To make sure all children are prepared to succeed, the U.S. provides free public education. This section tells you how to sign your children up for school.You will learn how U.S. schools work and how to help your children learn. Enrolling Your Child in School
Most public schools in the United States are co-educational. Co-educational means that girls and boys attend classes together. The United States has compulsory school attendance laws. This means that state laws require all children ages 5 to 16 to attend school in most states. Check with your state department of education to find out the required ages for school attendance in your state.
You can send your child to a public or private school. In most states, parents may also teach their children at home. This is called “home schooling.” Public schools are free and do not offer religious instruction.What your children learn in public school is set by the state.
However, local teachers and parents decide how it is taught.Your federal and state income taxes and your local property taxes pay for these schools.
Students must pay a fee (called “tuition”) to attend private schools. Religious groups run many private schools. Some are co-educational. Some are only for boys or only for girls. Some offer financial help for students who cannot pay the tuition.
Most American children are in school for 12 years.Your children will be placed in a class (called a “grade”) based on their age and how much previous education they have. Sometimes a school may give your child a test to decide what grade he or she should be in.
One of the first things you should do is enroll your child in school. Some questions that parents often ask about public schools include:
Q: How long is the school year?
A: The school year usually begins in August or September and ends in May or June. In some places, children attend school all year. Children are in school Monday through Friday. Some schools offer programs before or after regular school hours for children whose parents work.You may be charged a fee for these programs.
Q: Where do I enroll my child?
A: Call or visit your local school district’s main office to find out which school your child should attend. Tell the school staff your child’s age and the address where you live.
Q: What documents do I need to enroll my child?
A: You need your child’s medical records and proof that they have certain immunizations (also called “shots”) to protect them from disease.You also may need proof that you live in the same community as the school. If you have lost these documents, ask school staff how to get new documents.To avoid delays, do this before you try to enroll your child.
Q: What if my child does not speak English?
A: The school is responsible for testing and placing your child in the right program. Schools receive state and federal funds for programs and services like English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education.You can call your child’s school to ask about testing, placement, and services. Even if your child does not speak English, he or she needs to learn the academic material for his or her grade level.This can happen through ESL or bilingual education.
Q: What if my child is disabled?
A: Students with a physical or mental disability can get a free public education, just like a child who does not have a disability. Your child will be placed in a regular school classroom, if possible. If your child’s disability is severe, he or she may be given special education services outside the regular classroom. For more information on how to access services through your State Council,
Q: My child was not in school before coming to the United States. How long can he or she attend public school for free?
A: Your child can attend school for free until they reach age 21 in most states. If your child has not graduated from high school by then, he or she can enroll in adult education classes to obtain a General Educational Development (GED) certificate instead of a high school diploma. Call your local school district office or your state department of education to find out where GED classes are offered.
Q: How will my child get to school?
A: Children can sometimes walk to school in the United States. If the school is too far away, they will ride a bus. Public schools have buses, which are free. Students are picked up and dropped off at a school-bus stop near your home.To find out if your child can ride the bus, contact your local school system. If you have a car, you can also set up a “car pool” with other parents in your area to share driving your children to school.
Q: What will my child eat at school?
A: Children can take lunch to school or buy it at the school cafeteria. The U.S. government also provides nutritious free or low-cost breakfast and lunch for children who cannot afford to buy food at school.
Call or visit your child’s school to find out if it participates in the federal School Meals program.Talk with school staff to find out if your children are eligible to participate.
Q: Who pays for books and school activities?
A: Public schools usually provide free books. Students must usually buy their own school supplies, such as paper and pencils. If you cannot pay for these supplies, contact your child’s school. Some schools may charge a small fee for supplies or special events, such as school trips.
Many schools offer after-school sports and music programs.You may need to pay a fee for your children to participate in some of these programs.
Q: What will my child learn?
A: Each state sets academic standards for schools. These standards state what all students should know and be able to do. Local school districts decide how this information should be taught. Most schools teach English, math, social studies, science, and physical education. Art, music, and foreign languages are sometimes offered.
Q: How is my child’s work judged?
A: Teachers assign grades based on the work your child does during the school year. Grades are usually based on homework, tests, attendance, and class behavior. You will receive a “report card” several times a year. This report card tells you how your child is doing in each subject. Schools have different ways of grading students. Some use letter grades, with A or A+ for excellent work and D or F for poor or failing work.
Others use number grades. Others summarize your child’s performance with words like “excellent,” “good,” or “needs improvement.” Ask school staff how students in your child’s school are graded.
Q: How can I talk to my child’s teacher?
A: Most schools have regular parent conferences for you to meet with your child’s teacher.You can also schedule meetings to talk with teachers or school administrators about how your child is doing in school. If you do not speak English, ask if there is someone at the school who speaks your language and can help interpret.
Q: What if my child misses school?
A: Being in school is very important. Parents must send a written letter to the teacher or call the school to explain why their child was not in school. Let the teacher know in advance if your child will be out of school. Students must usually make up any work they missed.
Q: What if my child gets into trouble?
A: Many schools have a list of rules that students must obey. These are called “codes of conduct.” Ask your child’s school about its code of conduct. Students who break school rules may be punished by being required to stay after the school day is over. Or they may not be allowed to participate in sports or other school activities. Physical punishment is NOT permitted in most U.S. schools.
Children may be suspended or expelled from school if they behave very badly and break school rules often.Your child will no longer be able to go to school if he or she is expelled.You will need to meet with school staff to find out how to get your child back in school.
Q: Is my child safe in school?
A: Most American public schools are safe places to learn. But some schools—mainly high schools— have problems with violence, street gangs, or drugs and alcohol.Talk to a teacher, school counselor, or administrator if you are worried about your child’s safety.