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How to Enroll a Student in Texas Public Schools

Learn the basics of getting a student enrolled in Texas public schools.

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Educating students is the reason public schools exist, but getting children enrolled can be a complex process. The new school year is underway, marking an excellent time to review the basics of enrolling students in Texas public schools.

Who can enroll in the district?

Section 25.001 of the Texas Education Code outlines the basis for enrollment for Texas public school students. A student who is at least five years old and under 21 years old on Sept. 1 of each school year is entitled to be enrolled in the district if the student meets certain residency criteria. Generally, in order to meet the residency requirements, an applicant must:

  • reside in the district;
  • have a parent or guardian who resides in the district;
  • have established a residence separate and apart from a parent or guardian, subject to certain exceptions;
  • be homeless, in foster care, or in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services; or
  • have a grandparent who resides in the district and provides substantial after-school care.

In addition, the Education Code sets out other unique circumstances in which a student may be eligible to enroll. See TASB Policy FD(LEGAL).

What documents are required to enroll?

The following documents must be provided when a new student enrolls in the district:

  • Documents establishing identification
  • The applicant’s records from the school most recently attended, if applicable
  • Immunization record

Information about the documents that can be used to establish a student’s identity can be found in the Texas Education Agency’s Student Attendance Accounting Handbook.

What if a child’s identity can’t be proven?

A district should not deny a child enrollment solely because documents proving identity or previous school records have not been provided. However, if a parent or legal guardian does not provide this required information within 30 days after enrollment, the district must notify local law enforcement (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.002(c)).

Are immunization records required?

A district can deny admission to a student who is not fully immunized and has not begun the required immunizations unless the student meets certain exceptions in law. For more information, see TASB Legal Services’ FAQ, Immunization Requirements and Exceptions (pdf).

Can a district require proof of residency?

The school board may require evidence that a person is eligible to attend the public schools of the district at the time the board considers an application for admission. The statute also authorizes the board to establish the minimum proof of residency acceptable to the district and allows the board to make reasonable inquiries to verify a student’s eligibility for admission (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.001(c)).

TEA’s Student Attendance Accounting Handbook provides examples of methods districts may use to verify residence, including requesting utility bill receipts or lease information, checking tax records, or verifying with district personnel that the applicable residence is within the boundaries of a district. While the district may request proof of residency, TEA cautions against denying a student admission based solely on failure to provide proof of residency.

Is U.S. citizenship required?

No. Districts must provide a free education to all eligible students, regardless of immigration status (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 [1982]). Stated another way, a district may not exclude a student based solely on the student’s undocumented status (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.001(b)). In a letter issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, public schools are advised to refrain from inquiring into students’ citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents or guardians (U.S. Dept of Educ., Office for Civil Rights, Dear Colleague Letter: School Enrollment Procedures, May 8, 2014). All students, including foreign nationals, must meet state eligibility requirements. Accordingly, a district may require a foreign student to demonstrate age and residency on the same basis as other students.

Must parents provide contact information?

Yes, parents are required to provide in writing their address, phone number, and email address upon enrollment of a student and within the first two weeks of each school year. If the parent’s contact information changes during the school year, the parent must update their contact information within two weeks of the change (Tex. Educ. Code § 26.0125).

What about children of divorced parents?

The district must admit the student if the student resides in the district and either parent resides in the school district. Furthermore, a student is entitled to admission even if the student does not reside in the district, but a parent who is a joint managing conservator, sole managing conservator, or possessory conservator of the student resides in the district (Tex. Educ. Code § 25.001(b)(2)). However, this right to admission might be altered by provisions in the divorce decree, which may specifically state which parent has the right to enroll the child or make educational decisions. District administrators should request that parents provide copies of all relevant orders issued by the court related to custody of the child. These orders can provide information regarding eligibility for enrollment and answer questions that may arise in the future regarding the student’s education. For more information, see TASB Legal Services’ FAQ, Family Law Basics for School Personnel (pdf).

When questions arise about an applicant’s eligibility, the best course of action is usually to enroll the student and investigate the eligibility issues while the student attends school. District officials should always seek legal advice before denying enrollment.

This article is provided for educational purposes only and contains information to facilitate a general understanding of the law. It is not an exhaustive treatment of the law on this subject, nor is it intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney. Consult with your own attorneys to apply these legal principles to specific fact situations.