Getting the Public School You Want
BY KRISTI HEIN
First, the basics: It's up to you to register your child with your school district when he's old enough for kindergarten. In California, that means reaching age five by December 2 (though pending legislation may soon push that date back). To take advantage of the open enrollment process, you may need to register as early as December of the prior school year-check with your district.
You may be required to register at your neighborhood school, or at the district office. Bring proof of age and immunization records for your child, as well as proof of residency (see below). All district registration/enrollment forms ask for address, birth date, current school, and desired school. Most request information on ethnicity, siblings enrolled in the school or district, and current enrollment in or need for bilingual or special education. These factors may be highly significant in getting your chosen school, so you must stay current on your district's policies.
Once your child is enrolled, the school and/or district will notify you of upcoming enrollment periods, and tell you where to pick up forms-generally at your residence school, sometimes at the district office or a special placement center. Some districts automatically send forms to students in the top grade of their elementary, middle, or junior high school who will be moving on to a new school.
High school academies and magnets, and specialized alternative schools may require a separate application in addition to, or instead of, the OER. Some require a portfolio of the student's work, essays, even an entrance exam or interview. Arts schools may require a visual arts portfolio, or a performing arts audition.
When open enrollment requests exceed openings at a school, selection must be random and unbiased; that is, all requests must be pooled for a "lottery" drawing, rather than filling the spaces as requests come in. (This rule applies only to open enrollment; in the case of newly registered kindergartners, and mid-year enrollments and transfers by students new to the district at other times of year, placement will be first come, first served as space allows.) However, other factors may apply to the lottery pool, as districts may prioritize these applicants into separate groups and draw from them in order. Your application to a school beyond your residence school may be ranked by other considerations (examples are listed below). Applications will be batched by these criteria, then drawn randomly from each batch, beginning with the first-priority group:
Students transfer between districts (or from private to public school) for a number of reasons:
Under the AB 19 venture, Districts of Choice set annual limits on the number of interdistrict students they will accept each year, and may further deny transfer requests on the grounds that space has become even more limited. They must place transfers through a "random, unbiased" process (lotteries are the preferred method) in accordance with any racial balance programs. All require annual renewal of the interdistrict transfer permit. While most interdistrict transfers are requested throughout the year, some districts also process such applications during the open enrollment process as a logical component of school choice. Parents may ask for transportation assistance within the boundaries of the district into which they have transferred, but the district is only required to provide it to the same extent it already provides it to other students.
The following are examples of reasons for an interdistrict transfer under Ed Code §46600 (under which districts set up written agreements to accept transfers for just cause). Some county offices of education provide a helpful "Interdistrict Appeal Process Handbook."
To such a list, each district may add its own requirements. All requests require the approval of both districts. Here are examples of how some address such requests.
The district may grant an interdistrict permit if:
1) the student's parent works for the district;
2) the student's parent works within the district;
3) the student's family is renovating or building a home in the district.
These priorities apply when requests exceed space. When even first-priority requests can't be met, other factors kick in, such as how long a student has been enrolled at a school, how long a parent has been employed, whether they work full- or part-time, and whether siblings attend the school.
Some are official District of Choice but in practice they are able to approve very few requests from other districts.
Some districts (for example, Oakland) enter into contractual attendance agreements with adjacent districts each year, spelling out criteria and financial responsibilities. The district grants transfers out "with good reason," but the student and a family member must submit their request to the Director of Student Services, and meet with department staff before approaching the other district for approval. In both cases, the "Request for Transfer or Interdistrict Permit," if approved, leads to the issue of a "Non-Residence Attendance Permit," valid only for that school year.
Requests for a transfer out for special education services can receive especially close scrutiny.
School choice was conceived, at least in part, to woo back parents who had moved their children from the public system into private or parochial schools. If you're still considering those options, you must take careful note of your candidate schools' application schedules and any required financial commitments. Covering your bases with both public and private applications could cost you part or all of a private school deposit. (See below.)
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