Register my child in school
To start your child at school in the United States, you have to register your child in school. This means you need to visit the school and sign papers to start your child in school.
Your caseworker will help you register your children in school. You have to sign papers and give the school information about your child. This is different between school districts.
What school will my child go to?
The year your child was born and the place you live will determine which school your children will go to.
What paperwork do I need to enroll my children in school?
The necessary paperwork might include:
- Proof of residency in the school district. This means you have to show that you live in your house or apartment. Examples of proof of residency are a signed apartment lease, a bank statement, or a utility bill with an address. This is to show that you leave in a neighborhood where the school enrolls children.
- Proof of age. For example, a birth certificate or passport with your child’s birthday.
- Immunizations or other health records.
- The school district may require a meeting with school administrators to get the student fully enrolled.
- Each school district may have its own form when you register your child in school. Find the form on the school district website. You can also go to the school and ask to talk to the school secretary.
When do I enroll my student?
Most schools in the US begin at the end of the summer or early fall, in August or September. If you arrive in the United States in the summer, you can visit your child’s school in July or August to learn how to enroll. If you arrive in the United States during the school year, you should enroll your child as soon as possible.
What is placement in school?
Placement means deciding what grade level your student is in.
Many refugee students may have missed school while they were in camp or fleeing their country. They may be at different grade levels than a typical American student of the same age. Some students might be at a high-grade level but do not speak English yet. Those students may have trouble in harder classes until they learn English better. Schools in the US sometimes place students in the wrong grades.
How will schools place my student?
Students may take some tests before the start of the school year or at the very beginning of the school year. The tests might be written. They might have an adult read questions to a student. It is different for every school district.
If you think your child is placed in the wrong grade, you can talk to the teacher, principal, or the school staff who tested and placed your child. Explain why you think the placement is wrong. Ask, “What was your reasoning?” The school can help you understand their decision. They may be able to change the placement if they agree with your reasons.
How does the school decide which class level my student takes?
Middle and high schools have classes that are taught at different levels in the same grade. Some are harder and some are easier. The names of the courses sometimes describe the level of difficulty. The words change depending on the school district.
Names for classes that are easier or use easier English levels:
- Basic Skills
Names for classes at a typical level for the grade:
Names for classes at a higher or advanced level:
- GTE (Gifted and Talented Education)
- Advanced Placement (AP)
- IB (International Baccalaureate)
The school can place students in different levels. There are many reasons the school chooses the level.
These are common reasons:
- How well the student understands, or their scores
- Parent/guardian recommendations
- Standardized test scores, as appropriate
- Willingness to complete challenging assignments
- Student interest or motivation
- Teacher or counselor recommendation
- Samples of student work
Do my children have to attend school?
School attendance is required for students in the United States between the ages of six and 16. In some states, the ages might be different by one or two years. Also, regular attendance is very important for your student. Schools keep track of attendance. You can get in trouble with the law if your student misses too many days of school. You will get many warnings if your student starts to miss too many days. The exact number is different for different school districts.
An absence is when you are missing from school. Most schools have 2 types of absences. The 2 types are excused absences and unexcused absences.
1) Excused absences can include:
- Religious holiday
- Suspension, a disciplinary action taken against a student showing unacceptable behavior
- Dangerous weather conditions where you can’t get to school safely
- Lack of authorized transportation (for example, if the bus does not show up)
- Death in the immediate family
- Permission from the principal
- Visit a college campus
- Work, if part of an approved cooperative education program
- Participation in short-term or full-time work
- School sports team game or competition
- School-sponsored club or activity special event
2) Unexcused absences can include:
- Missing school without telling the school in advance
- Skipping (not going to) a class
- Being late to school. Being late is also called a tardy. Tardies can be excused and unexcused. Excused tardies have the same list as excused absences.
The student is always responsible for making up all the work he or she missed. You, or a parent or guardian, are responsible for telling the school the reason for the absence. Tell the school by calling the office or attendance office, or by writing and signing a note to the teacher, secretary, or principal. If you know your child will miss school ahead of time, it is better to tell the school before. Sometimes, the absence is unexpected. That is okay. Call the school in the morning or the next day.
What do my children need for school?
Students usually have to bring supplies, or tools, to school with them. The school district website, the school website, or the classroom teacher will have a list. The list can be different for different grades.
Notebook paper and pencils or pens are usually required. A three-ring binder or folders to hold papers are also helpful.
School supplies can get expensive. The simplest paper, pencils, and pens work. You do not need to buy the most popular or fanciest. Sometimes, teachers or schools have extra supplies and can provide them if you need. Schools or community or religious organizations sometimes give away school supplies. Search for school supply help a couple of weeks before school starts. Most of the giveaways will be right before the school year starts.
How will my children get to school?
Most school districts provide transportation to get to school. If you live close to the school, the school might expect that you can walk or ride a bike. The school district website will have information on busing and transportation. It will tell you where to wait for the bus and what time the bus will be at the stop. Contact the school secretary about transportation information.
School districts consider transportation a student privilege, not a student right. The privilege can be taken away if students are not behaving properly. Riding the school bus requires the same behavior as being in school.
What are immunizations?
Immunizations are shots that children in the United States are normally required to have to go to school. These requirements vary by school district. They are sometimes ruled by state laws. Your child needs to have all the required immunizations or needs to have a waiver showing why they do not have them. Records of immunizations are usually required for enrolling a student or when they start school.
What will my children eat at school?
Public and private schools offer low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. This is a federally funded program called the National School Lunch Program. The amount of money a household earns determines whether a student qualifies to receive a free lunch, reduced-cost lunch, or neither. Some school districts send information home about the National School Lunch Program. Ask the school secretary for more information.
Some schools provide breakfasts as a part of this program. Some schools provide food to students in low-income families for the weekend, school breaks, or summer vacation. The school secretary can talk to you about free and reduced lunches. Or, the school secretary will help you find the person who can help you.
More resources from the Refugee Center Online
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