Your 5-year-old is guaranteed a seat in kindergarten whenever you register—whether months in advance, the first day of school or even after the school year has begun. Most schools offer tours in December, January and February, with applications due in February. In 2013, the Department of Education introduced a new online application called Kindergarten Connect. Parents now fill out a single application, listing up to 12 schools and may apply online, on the telephone or in person at a Family Welcome Center, typically from early January to mid-February. You will learn about your child's placement in April. If you don't get your top choice you will be automatically waitlisted at all the schools you ranked higher on the application. Families who do not apply during that period will still be able to register for kindergarten after February, either at an Family Welcome Center or at the school. For more information and the timeline, see the DOE's website.
Your child is guaranteed a seat in your zoned neighborhood school, space permitting. (Call 311 to find out which school that is.) Some very popular schools are so overcrowded that they cannot accommodate all the children who live in their zone. In these cases, the schools maintain waiting lists. Many children are eventually admitted as families who originally enrolled their children move out of the city or opt for private school or gifted programs. If there's no space, the Office of Student Enrollment may send your child to another school in your district but you'll have the option to try again in 1st grade.
There are three districts which no longer have zoned elementary schools: Districts 1 (Lower East Side), 7 (South Bronx) and 23 (East New York, Brooklyn). Families may apply to any school in the district. Admission is decided by lottery within Department of Education priority guidelines.