Streams

Guide: Enrolling Your Child

What school will my child attend?

The process of enrolling your child depends on whether he or she will be attending elementary, middle or high school. For elementary school, in most cases, the answer will depend on where you live. The city is divided into school districts, and districts are divided into zones; each school is assigned a zone. Your child is guaranteed a seat in a public school, typically the one for which your address is zoned. To find out which elementary school your child is zoned for, call 311.

However, because of severe overcrowding in some neighborhoods and the popularity of certain schools, it is not always possible for your child to attend his or her zoned elementary school. If this happens, you will be placed on a waiting list. If by late spring your child is still on the waiting list for a zoned elementary school, the Department of Education’s Office of Student Enrollment will assign the child to another school outside his or her zone. Applications for most schools are due in March, but you will want to apply as early as possible to have the best chance of getting your child a seat in a popular or crowded school.

Other options for elementary school can be found at charter or independent schools.

At the middle school level, things become a bit more complicated because each district has its own system for assigning students to schools. Some districts have mostly zoned middle schools, meaning most students go to the middle school for which they are zoned. Other districts are known as choice districts, where students are guaranteed a seat in a middle school within the district but can apply to the schools that most appeal to them. The Education Department’s Web site has a list of every district by borough and links to directories outlining the choice process in each district. Directories are also distributed to families in September.

For high school, students have the widest variety of choices. They can attend a zoned high school, where admission priority is given to students who live within the zoned area. Not every borough has zoned programs, but you can check online in the High School Directory to see if there are any offered in your geographical area. Students can also choose high schools elsewhere in the city, including career and technical education schools, charter schools or specialized schools. Whether students want to attend a zoned high school, a large or small public high school outside of their borough or one of the city’s specialized high schools, they must apply. Some of the schools require testing, auditions or other pre-admissions actions.

The Education Department’s Web site has a link to help you in your school search.

Are there admissions qualifications for public schools?

The only admissions qualifications for public schools are that your child be between the ages of 5 and 21 and live in New York City. There are additional qualifications only if your child is applying for gifted and talented programs or for specialized high schools.
To be placed in a specific school, priority for admission in kindergarten and elementary school is given to students in this order:

  • Zoned students with a sibling who will be in grades one through five at the school.
  • All other zoned students.
  • Students living in the school’s district but outside the school’s zone, with a sibling who will be in grades one through five.
  • Students living outside the district with a sibling who will be in grades one through five.
  • All other students living in the school’s district but outside the zone.
  • All other students.

In middle school, students can enroll in zoned schools determined by home address or they can apply for admissions through the school choice process. All students living in New York City who have met promotional standards from elementary school admissions are guaranteed entrance into a public middle school in the city.

To file an application and participate in the high school admissions process, a student must be an eighth grader or first-time ninth grader, and a resident of New York City. Beyond this, there may be additional requirements depending on the type of high school the child is applying to. This page provides information on the high school admissions process.

What documents do I need to register my child for school?

To register your child for school, you must submit your child’s immunization records, his or her birth certificate or passport, and any transcripts from any other schools attended. If your child has an individualized education plan (I.E.P.), submit that, as well.

The city also requires you to submit two documents proving that your child lives in New York City. Proof of residency can include a utility bill with your current address and a letter on official government letterhead, like a tax return or letter from the Administration for Children’s Services.

More information can be found on the Department of Education Web site.

Can I register my child in a public school if he/she is undocumented?

Any child between the ages of 5 and 21 who has not graduated from high school is entitled to a free public education, including undocumented immigrants, children with disabilities and children who do not speak English. You do not need a green card or a Social Security number to register your child, nor should the school ask you for one.

At what age should I register my child for prekindergarten and is she/he entitled to a prekindergarten seat?

You may register your child for prekindergarten, also known as pre-K, the year he or she turns 4, but unlike with K-12 school, there is no guarantee of a pre-K seat. Programs are either 2 1/2 hours long in either the morning or the afternoon, or 6 hours long.

Parents must follow an application procedure that is outlined on the Department of Education’s Web site. Children who have siblings enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade at the school they are applying for have the highest priority when seats are allocated. The next priorities are given to children living in the zone and district.

If there are more students applying than there are available seats within a priority group, there will be a random assignment process for the available seats. However, placement in a prekindergarten program in a school does not guarantee a kindergarten placement in that school for the following school year.

The Education Department has a prekindergarten directory on its Web site.
Some community organizations also offer pre-K classes as part of a full-day child-care program. Those programs have their own applications and processes.

How old does a child have to be to start kindergarten in New York City, and how do they apply?

The Department of Education is required to find a spot for your child in public school in September of the year they turn 5. Kindergarten is now mandatory for all five year-olds in New York City with two exceptions that require contacting the D.O.E. first: parents may decide to opt out of kindergarten for their child and children may be home schooled. Some public schools have pre-kindergarten for 3-year-old and 4-year-old children, but those spaces are limited and not guaranteed. (see above)

To register for kindergarten in the public school system you must first find out what district and zone you live in. You can do this by calling 311 or by entering your address in a search engine on the Education Department website. You must submit a kindergarten application for your child even if he or she is applying to your zoned school.

Starting in January 2014, parents can apply to kindergarten online through Kindergarten Connect. There will be one common application for them to list up to 20 schools.They also can apply by calling the D.O.E. or going to a borough enrollment office. 

Rules for applying to charter schools in kindergarten are similar. However, if there are more applicants than spaces available, charter school admittance will be determined by random lottery.

The process for private school kindergarten applications is more complicated. You must contact your school(s) of choice for more information.

When do I register my child for kindergarten or elementary school?

Kindergarten applications for the following school year are available in January and this year must be submitted by Feb. 14, 2014. More information can be found on the Education Department’s Kindergarten Admissions Page.

Students new to New York City can register at their zoned elementary school anytime during the school year by visiting their local Borough Enrollment Office, which can be found online.

What is a zoned school?

A zoned school is a neighborhood public school for all students who live within a designated geographic area, or zone. The zone’s boundaries are set by each school district’s Community Education Council. A zoned school offers convenience to families, because it is usually the public school closest to the student’s home.

Must my child attend her zoned elementary school?

Most elementary school children attend zoned schools, unless they are admitted to magnet or specialized programs, like gifted and talented. (Middle school students also attend zoned schools, but the system of assigning middle school varies from district to district, and some districts allow middle school choice.)

There are a few ways in which a student may request a transfer out of a zoned school. If the school was listed for at least the past two years as a School in Need of Improvement (SINI) under Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act, or as a New York State Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school, a child may transfer out to a higher-achieving school under the Public School Choice Program. The state is replacing the SINI label for under-performing schools with two new terms, “priority” and “focus,” now that it’s won a waiver from the NCLB law. But the city says parents at schools that were SINI can still request transfers.

Students can also seek a Placement Exception Request (PER), also referred to as a variance, that will allow transfer from the zoned school to another school in or out of the district. For elementary school students, the variance can be filed with the Department of Education for the following reasons: medical, safety, the primary childcare or parent’s employer is far from the zoned school, or a sibling is attending a different school and the parent would like to keep them together.

To transfer your child out of his current zoned school first speak to your child’s guidance counselor about the transfer request. The counselor will review the request and can provide supporting documentation, which can be brought to the Borough Enrollment Office.

However, students in the fifth grade of a K-5 school and all eighth graders cannot request to transfer out of a school because they will be leaving the school anyway the following year.

More on public school choice can be found on the Department of Education’s Web page. For information on the state’s new accountability system, and a list of all the newly labeled “priority” and “focus” schools, visit the New York State Education Department’s site. For information about filing a complaint with the New York City Department of Education, follow the procedures outlined on this D.O.E. link.

How do I find out what school my child is zoned for?

To find out what school one is zoned for, you can call 311 and give the operator your address, or you can go to the Department of Education Web site, and on the homepage “School Search” feature, enter your address. The problem is that the information is not always accurate at either, especially if there has been , or will be, rezoning and it is not updated in the D.O.E. maps, or if your address is on a boundary street with another school.

There is also an option on the “School Search” feature after entering a school number or name, that allows you to click on “School Zone.” (Click on “More” and then check “School Zone.)” Unfortunately, the zone maps provided are again not always accurate, especially if there has been rezoning.

The ultimate authority, however, on your zoned school is the school you believe to be your school, as each zoned school has a list of every address associated with its school. Call the school or stop by to confirm that your address is included. Some Community Education Councils may also have up-to-date maps available on their Web sites.

This answer was provided by Robin Aronow of School Search NYC.

What if there are no zoned elementary schools available for my area?

If you cannot find a zoned school linked to your home address, first double check by calling nearby public schools to inquire about their zones, as the boundary lines may have been changed. If you are still not within any of the zones, the Borough Enrollment Office can help you find suitable options and provide an application for other schools within your school district. You can also search for nearby charter schools, which give admissions preference to families living within their district.

What if I don’t yet have an address and want to know the boundaries for a particular school’s zone?

This information is not easily accessible on the D.O.E. Web site and many people make the mistake of taking real estate agents at their word for it. Not all maps, including ones provided online by the school’s parents association or other groups, are entirely up to date, either. The best course is to call the school that you are interested in and ask if it is the zoned school for the address you are considering.

Your local Community Education Council also should know the boundaries or zones for every school in the district. The education councils are composed of elected parent representatives. They mostly serve as liaisons to the Department of Education, but they can also approve any zoning changes for local schools.

The Education Department lists the community education councils and their phone numbers. There are 32 geographic districts. InsideSchools.org has a map of the districts.

When does my child need to apply for middle school?

Applications for middle school are distributed in November and are due in early December. Students who want to attend their zoned middle school still need to fill out the general application form and indicate the zoned school as their choice. The Department of Education Middle School Choice deadlines can be found on a Department of Education calendar. In many cases, your elementary school will handle most of the application process for you.

Some districts also offer gifted and talented programs. Students from the district who are not already in a gifted and talented elementary school must test into those schools. There are some district programs that are also open to students citywide. They can be found in the district directories. Eligibility to take the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test or OLSAT, the admissions test for Gifted and Talented programs, is determined by scores on the state English Language Arts and math exams. Students must score a 4 or above. If your child meets this requirement you need to return the Request for Testing by mid-October, or register with the school.

Do I have a choice of schools for my middle school child?

The options available for middle school children varies from district to district. To help you figure out which rules apply to your child, InsideSchools.org has a map that can help you locate your district based on your address. Once you have determined your district, you can find out its system for placing middle school children by looking at the district directories. However, the admissions criteria are not always clear, which can result in some confusion about the actual choices available.

More broadly, the types of admissions procedures include screened (based either on language background or academics), test based placement, limited unscreened, unscreened and zoned. Priority is given to 5th grade students continuing on in a K-8 school. Priority will also be given to students who reside within the school’s zone.

If the school is screened by academics, admissions may be based on any combination of the following: academics (grades), attendance, interview, writing sample or teacher recommendations. If it is screened by language, background preference may be given to English language learners or students wishing to enroll in transitional bilingual or dual language programs.

Testing for Gifted and Talented programs is based on New York State English Language Arts and math exams in combination with the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT). There are also some Gifted and Talented programs that accept students citywide (although they still require the test scores). To find a Gifted and Talented program in your district or one that accepts students from across the city, refer again to the middle school directories online.

Limited unscreened schools give admissions priorities to students who demonstrate an interest in the school by attending an information session, school tour, open house or middle school fair.

Unscreened admissions is based on a random lottery. Admissions by zone is based on geographic address

More about specific schools, admissions methods or dates for open houses or other events can be found in the Department of Education middle school directories and in the middle school choice calendar.

When do I enroll my child in a high school?

All eighth graders in New York City public schools must go through the high school choice process. Even if you want to attend your zoned school you must fill out the high school application. The application is available from your guidance counselor and is due Dec. 2 for the 2012-2013 school year. The Department of Education Web site has a calendar of important dates in the admissions process.

Out of your 12 choices you will be matched to one high school and, unless you succeed in an appeal, must attend that school in the fall. The exception is if you apply to a specialized school, audition schools or charter school. In those cases, if you are accepted, you will have multiple options: you may choose to attend the charter school, the specialized high school or the high school you were matched with through the regular application process.

Where can I find easy-to-understand information about registering my child in high school?

It’s true that the process of choosing and applying to high schools can be daunting, given the variety of choices and the steps involved. You can start gathering information at summer workshops where you can also pick up the High School Directory and Specialized High School Student Handbook. These publications are also available on the Department of Education Web site.

When it is time to apply for high school more information can be found through your middle school guidance counselor or by attending an open house or high schools fair. The D.O.E. Web site also has a calendar of events with citywide and borough high school fairs, as well as test dates for specialized high schools. The Department of Education calendar has this year’s test and fair dates.

How do I make the switch from a private school to a public school?

If your child is still in elementary school, you can simply register him or her at your zoned school if there are open seats. If not, the Department of Education will assign you to another school in your district. The New York City Department of Education Web site has information, or you can call 311 to find out the school zoned for your home address.

If your child is in middle school, you can follow the procedures above to register him or her at your zoned school. If there is no school zoned for your address – not every district has zoned middle schools – you can visit your Borough Enrollment Office.

For high school-aged children, the Borough Enrollment Office should be able to provide the D.O.E. high school application, as well as information about the Specialized High School Admissions Test.

To register a child for public school a parent must bring: his or her birth certificate or passport, immunization records, two proofs of residence, latest report card or transcript and, if applicable for children with special needs, the child’s Individual Education Program or I.E.P., and/or 504 Accommodation Plan.

Some middle and high schools also request students’ standardized state test scores. If your child did not take these tests, schools will look at his or her scores on alternative standardized tests such as the Educational Records Bureau (E.R.B.) achievement tests or the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (I.T.B.S.). The Education Department’s New Students page has more information.

How can I find out about the charter schools in my district and around the city?

The Department of Education’s Web site gives a history and explanation of charter schools, and provides links for parents seeking more information. The New York City Charter School Center is an independent non-profit organization that helps start and support charters in New York City. For a directory of charters schools and other information, download this PDF.

For help researching a particular school, SchoolBook provides data and other information, and Insideschools.org has school reviews. Additionally, many charters are part of networks, such as Success Academies or Achievement First. These organizations have Web sites that can provide an overview of a specific school, as well as a broader look at the founding organization and its mission.

One of the best ways, however, to learn more about a school is to visit it, call the school or talk to teachers, parents or students.

Are there admissions qualifications for charter schools?

Charter schools are required to give preference to children residing in the community school district in which the charter school is located. They may also give admissions preference to students with learning disabilities or other characteristics that make them “at-risk” learners. Priority may also be given to students with a sibling in the school or returning students (i.e. an eighth grader returning for high school at the same charter school).

By New York State law charter schools are required to admit students through a random lottery. Each school holds its own lottery, usually in early April. The New York City Charter School Center and the Education Department Web site have more information.

Do charter schools accept special education students?

Charter schools are required by law to provide services to special education students. They cannot discriminate based on learning ability. If a child with special needs is accepted to a charter school through the lottery process, then it is the responsibility of the charter school and the school district to fulfill the needs of the child. There have been claims of children being counseled out of a charter school because of his/her learning disability, but this is illegal.

However, like in other public schools, every school does not always succeed in meeting every child’s needs, and if the prescribed services are not offered or cannot be offered by the charter school, the child may have to transfer to a different school. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. More detailed information can be found on the New York State Education Department Web site.

If you think your child was not accepted to a charter school or was counseled out of a charter school based on a learning disability, the New York City Department of Education Web site explains how to file a charter school grievance.

Can all schools accommodate my special education child?

As of now, not all schools offer a full range of special education services. The New York City Department of Education’s continuum of services, which describes the full range of special education services offered by the school system, ranges from less-restrictive services like reading intervention to more-restrictive services like collaborative team teaching, full-time special classes and home/hospital instruction. Not every service is offered by every school.

However, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, all school districts are required to provide a “free and appropriate education” (FAPE) for all of their students. If your child’s zoned school is unable to provide the services he or she needs, it is the school district’s responsibility to place your child in a school that can provide those services and that is as close to your zoned school as possible. If a school district has no school that can accommodate the needs of your child, it is responsible for finding an alternate placement — such as a private school — and assuming the financial cost of that placement.

The city’s Department of Education has been increasing the capability of all city public schools to provide all services that their students require. According to the D.O.E. report “Special Education Services as Part of a Unified Service Delivery System,” the goal is for every student to be able to attend the school he or she would be attending if they did not require special education services. In the 2010-2011 school year, more than 260 schools participated in Phase 1 of this initiative. The initiative went citywide in the fall of 2012, but was primarily focused on students entering kindergarten, middle school or high school.

While charter schools are also expected to meet the special education needs of their students, they are allowed greater creativity in their approach and are not limited to the D.O.E.’s continuum of services.

What if my child is gifted?

There are some elementary and middle schools with gifted and talented programs, and there are entire schools that are gifted and talented. Some G&T schools are city-wide, others are open only to those who live in the district.

How do I see whether my child qualifies for a gifted and talented program?

The Education Department administers testing to determine which students are eligible for gifted and talented programs. Testing is available for all pre-K through grade 2 students who are currently New York City residents and wish to be considered for self-contained gifted and talented programs. The Education Department’s Web site has a section on Gifted and Talented Resources.

How can I appeal if I am not happy with my child’s schools placement?

If you are not satisfied by your child’s placement, you may file an appeal with the Department of Education. The guidance counselor at your child’s current school can provide the appeal form or file an appeal on your behalf. You can also obtain these forms at enrollment offices in your district.

Your chances of winning an appeal are slim. The D.O.E. will grant a change of school for select reasons, like you have moved more than 90 minutes away from the school, you have extreme safety concerns or the school lacks needed special education or English as a second language programs.

However, your child’s guidance counselor can verbally appeal for you to a selected school. Albeit rarely, the D.O.E. could grant a mid-year transfer.

InsideSchools.org lists reasons to appeal and how to go through the process. You can also find out more from the Department of Education.

Where can I find help to apply, obtain forms and learn about the process and deadlines?

The parent coordinators at your zoned school are usually the most helpful. They can be your best ally. Another resource available at your school are the guidance counselors; they will have the middle and high school directories, as well as application forms.

The Department of Education Web site has handbooks and resources available. For questions on enrollment and registration, or if you are new to New York City, help is available at your borough enrollment office.

These answers were researched, reported and written by Jessica Bell, Jessica Campbell, Christina Diaz, Beth Fertig, Maria Newman and Rachel Ohm. To correct, improve or enhance an answer, e-mail schoolbook@wnyc.org.