Barriers to Enrollment

It’s that time of year again. Families across the state are making plans for students to start a new school year. This may mean enrolling a student in school for the first time, enrolling in a new school district or reenrolling in the school district the student attended last year. Regardless of where you are planning to send your student to school, school enrollment can be a confusing time for many families. You may have questions about where you can enroll your student if (1) you are not the student’s biological parent, but you do not have a custody order, (2) your student or family may be homeless and living outside of the district your student was previously attending or (3) your student was kicked out of school last year. We can help!  

In general, students in Ohio must attend school if they are between the ages of 6 and 18. Even though a student does not have to attend school after the age of 18, they may choose to continue attending school until they turn 22. After a student turns 22, their only option is to get a GED. If the student receives their high school diploma before they turn 18, they are no longer required to attend school. A student may also be excused from school attendance if they are homeschooled, performing work duties for their parents or have a health condition that makes attending school dangerous to them. Only the school district’s superintendent may excuse a student from school. If the student does not attend school, the student and the parents may be penalized for truancy. It is important for students to attend school if they have not been otherwise excused.   

Students should typically attend school in the school district where their parent lives. If the student’s parents were never married, the student should attend school in the district where their mother lives, unless a court order says otherwise. If the parents were married but are now divorced, the divorce decree (or final court order) should say who the residential parent is for school purposes and the student should attend school in the district where the residential parent resides. If the divorce decree does not say who the residential parent is, or if both parents share custody equally, the student can attend school in either parent’s school district. If you don’t have a court order telling you who should have custody, things can get confusing.  

Enrollment Without a Custody Order 

If you don’t have a custody order from a court, the school district may not let you enroll the student in school or sign papers to keep them enrolled for the new school year. This is true whether you are the student’s biological parent (but the custody papers say you are not the residential parent), or if you are not the student’s biological parent but the student is living with you.  

If you are the student’s grandparent and would like to enroll the student in the school district where you live, you may do so if you have either a grandparent power of attorney (signed by the student’s parent), a notarized caretaker affidavit, or are planning to file for custody of the student.

If you are not the student’s grandparent but you the student lives with you, or if you are the student’s biological parent (but now their residential parent), you will have to file for custody in order to enroll the student in school. Under Ohio law you can enroll a student in the district where you live without a final custody order, as long as you provide a written statement that you have filed or are planning to file for custody. You have 60 days to file for custody after you enroll the student if you have not already filed.  

Enrollment of Homeless Student 

If you or your student are homeless and are no longer living in the school district the student attended last year, you may still be able to attend that district if you wish. The school district should keep you enrolled in the district where you were last enrolled and attending, even if you cannot get them all of the papers they need for enrollment right away. The district is responsible for making sure the student has safe and free transportation to and from school. 

If you are living too far from the district your student attended last year, or if you do not believe it is in your student’s best interest to continue attending the district they were attending last year, you may enroll the student in the district where you are currently living.  

Please see our July blog for a more detailed look at the rights of homeless students and families in school.  

Student Kicked Out of School Law Year 

A student should be allowed to reenroll in the district where they live, even if they were disciplined last year unless they were expelled for a period of time or permanently expelled from the district. The student may not be allowed to reenroll if they were expelled at the end of last year and have not served all of their expulsion term (generally 80 school days but may be less). Other districts can choose to uphold the expulsion term and refuse to enroll the student until the expulsion term has expired. This may mean your student cannot be enrolled anywhere until the expulsion term has ended. However, if the student was permanently expelled from the district, they may not return to the district even after the expulsion term has ended and must be enrolled elsewhere. 

In conclusion, enrollment can be a confusing and complex process. If you think your student’s rights have been violated or if you need help enrolling your student in school, please reach out to an attorney.  

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