Grown: How to register children for school in Arkansas

Arkansas Democrat-GazetteWILLIAM MOOREGracie Hammontree, 6, reads a magazine while her mom, Alison Hammontree of Fayetteville, fills out registration paperwork Tuesday, August 3, 2010 at Leverett Elementary in Fayetteville. Gracie will enter the first grade at Leverett when the school year for Fayetteville Public Schools starts August 19.

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Back-to-school season is around the corner. Whether signing a little one up for school for the first time or sending one to a new district after a move, here are the basics on school registration in Arkansas.

How do Arkansans register children for school?

Each district manages its own registration process, said state Department of Education spokeswoman Kimberly Mundell, but state law does set some guidelines that apply to all.

The Department of Education website states that to register a child for school, parents or guardians will need a child’s Social Security number as well as a document proving the child’s age. Valid documents include:

• A birth certificate

• A statement by the local registrar or a county recorder certifying the child's date of birth

• An attested baptismal certificate

• A passport

• An affidavit of the date and place of birth by the child's parent, legal guardian, person having lawful control of the child, or person standing in loco parentis

• Previous school records

• A United States military identification

Individual districts may require additional documents for registration, commonly proof of residency and vaccination records.

How old do children need to be to attend kindergarten?

State law requires that to be eligible for kindergarten, children turn five on or before Aug. 1 of the year during which they plan to enroll.

The only exception to this rule is for children who come from out-of-state and had been enrolled in a kindergarten program for at least 60 days. The child must also turn 5 during the year and meet school residency requirements.

How does a family know which district and school they are zoned for?

Mundell said that information is not centralized by the Department of Education but rather kept by each district.

However, she said county clerk’s offices or county assessor’s offices may be able to help families who are unsure.

Can a child be enrolled in a district other than the one they are zoned for?

Yes, and there are two main laws that govern transfer from one district to another.

Under the Public School Choice Act, a family can apply for their children to attend school outside their resident district unless their resident district has claimed an exemption from transfers due to federal desegregation orders. The districts that are exempt — ones students cannot transfer out of — can be found here.

The other law that governs transfers is the Opportunity School Choice Act. Under this law, if a child is zoned for a school rated with an “F” by the state, the child may apply to transfer to a school with a higher rating.

If a family’s resident district is categorized by the state as Level 5/intensive support, the family may request the child transfer to a district with a higher rating.

Applications under both laws have a deadline of May 1, and there are additional rules and limits on how the transfers can be used — go here to learn more.

How does enrollment at a charter school work?

Open-enrollment charter schools in Arkansas have no residency requirements, Mundell said.

However, Mundell said some may use a lottery system for admission if, for example, more children apply to attend a school than it has capacity for.

There is another type of charter school in Arkansas, called district conversion charter schools, which are public schools converted into charter schools (giving them freedom from some of the requirements for traditional public schools).

Conversion charter schools can only enroll students within the bounds of its school district.

Go here to learn more about charter schools in Arkansas.