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Letters saying children won coveted spots at selective Chicago preschools sent by mistake

CHICAGO (CBS) — About 100 families said they were overjoyed to learn their children were accepted into Chicago Public Schools’ highly competitive preschool programs.

But they would only find out later that the offers had been sent by mistake.

Leslie and Tim Arnold requested that their daughter attend Kindergarten at Drummond Montessori Magnet School in Bucktown.

“We applied and Drummond was our first choice,” Leslie Arnold said.

Drummond Montessori, 1845 W. Cortland St., was described by the Chicago Tribune in 2008 as “harder to get into than Harvard.”

Families are enrolled in the coveted school through a lottery system.

“We got notification that we were accepted to Drummond — I was really, really excited,” Leslie Arnold said.

Their daughter was in – or so they thought.

“They sent out a notice basically canceling the bids — because they made a mistake,” Tim Arnold said.

CPS said a system error incorrectly offered around 100 places. The error affected both Drummond and Suder Montessori Magnet School at 2022 W. Washington Blvd. on the Near West Side.

“Obviously I cried,” Leslie Arnold said. “To get that news after being so excited – and only to be let down.”

CPS apologized for the error, saying in part: “A manual step was missed for the final stage of the admissions process (the point where the system makes/distributes live offers) which erroneously showed empty seats when the seats were actually full, which caused our system to make additional offers to students.”

“What’s more frustrating is the lack of transparency in the whole system and the fact that they’re not actually trying to correct it,” Tim Arnold said. “They took everybody back down the funnel and said, ‘Well, you can try again.’

The Arnolds were placed back on the Drummond waitlist and encouraged to apply to other schools with jobs.

“Those 100 families should have been their first priority and they weren’t,” Leslie Arnold said.

If space becomes available at Drummond or Suder Montessori, CPS said it will give priority to all affected families for spots.

The Arnolds said they did not make it into any of the school’s top five choices for next year.