Parents camp three nights in the cold to register kids at area kindergarten

More than 20 people lined up and camped for three straight days and nights outside a Lincoln elementary school for the hottest ticket in town: a spot in their neighborhood kindergarten class.

Many California families may relate to the early morning rush to submit paperwork to enroll in a neighborhood elementary school, and secure their child’s spot for the next six or seven years. Schools throughout the Sacramento region ask parents to register through lotteries and on site.

But parents at Lincoln Crossing Elementary had to start lining up Friday afternoon – applications, immunization records and birth certificates in hand – to wait for doors to open Monday at 7 a.m.

This has been the school’s process since it opened in 2008. Parents registering their first child at the school must wait in line, while parents who have registered children in the past have priority registration and don’t come out to camp.

The district calls the rule fair but acknowledges how competitive it becomes.

Some parents set up tents. Some rented RVs. Others sat in camping chairs braving the rain, cold and wind to ensure their children were among the 100 to land spots at the school. The school secretary dropped by Sunday to check applications and make sure everyone had what they needed to register.

By Monday morning the line grew to nearly 45 parents hoping to enroll in the spaces in one of four kindergarten classes not already taken by those with priority registration.

“If you’re not camping, you’re not getting in,” said Sabina Khan. She and her husband, Keith Mack, were twelfth in line, and rotated over the weekend to enroll their daughter.

Western Placer Unified School District, home to 7,000 students, was scheduled to build a new elementary school in Lincoln in 2006. But delays ensued after the 2008 recession, and the district encountered difficulties acquiring the land after fairy shrimp – an endangered species – were found on site.

The site of the new Scott Leaman Elementary School, named after the current superintendent, remains fenced off and empty. Leaman said it’s scheduled to open in 2020.

“It’s been a major inconvenience for the parents,” Leaman said of the registration process. “But we tried so many different things, and it was fraught with major problems. In people’s minds, ‘first come, first served’ seems to work best.”

The district tried to register kindergarteners by lottery and mail, all of which caused many complaints, according to Leaman.

“People would complain that the person behind them in the post office got in and they didn’t,” he said.

Khan said the process upset some residents who lived right across from the school.

“They saw us camping out and thought they had priority, but we told them they need to get in just like the rest of us,” she said.

Khan can see the newest school in Lincoln being built from her home. She said she purchased her home in 2011, expecting that she could easily enroll her children there.

“When we moved here, the sign read that it’s the location of a school, and then we waited years and years,” Khan said.

Khan said the push to enroll their children at Lincoln Crossing over the city’s other schools isn’t just because of proximity, but because the school ranks better than neighboring elementary schools.

Leaman said the schools are comparable by ranking, and parents favor one over the other because of their commuting convenience in what’s largely considered a bedroom community.

“Parents in the neighborhood don’t want to drive north to drop their children off, and then go back south to take (Highway) 65,” Leaman said.

Leaman checked in with the school Monday, and said he believes all students whose parents waited in line will be assigned a seat at Lincoln Crossing.

“Hopefully, these days are behind us now,” Leaman said.

Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.