LAKELAND, Fla. — Hundreds of parents braved the chilly temperatures Monday morning in hopes they would secure a spot for their child in the VPK program in Polk County schools.
Monday marked the beginning of registration for parents.
Jonathan Nunez and his wife were the first in line. They started camping out at Polk County School's Woodlake Center at 2:30 a.m.
"It's your son. It's your child. You want the best for your child, and that's why I guess me and everybody here is doing the same. Otherwise, I would be home sleeping now for sure," Nunez said.
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They weren't alone. Devon Colomba was right behind them.
"This is crazy, but you want to give your child the best chance, the best head start in life. And, you know, as parents, you sacrifice and you wake up at the crack of dawn and try to get them in the best schools and on the right path," Colomba said.
The office typically opens at 8:00 a.m., but the demand prompted a 30-minute early start. In years past, slots have filled up quickly.
Parents like Nunez said they knew that already and were prepared this year.
As dawn turned to daylight, dozens of parents turned into hundreds. By 9:30 a.m. the line trailed back through the parking lot.
"I’m glad were came when we did," Amber Burns, a mother who showed up at 5:30 a.m. said.
According to Polk County Public Schools, there are 1,400 spots for VPK in public schools; which leaves about 35 or fewer spots for children at each of the 40 schools which offer the programs in the large county.
But why the long lines? Polk County Schools said it's been this way for several years. The district admitting it is aware they do things differently compared to other counties.
In Polk County, parents can download application papers online, but the process must be completed in person.
After ABC Action News questioned the protocol, Polk County Public Schools said they might move to an online system next year.
"We do recognize that it takes a lot of time, and we will be looking at that process," Rachel Pleasant, a spokewoman for Polk County Public Schools said.
We found out that the 1,400 public school spots usually fill up in the first few days of registration. Parents that line up usually have a preference of which school they'd like their child to attend.
Once spots run out, parents can enroll their children in private school VPK programs across Polk County.
If you're interested in registering for Polk County Public School VPK, registration is now open and remains open until the beginning of the school year.
For certificates of eligibility, click here.
For instructions for VPK in Polk County, click here.