Enrolling in School
Topics on this page
- General Considerations
- Denial of Enrollment
- Where to Start
- What to do if a school refuses enrollment
A child who is five years old or older and under 21 must be admitted, free of charge, to a Maryland public school in the county where the child is domiciled with the child's parent, guardian, or relative providing informal kinship care. There are some exceptions to the domicile requirement.
Read the law: Md. Code, Education § 7-101
Whether you are enrolling a child in school for the first time or transferring a child from one school to another, contact the school and ask what is required to enroll the child in the school. Generally, most schools will require proof of birth (e.g., birth certificate), custody/guardianship, residence, and immunizations. The requirements of each local public school and what they accept as proof may be different, so check the local school system's policies and procedures.
Sometimes, there is a problem enrolling a child in school. It often happens after the family or the child has moved to a new school's area, because the child is living with relatives for family reasons, or if the school believes the child is not a resident of its county. Missing a year of school, or part of a year, can be a serious problem in a child's education. Also, be aware of compulsory school attendance. Enrollment problems have to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Often, schools tell someone who tries to enroll a child in school that they have to go to court and get a custody order or a guardianship order from the court. These procedures can take far too long to get the child in school on time, and may not be needed at all. Sometimes a school may be satisfied if a petition for custody or guardianship has at least been filed in court. However, depending on the facts of your specific situation, you may not really need the court order, or even to file a petition for the court order.
Both custody orders and guardianship orders from courts have consequences far beyond school enrollment and can change a child's life irrevocably. Therefore, you should not assume that the court order is the only way to get the child enrolled in school. Learn more about child custody and guardianship of a minor.
School systems can deny enrollment to a child who does not live in the area and is trying to enroll in the school solely as a preference, or because you think it is a better school. That is not, however, always as simple a question as it sounds.
Some possible grounds for getting the denial of enrollment reversed are:
- Is the child legally a resident of that school system's area, no matter what the school says about it?
- Is the child in "informal kinship care?"
- Do you have the authority to enroll the child in school even if you are not a parent, do not have legal custody, and do not have guardianship. Can a parent or guardian give you that authority without either of you asking for a court order?
- Should the school consider the child as "homeless" under a federal law called the "McKinney Act?"
Contact the school you want to enroll the child in. Review the questions below and be prepared to answer any of these questions that the school asks you. You should be truthful about all your answers. Write down who you talk to and what their job is in the school. Also write down what they tell you. If the school refers to "rules" or "policies," ask them for copies of the rules or policies.
- What is your relationship to the child?
- Other relative?
- Foster parent?
- Kinship care provider? Learn more about kinship care.
- Do you have a custody order or other court order? What kind of order?
- If the child lives with you but you are not a parent and do not have a custody order, why is the child living with you?
- What county is the school in?
- What is the name and location of the school?
- Where does the child actually live?
- What county?
- With whom?
- Full time or part-time?
- If part-time, how much time, when, and why?
- Is the child "homeless"? (This may include many children who are living with friends or relatives because of family problems.)
- Why do you want the child enrolled in this school?
- Why? What did you tell the school?
- What documents did you give to the school?
- What did the school tell you about enrolling the child? Who told you this (name and job position)?
- Has the child been in special education? If not, does the child have a disability that may entitle her to special education? Learn more about special education resources.
Often, the problem is that the child is living with someone other than a parent or guardian. The school may say the child is not a resident of the school area, or may say that the person asking for enrollment doesn't have legal authority and would have to get custody or guardianship by a court order.
Either the law about school enrollment for homeless children or informal kinship care could have a bearing on this (or both could). If the school will not allow you to enroll the child, read the pages on both of these subjects.
The school system's Pupil Personnel Worker may be a resource. The Pupil Personnel Worker serves as an advocate for students and a consultant for school staff and parent guardians on a variety of issues, including attendance, residency, and homelessness.