Children participate in an activity at Blossom Valley Elementary School in El Cajon on Nov. 28, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler
Children participate in an activity at Blossom Valley Elementary School in El Cajon on Nov. 28, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

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Choice Window

This term refers to a time period when school districts accept applications for students who want to enroll in a school that isn’t their neighborhood school.  

Remember: Your child will automatically be able to enroll in their neighborhood school – that’s the school near your home. School districts have online search tools to help you find yours or you can call your local school district and ask which one is yours.  

School districts have choice windows for families who want something different. That is the time period when districts allow you to apply to different schools in the district. This doesn’t guarantee that your child will be accepted, though, and each district has different choice window periods (some don’t offer it at all). Visit our map on page X for dates.  

If you want your child to attend a charter school, or a private school, you must apply directly to that school. That kind of change doesn’t apply to a district’s choice window.  

Choice Lottery Priorities

OK, so now that you know about choice window, here’s how it works in action. The idea is that you rank several schools you’d like your child to attend. If the school has open seats, then your child is entered into a lottery (along with anyone else who applied) and those who get chosen are accepted.  

Some students get priority in the lottery based on a district’s choice lottery priorities. Those can be something like if a sibling already attends a school or a parent teaches at a school.  

Magnet Schools

These types of schools are managed by the districts. They offer students specialized curriculum (think dual-language programs or a science and technology academy). They are called magnets, because they pull students from outside the neighborhood. You can apply to magnet schools anytime, but your chances of getting in increase if you apply during the district’s choice window.  

Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools. They are funded by taxpayers, like traditional schools, and are free to attend. Any student can enroll in a charter school depending on how much space the school has for new students.  

Unlike traditional schools, operated by the school district, these schools have independent boards of directors. That allows them freedom to try new curriculums and approaches to education that traditional schools don’t. The quality and programs available at charter schools vary widely.  

Though they are managed differently, districts still oversee charter schools. A district must authorize a charter school’s charter (hence the name). Every five years, the district reviews the charter, the school’s performance and decides whether to re-authorize it. If a district refuses to grant a charter, organizers can appeal to the County Office of Education or the state of California.   

To enroll in a charter school, you must apply to each charter school you’d like your child to attend. Each school has its own application deadline. Chater schools are required to pick students through a lottery system. 

Some families opt to apply to charter schools and other traditional schools to have options.  

Universal Transitional Kindergarten

Traditionally, students begin kindergarten after they turn 5 years old. For many years, 4-year-olds who were born between September and December, could attend transitional kindergarten. After that, they would do a normal year of kindergarten before beginning first grade. 

Last year, the state of California decided to change that and allow all 4-year-old kids to participate in transitional kindergarten. This is called Universal Transitional Kindergarten, or UTK. All districts must be able to serve all eligible 4-year-olds by the 2025-2026 school year. But many districts, like San Diego Unified School District, already can accommodate most of them. If space is not available, contact your district to find the nearest school where there is a spot.  

Last year, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have made kindergarten mandatory. Students are not required to attend school until the first grade. UTK and traditional kindergarten are optional so districts must decide how many spots to make available based on population projections.  

Interdistrict Transfers

Interdistrict transfers are for those who want to move their children to a school that falls outside of their district. If you want your child to attend a public school outside of your district, you must complete the San Diego County Office of Education’s Application for Interdistrict Attendance Permit From 341. This form can be found online.  

Districts only accept students from outside district boundaries in a few circumstances.

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