camp out nearly two weeks to enroll students in exclusive Cincinnati school

CINCINNATI - The camp out to land a spot in Clifton Fairview German Language School began Thursday - 13 days before registration.

Cold days and nights await about 40 groups of parents and guardians who hope to enroll their kindergartners in the Cincinnati Public Schools magnet school.

Peter Chamberlin and parents of three other children initiated this year’s frenzy when they showed up at about 1:30 p.m. By 3:10 p.m., 33 people had signed up on a makeshift list that Chamberlin took charge of compiling. By 3:20, the list had grown to 40 for what the campers believed are about 32 open spots in the first-come, first-served portion of enrollment.

In fact, there are 35 spots available, said Janet Walsh, CPS spokesperson.

Clifton Fairview has been a coveted spot for Cincinnati parents for years, with its highly praised K-6 curriculum that integrates German language teaching. The first-come, first-served system has come under fire for being unfair to parents who can’t afford to take time off work to camp out for up to two weeks. As a result, Cincinnati Public Schools added a lottery for some slots – 16 this year – but kept a limited number of spots reserved for the campers after an outcry from parents who wanted to preserve that method.

The surplus of campers above the number of spots available came about because some of them are also awaiting word of whether they won the lottery to enroll their students. The lottery closed Saturday, but parents have not been informed who was chosen.

“It just seems to me they could do a lot of families a lot of good if they send out that information in a timely manner,” said Sherri Prentiss, who unhappily showed up for the camp out while awaiting word on whether she won a spot in the school for her son, Walker, through the lottery.

She said the school office referred her to the district office, which referred her to CPS’s IT department. She has not heard back from the IT people.

But there's good news, lottery campers.

"The letters are at the post office today and they should be getting them as early as tomorrow," Walsh said. "It’s their choice if they want to continue standing in line, but it will be a short wait if they were selected in the lottery."

Angelo Dania, whose daughter Sophia will start kindergarten next year, had his trunk packed with a tent, sleeping bag and other essentials for a week before he high-tailed it to the school today.

“I would rather be doing anything else, but if this is what it takes, it’s worth it,” he said. “This is less ridiculous than standing in line for an X-box."

Dania is a web developer and has everything he needs to work from the field – literally, in a grass field – except electricity. He’ll need to find substitutes to sit for him while he recharges his computer and phone.

The first person in line has historically been an object of scorn for the rest of the parents who face long days and nights waiting for registration day. Chamberlin said he came with four other parents so that they could share responsibility.

They played the “rock, paper, scissors” game to choose who would sign up as No. 1.

Chamberlin lost.

“That’s how it goes,” he said with a shrug.

When another parent approached him and asked if he was the one who started the line, he announced with a smile,

“There’s a no-hating policy!”

His best hope for a mellow crowd may be Leslie Sikes, parent of Lila, who is a yoga instructor and plans to lead the group in yoga classes as the days wear on.

“Maybe we can raise some awareness,” she said. 

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