For Baltimore City eighth graders, there’s a rite of passage that comes around this time every year when they learn what high school they will go to in August. It’s a bit like getting college acceptance letters, but everyone gets theirs on the same day.

This year, anticipation grew on Presidents Day when families checked online for the results. But when results were finally posted late in the evening, for 199 of the 5,129 students, they were, well, quite confusing. Some students had been waitlisted everywhere, or they hadn’t gotten in to schools they were pretty sure they should have.

Luke Parker, 13, was letting his father check online that night. Around 11:30 p.m. Mark Parker saw the results and went through Luke’s list: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, waitlisted. City College, waitlisted. Digital Harbor High, waitlisted. Patterson High, waitlisted.

“This doesn’t feel right,” Mark Parker said he thought to himself. Could it be possible that his son didn’t get in anywhere? He had to go to high school somewhere.

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What he later found out was that a glitch in a new system used to place students in schools had failed to place some students anywhere or had assigned them to the wrong schools.

A few miles away, Bonnie Mattox, the mother of an eighth grade boy, had decided not to worry because she felt he was in a good position to get into his first choice, Poly. When she received the notification that high school acceptances had come out, “I was drinking wine and I was watching ‘Love is Blind,’ ” she said, and thought she would check the next day. “There’s no doubt he has gotten into high school.”

But when she signed on at 6:30 a.m., the system said he didn’t live in the city, and therefore couldn’t go to any school. (He does, in fact, live in the city.)

Mattox and Parker immediately emailed the school system with questions. On the other end of those emails were Brandon Tilghman, Baltimore City schools director of enrollment, choice and transfers, and Dominick Bivens, who heads the middle and high school choice process. The two were furiously working on the problem.

For the first time, the school system was merging information from two different data management systems so that parents could see the results online rather than get physical letters in the mail. Tilghman said that CEO Sonja Santelises had pushed to get the choice decisions to parents sooner because private and parochial schools were letting families know whether they had been accepted four or five weeks earlier. As a result, families who wanted to stay in the public school system wouldn’t be able to know whether their child had gotten into a specific city school before they had to secure a spot in a private school.

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“We have, for the first time ever, been able to get our offer letters out four or five weeks out earlier,” Tilghman said.

Baltimore’s system of choice allows students to pick five schools they would like to attend in middle and high school. They are usually given a placement in one of their top choices.

What they discovered was that if an address wasn’t entered in a certain format, the system didn’t recognize the student as living in the city. So if someone entered S. Charles St. instead of spelling out South, for example, the student wasn’t recognized. “We went back and manually cleaned up the addresses so the vendor could run the match,” Tilghman said. Then assured students that they did have a place.

Luke Parker went to school that Tuesday, having been assured by his parents that he would go to high school next fall. “Some people didn’t know yet. So I was just one of those kids who didn’t know,” he said. “I don’t think you can not get into all of your schools.”

His guidance counselor found him late in the day and told him he had gotten into Poly.

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His father had heard that morning that a mistake had been made and his son did have a place at Poly. “This is the one communication that you want to go smoothly,” Mark Parker said. “I don’t think we are overly demanding parents, but this is the one thing we have been anticipating for four or five months.”

“It is heartbreaking to these kids and they are just left in this black hole,” Mattox said, adding that pressure begins in seventh grade to get good grades and test scores to get into one of the city’s four selective high schools. Mattox’s son, too, had gotten into Poly.

Tilghman doesn’t believe that the glitch will harm class sizes at any school. For selective schools like Poly, students are accepted based on a composite score of grades, attendance and scores on standardized tests.

So when a student like Luke was skipped over, another student on the list was accepted. Tilghman said they would never retract offers. Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School was most affected. Mervo has seats for 600 ninth graders, but 20 more were accepted than should have been. Tilghman said with a school that large, it is likely 20 students will decide to go elsewhere and the school may end up with just 600 in August.

Poly accepted 14 more students than it should have and City has 12 more students, Tilghman said. Western and Dunbar were not affected. “It is not going to negatively impact the school enrollment,” said Bivens.

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Of the 199 students, Tilghman said, nearly half — 97— were placed in schools that were correct matches, although there were glitches in their addresses.

At the school board meeting on Tuesday evening, Santelises congratulated her staff for creating the new system and apologized to families that had been affected. “We understand that choosing a school is a stressful process,” she said. But she said the problem was corrected quickly. “The limited number of corrections that were needed were made within a more reasonable period.”

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