LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: Moving to a new location is always a huge task. Enrolling your children in school in your new home town is just part of the logistical challenge that relocating families face.
If you are moving to New Jersey however, you should know each public school district makes its own rules about registration. Due to the variety of local school district requirements, it is impossible to write one set of recommendations that cover every New Jersey school. Hopefully though the following questions and answers will help give some clues on how to register your child in a New Jersey public school.
1. How are registration requirements set?
Public schools in New Jersey are administered locally at a School District level. A school district may encompass just the public schools in one township or sometimes more with smaller towns. In larger communities such as cities, local school districts cover a section of the city with a limited number of schools under their jurisdiction.
Every school district is administered by a School Board (Board of Education), of publicly elected officials who set policy. The School District’s Area Superintendent is responsible for implementing local and state educational policy amongst all the schools under their jurisdiction. The local school district has enough autonomy to set its own rules on many things including start times for schools, bus scheduling, registration requirements for new children, including whether they can attend school from out of the district.
2. Where do you register your child in a New Jersey public school?
When you move into a new area, you will need to register your child for school through the local Board of Education. You should contact them for an appointment to do this, as soon as you have found a residence and have the right documentation to complete registration.
3. Do I get to decide which public school my child can attend?
Normally, a child will attend a public school that has a catchment area where your residence is located. Some areas though have a slightly different system e.g. New Jersey magnet districts. Magnet schools provide slightly more flexibility in choice as the parents may elect for their child to attend any of the district’s schools within the district’s borders. In these cases, there may be an option for you to list preferences for which school your child will attend. However, in the case of magnet districts, if you are arriving after the school year has commenced in early September, your choices may well be limited by what school vacancies are available within the district.
Other exceptions to the school-set-by-address rule include charter schools. These schools, while not often administered by school districts, are still considered public schools, and thus open to anyone to apply. Most charter schools will take local residents over out-of-district (OOD) applicants, although entries from OOD may be obtained through a lottery system, dependent on the school.
A limited number of public schools will also consider students from OOD if parents are prepared to pay fees for a minimum period. This offsets any extra cost of the student, not contributed by their parents (if not residents/paying property tax). Only some school districts allow this approach, so this should be explored before making any final decisions about school choice.
4. When do I register my child for school?
Commonly, local residents wanting their children to start Kindergarten in a new school year will register them early in the same year between Jan-Feb, to start their school year in the following September. Some schools run open days in late Fall (November in the prior school year) when registration can be submitted as well for the next year’s school start. However, if you become a resident in a town’s jurisdiction, your child will be catered for regardless of the time of year you move into the area.
To register for Kindergarten your child will need to be 5 years old by the school district’s cutoff date. This varies by district: some schools state 5 years by September 1st in year of enrolment, others state October 1st. There is usually no flexibility with this rule, even if your child is only 1 or 2 days past the deadline.
5. When does public school start in New Jersey? What is the American school calendar like?
The New Jersey school year generally starts in September and finishes in June. Vacation blocks may include a fall break (October), a winter break (between Christmas and New Year), spring break (near Easter) and then summer vacation (the extended holidays) which can be up to three months long.
Public schools run on a different calendar than private schools, so their start and finish dates do not coincide usually. Even amongst different school districts, there can be different start and finish dates, so the dates above are general.
6. How do I register my child for school?
To register your child in a New Jersey public school, you will need to do the following:
- Complete the school’s registration form
- Have a medical doctor conduct a physical examination of your child and complete the district’s questionnaire prior to registration though it should be conducted less than 12 months prior. Some schools require the examination to be done by a US doctor while others will accept an examination conducted by a qualified doctor from overseas.
- Complete the district’s health survey or questionnaire (if applicable)
- Bring with you a medical register of your child’s immunizations from a New Jersey doctor or recognized health authority from your last place of residence. The state Health Department has a publicly available list of immunizations that your child is expected to have to commence school. These requirements can be different from your previous country and also change from time to time so you should always check prior, if coming from overseas. The requirements vary by age e.g. middle school will have different requirements versus kindergarten etc.
- Bring a copy of your child’s last school report from your last place of residence.
- Have available up to four proofs of residency e.g. copy of lease or /title deed or/tenancy document or mortgage document or tax documents etc. Other proofs such as a recent pay stub or utilities bill or New Jersey Driver’s License or Car insurance papers may also be suitable proofs that can be used. These may not be needed if you get an agreement from the school district to pay fees (like an OOD).
- Bring your child’s original birth certificate (a passport is not usually acceptable by itself). Any original documents not already in English should have an English translation provided from a reputable translator source such as your country’s consulate.
- Provide two emergency contacts for school records. If you do not have anyone here that you know or can use as such emergency contacts, let the school know and they will probably make a provision for you in the short term.
- Check individual schools requirements for each of the above as they vary and can change from time to time. These are usually listed on the school district’s website. If in doubt, you should call the Board of Education in the township where you will be living, to clarify what is needed.
7. Do you need a social security card to register your child in a New Jersey public school?
Definitely not. It is actually against the law for New Jersey schools to require a social security card for registration. Some schools may ask for one but it is not mandatory. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t have one. The reason they ask is because a social security card is used by many places in the USA as a form of reliable identification. Not everyone is able to get a social security card and the reasons can be perfectly valid. There is no shame in not having a card nor should this be a disincentive for any school to accept your child. You will however, probably be asked for your Driver License as a form of identification.
8. What documents for school registration should I have prepared before leaving my home country?
- A list of immunizations that your child has received from a verified source (health agency, etc.). The list should make it clear which vaccines (strengths/stages/active ingredients) were given. It is best to have this translated into English (if not already), preferably by a doctor, as overseas immunization records can be confusing for US healthcare staff.
- Your child’s original birth certificate
- A copy of your child’s last school report
These answers should take care of most of the common questions expats ask when first arrived here with their families. Other than choosing the right school, the rest should be relatively easy.
Happy Registration Day!
What experiences have you had registering your child for a New Jersey public school, either as an expat or an American moving into a new area?