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New To NYC?

New York City has a complicated public school system that's not easy to navigate. It has some of the best schools in the country as well as some that struggle to provide even a basic education. If you plan on moving to New York City, please know that you may not register or apply to schools until you actually live in the city.

Pre-k and kindergarten

Public education in New York City begins the year your child turns 4. Four year-olds may attend pre-kindergarten at a regular public school or community-based organization. Pre-k is not compulsory, but it is highly encouraged. The city promises to find a seat for every 4-year-old although it may not be at your neighborhood school.

Kindergarten is a right. Children have the right to enroll in school in September of the year they turn 5. (Parents have the option of keeping their child out of public school for kindergarten but they must enroll them in 1st grade the year they turn 6.)

Zoned schools and other options

Some neighborhoods have excellent zoned schools, especially elementary and middle schools, and all you need to do to enroll is to show up with proper documents, including proof of address. A child's legal residence is the home of his parents or legal guardian. If a child's parents are separated or divorced, the child's residence is with the parent who has primary physical custody. Sometimes parents try to pretend their child lives with a relative so he can go to a better school, but it's risky. School officials may make a home visit to see if a child actually lives at the given address. They sometimes even check closets for clothes and toys.

In general, younger children (ages 5 to 10) may register directly at their neighborhood elementary school, while older children (11 and up) must first go to a Family Welcome Center.

Call 311 (from outside New York City call (212) NEW-YORK) and give the operator your address and your child's age. The operator will tell you whether to go directly to your zoned school or to a Family Welcome Center. To find your zoned school, and other nearby options, type your address in the search box on InsideSchools. Bring your child and the following documents: two proofs of address (a lease and utility bill), proof of your child's age (a passport or birth certificate), school records if you have them, and immunization records. To see a specific list of required documents, go to the Department of Education’s website.

If you move within the city, your child may continue to attend his old school until graduation or transfer to a school in his new community.

If you are not satisfied with your neighborhood school, you will want to explore other options. The city has an extensive system of school choice. See our pages on pre-kindergarten, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to explore the possibilities.

Understanding your child’s rights

Any child between the ages of 5 and 21 who has not graduated from high school is entitled to a free public education. This includes undocumented immigrants, children with disabilities, children who do not speak English, pregnant girls, homeless children, and older teenagers who may have dropped out of school.

School officials must find a space for your child without delay. If there is no room in your neighborhood school, your child may be assigned to another school. You do not need a green card or a Social Security number to register your child.

If you are homeless or living in temporary housing, your child has a right to attend school either in your temporary community or at his original school. You don't need documents or proof of residency. Call the Advocates for Children hotline at (800) 388-2014 if you are homeless and need help enrolling your child.

If your child does not speak English, or is still learning, he has the right to attend classes that help him learn English. See our page for English language learners.

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