All children living in Washington State have the right to access public education.
Children can start kindergarten at age 5 and continue in school until they graduate or turn 21.
It starts with enrollment (or registration). Questions we get about school enrollment include:
- What information or paperwork is required for enrollment?
- Who can enroll a student?
- Where can a student enroll, or which school can a family choose?
Click on the questions below.
- What information or paperwork is generally required for enrollment?
In order to enroll a student in school, schools generally ask for documents to:
- Verify your address;
- Confirm your child’s age (especially for kindergarten enrollment); and
- Show that your child has had required immunizations.
You can ask for help at the school or at the school district office. You can also contact our office at 1-866-297-2597 or visit our Get Help page to contact us through our online intake system at: https://services.oeo.wa.gov/oeo.
Schools often list examples of the kinds of documents you can use for enrollment. If you do not have the specific documents that the school generally requires (like a copy of bills, or a birth certificate for your child), talk to the school enrollment office about your situation.
Alternatives to Birth Certificates/Passports: Schools must accept alternatives to show a child’s age or date of birth. The school cannot insist on receiving a birth certificate or passport if you do not have one. Other alternatives might include an adoption record, a certified statement of a physician, or an immunization record with a birthdate on it.
Proof of Residency: Schools generally ask for proof of where you are living in order to be sure your child is a resident of the district. However, if you are currently without a regular place to live (if you are experiencing homelessness), the school cannot require documents before enrolling your child. If this might apply to you or a child you are caring for, ask at the school or district office to talk with the school district’s “McKinney Vento Liaison.”
Remember, all children who live in Washington State have the right to access public education. If you are trying to enroll your child in school, but you do not have the paperwork the school usually requires, please ask for help.
- Who can enroll a student?
In Washington State, people who can enroll a child in school include:
- Parents or Legal Guardians
- A person acting as a Parent in the absence of a parent or guardian. This might include:
- A relative providing “Kinship Care”,
- A Foster Parent, or
- A Caregiver acting in the role of parent.
- A Youth on Their Own. A young person who is not living with a parent, and does not have a fixed, regular or adequate place to live, can get help enrolling on their own as an “Unaccompanied Homeless Youth.” Ask to talk to a McKinney Vento Liaison if you are on your own, or are helping a young person who is on their own enroll in school.
According to FERPA, the federal law on education records, “parent” “includes a natural parent, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian.” (You can read more about FERPA, on the U.S. Department of Education’s website at: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html.
When a child is in foster care, there might be several people involved in helping make decisions about their education. A Caregiver Authorization form will often identify the person who can make education decisions, including enrolling the child in school. For more information check out the Guide to Supporting Students in Foster Care, available from Treehouse for Kids (www.treehouseforkids.org), from OSPI’s Foster Care Program (https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/access-opportunity-education/foster-care), and at this direct link: https://www.treehouseforkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/treehouse2017final2ndedinteractive.pdf.
- Where can a student enroll in school?
All students have the right to access education from the district where the student lives most of the time. This is the student’s “resident school district.”
A student’s residence might not be the same as their parent’s residence.
Washington State’s rule defining a student’s residence is in the Washington Administrative Code, the “WAC” at WAC 392-137-115, which you can find online at: https://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=392-137-115. It explains that a student’s residence is where the student stays most of the time.
In general, each school district can decide how to assign students to the different schools within the district.
Most school districts assign students to a school that is near where they live, often called an “attendance area” or neighborhood school. If neighborhood schools overflow, school districts might assign students to other schools within the district.
Many large school districts also have an “open enrollment” period when families can apply for the schools they prefer. It is usually near the beginning of the calendar year through early spring. Look for information from your district about options for school enrollment.
Once a student is assigned to a particular school, some districts only allow a transfer to another school if there is a hardship or similar reason. Others allow transfers if there is space available. Ask for your district’s policies and procedures to learn more about the options within your district.
Remember, each child has a right to access education from the school district where they live. If you are facing barriers to enrollment, you can contact our office at 1-866-297-2597, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through our online intake system at: https://services.oeo.wa.gov/oeo.
Children experiencing homelessness and children in foster care can attend school where they are currently staying, or, they can get help to stay in their “School of Origin,” even if they had to move to a different area.
The law that gives protections and supports to students experiencing homelessness is called the “McKinney Vento Act,” and each school district has a McKinney Vento Liaison to help families and students experiencing homelessness. That can include students and families doubling up with friends or relatives because they do not have a place of their own. If there is a chance that you or your child might be eligible for McKinney Vento supports, including staying in the School of Origin, please ask to talk to your school district’s “McKinney Vento Liaison.” You can also check out more information about Supports for Students Experiencing Homelessness on our website.
The federal education law known as “ESSA,” (the Every Student Succeeds Act), recently added a section to give school of origin, transportation and immediate enrollment protections to children in foster care. If you are caring for a child in foster care, ask to talk to your district’s “Foster Care Liaison” to see how they can help you support your child’s education.
Read more about protections and supports for students in Foster Care in the Guide to Supporting Students in Foster Care, available from Treehouse for Kids (www.treehouseforkids.org), from OSPI’s Foster Care Program (https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/access-opportunity-education/foster-care), and at this direct link: https://www.treehouseforkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/treehouse2017final2ndedinteractive.pdf.
There are many kinds of public school options in our state. If you would like to explore an option that is not in your district but is in a nearby district or online, you can ask to talk to the district about a “non-resident transfer”—meaning, you would like services for your student outside your district.
Every district must have a policy on “non-resident” or “choice” transfers. Requesting transfer from one district to another is a two-step process, requiring your resident district to release your student and the non-resident district to accept your student. You can find a link for an online choice transfer request portal on OSPI’s website, at: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/support-programs/student-transfers or by asking your district. Check out our School Choice / Transfer web page, Choice Transfer Toolkit and OSPI’s webpage on Student Transfers for more information.
Some of the public school options in Washington State include:
Alternative Learning Experiences, including Online and Home/School Partnerships:
Some school districts offer “Alternative Learning Experiences,” a type of public education where some or all of the instruction is delivered outside of a regular classroom. This includes online schools, and home/school partnership programs.
Ask at your school district office, or check your district’s website for information about alternative options in your area.
You can also find a list of approved Online School Programs at the OSPI Learning Alternative webpages, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/learning-alternatives/online-learning/approved-online-schools-and-school-programs.
Regional Skills Centers:
Skills Centers are regional programs that offer courses to high school students in different career and technical programs. There are more than a dozen regional skills centers, and several branch campuses, around the state. Ask for information from your high school counselor or at the district office to see if your district participates in a Skills Center program, and what kinds of courses they offer.
You can also find a list of Skills Centers, and links to their websites, on the OSPI career and technical education page, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/career-technical-education/skill-centers.
Open Doors Re-Engagement Programs:
Many districts have developed Open Doors Youth Reengagement programs that support students ages 16-21 who got off track with school, but want to give it another try. The Open Doors programs often have more flexible schedules, and they work closely with each young person to map out a path toward graduation and success. If you are looking for an alternative way to get back into school, or back on track, ask a high school counselor or someone at a district office if there is a Re-engagement Program near you.
You can also contact us to see if we can help you find options. You can call us at 1-866-297-2597, email us at email@example.com, or connect with us through our online intake system at: https://services.oeo.wa.gov/oeo.
In addition to schools operated by the 295 school districts in Washington, public school options in Washington State also include:
- The State School for the Blind, and
- The State School for the Deaf;
- Tribal schools, and
- Public Charter schools.
You can find information about Tribal schools on OSPI’s Office of Native Education website at: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/access-opportunity-education/native-education/types-tribal-schools.
You can find information about currently operating public charter schools from the Washington Charter School Commission, online at: https://charterschool.wa.gov/. For a list of charter schools authorized by the Commission, and currently operating, look here: https://charterschool.wa.gov/what-are-charter-schools/commission-authorized-charter-schools/.
For charter schools authorized by Spokane Public Schools, look here:https://www.spokaneschools.org/Page/2827.