Starting School: When and How to Enroll a Student in School

A Brief Overview

  • Compulsory attendance begins at 8 years of age and continues until the age of 18 unless the student qualifies for certain exceptions.
  • Infants and toddlers receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool as early as 3 years old to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services.
  • A student aged 4 years old by August 31 may be screened for Transition to Kindergarten (TK), a state program designed for students who need additional support to be successful in kindergarten the following year.
  • A child must have turned 5 years old by August 31 to enroll in kindergarten, and 6 years old to enroll in first grade.
  • When registering your student for school, contact the school to find out what documents are required in addition to those listed in this article.
  • Students with a condition that may require medication or treatment

Full Article

If your child has never enrolled in school, back to school season can be a confusing time. This article answers frequently asked questions about school entrance age, compulsory education, and the enrollment process.  Note that “enrollment” and “registration” are used interchangeably regarding the steps leading up to a student starting school and within the OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) website.

At what age are children required to attend school?

Federal law protects the rights of children and youth to receive a publicly funded education. This is called compulsory education, or compulsory attendance. The age at which a child must begin school varies by state. In Washington state, children must begin attending school full-time at the age of 8 and continue attending regularly until the age of 18 (RCW 28A.225.010).

There are some exceptions to compulsory attendance, including if a child is –

  • enrolled in a private school, extension program, or residential school operated by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
  • enrolled in home-based instruction that meets State supervision requirements.
  • excused by the school district superintendent for physical or mental incapacity.
  • incarcerated in an adult correctional facility.
  • temporarily excused upon the request of the parents when the excused absences meet additional requirements under Washington state law (RCW 28A.225.010).

Compulsory attendance is required in Washington until the age of 18, unless the student is 16 years or older and meets additional criteria for emancipation, graduation, or certification (RCW 28A.225.010).

At what age can a student begin attending school?

Students with special needs or disabilities may qualify for early education programs. An infant or toddler with a disability or developmental delay receiving early intervention services may be eligible to start preschool between the ages of 3-5 to continue receiving specialized instruction and related services through the public school district until they reach the minimum enrollment age for kindergarten. Washington’s Transition to Kindergarten (TK) program screens 4-year-olds with a birthday by August 31st to identify those in need of additional preparation to be successful in kindergarten.

Parents may choose to enroll a child in kindergarten at 5 years old, if the birthday occurred before August 31st of the same year, but kindergarten is not required under compulsory education. Similarly, a child must be 6 years of age to enroll in first grade.

Families have the right to choose whether to enroll their students in school until the child turns 8 years old and compulsory attendance applies.

How do I enroll my student in school?

If this is the first time your child will attend this school, call the school and ask what you must bring with you to enroll your child and the best time to go to the school for enrollment. Consider that things will be busiest right before the school day starts, during lunch breaks, and as school is ending. Also find out if there is an on-site school nurse and the best time to reach that person.

A parent or legal guardian must go with the student to the school for registration with the required information and documents. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)’s Learning by Choice Guide, most schools require the following at a minimum:

  • Proof of age (e.g., birth certificate or passport).
  • Health history, including name, address, and phone number of child’s doctor and dentist.
  • Proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, tax statement).
  • Parent or guardian’s telephone numbers.
  • Child’s immunization records.

If your child has attended another school, also provide:

  • Withdrawal form or report card from the last school attended.
  • Expulsion statement.

Enrollment for Military-Connected Students

A Washington law passed in 2019 (HB 1210-S.SL, School Enrollment-Nonresident Children from Military Families) allows advance enrollment of children of active-duty service members with official military orders transferring or pending transfer into the state. This means that qualifying children must be conditionally enrolled in a specific school and program and registered for courses. The parent must provide proof of residence within fourteen days of the arrival date listed in the military orders before the school will finalize the enrollment. The address on the proof of residency may be a temporary on-base detailing facility; a purchased or leased residence, or a signed purchase and sale or lease agreement; or military housing, including privatized and off-base housing. The child will be conditionally enrolled and registered for courses.

Schools are responsible for the health and safety of students during all school-related activities. If a student has a condition that may require medication or treatment while at school, Washington state law (RCW 28A.210.320 and WAC 392-380) requires additional steps before the student may begin attending school. The parent or guardian must:

  1. Provide the school with a written prescription and/or treatment plan from a licensed health care provider,
  2. Provide the prescribed medication and/or equipment outlined in the treatment plan, and
  3. Create an Individualized Healthcare Plan with the school nurse.

Schools may develop their own forms, so contact your child’s intended school to get the correct forms and provide complete, accurate information.

Download How to Enroll a Student in School Handout

How to Enroll a Student in School Checklist To download the fillable form and get access to the clickable links, download the PDF

Additional Considerations for Military-Connected Students

Children with parents in the uniformed services may be covered by the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children, also known as MIC3, was created with the hope that students will not lose academic time during military-related relocation, obtain an appropriate placement, and be able to graduate on time. MIC3 provides uniform policy guidance for how public schools address common challenges military-connected students experience when relocating, including several issues related to enrollment. Learn more about how to resolve Compact-related issues with this MIC3 Step-by-Step Checklist.

Families who are new to Washington can learn more about navigating special education and related services in this article, Help for Military Families: Tips to Navigate Special Education Process in Washington State.

Additional Information

Disability Redetermination: What Happens to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) When a Child Turns 18?

A Brief Overview

  • When a child turns 18 years of age, SSA conducts a redetermination for eligibility based on the same eligibility criteria as new adult applicants.
  • A young adult who no longer meets the eligibility for blind or disabled may continue to receive SSI payments if they qualify for Section 301 status.
  • If the dependent child of a service member on active-duty orders overseas is receiving SSI, the benefits will stop when they turn 18 years of age unless and until they have established residency in the United States for thirty (30) consecutive days.

Full Article

As a continuation to our article, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a monthly financial benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA) to eligible children and adults. The SSA’s definitions of blind and disabled are the same for both adults and children, although there are some differences in eligibility requirements. 

Definitions Of Blind and Disabled

SSA defines “blind” as seeing at a level of 20/200 or less in the better eye with glasses or contacts, or having a limited field of vision that can only see things at within a 20-degree angle or less in the better eye.  A person with a visual impairment that does not meet the criteria for blindness may still qualify for SSI based on the disability.

An adult or child may qualify for SSI as “disabled” if they have a physical or mental impairment that can be medically diagnosed through clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques for anatomical, physiological, and psychological irregularities. The condition must cause marked and severe functional limitations, including emotional or learning challenges, that have lasted or are supposed to last for at least 12 months without interruption.

What Happens When a Child Turns 18?

If a child is receiving SSI benefits, SSA will review their case two (2) months prior to the child turning 18 years of age to determine if the current medical condition(s) meets the disability requirements as an adult.  SSA will use the same criteria as new adult SSI applicants to determine if the child will qualify for disability benefits upon becoming a young adult at age 18.  This process is called redetermination.

Next, SSA will interview the young adult at the local SSI field office or by phone. SSA will ask about the young adult’s income and resources, past and current employment, and their current living arrangements. If the Adult Disability Report (SSA-3368) and Authorization to Disclose Information to SSA (SSA-827) were not completed beforehand, the SSA representative will assist the young adult in completing the forms during the interview.

Then, SSA will send the case to the DDS to review all medical information and determine if the impairments meet the SSA’s adult definition of disability. The DDS will consider all current impairments, including any new impairments even if they do not meet the duration requirement, and order consultative exams if necessary.

Finally, the young adult will receive a written notice of decision from the SSA. If the decision is that the young adult meets the adult criteria, benefits will continue uninterrupted.  If the decision is that the young adult does not meet the adult criteria, the young adult is no longer eligible for SSI, and benefits will cease after a two (2)-month grace period. Benefits may continue if the young adult appeals the decision or is granted Section 301 status.

Generally, it is easier for a child to become eligible for SSI than to wait until they turn 18 because the child is not required to show inability to obtain substantial gainful activity.

An individual is considered an adult at the age of 18, even when they are not considered competent.

What Is Section 301 Status?

A young adult who has been deemed ineligible for SSI at age 18 redetermination may continue to receive benefits if they are participating in an approved special education or vocational rehabilitation program. When benefits continue under this program it is referred to as Section 301 status. Approved programs include:

  • Individualized Education Program (IEP) for a young adult aged 18 through 21
  • Employment plan through a Vocational Rehabilitation agency
  • An approved Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS)
  • A written service plan with a school under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

If the young adult’s physical or mental impairment has ceased, their SSI benefits will not be terminated or suspended if:

  • The young adult participates in an appropriate program of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services, employment services, or other support services.
  • They began participating in the program before the month his or her disability or blindness ceased.
  • They continue to participate in the program through the two (2)-month grace period after cessation; and
  • Completion of the program, or continuation in the program for a specified period of time, will increase the likelihood that the young adult will not return to the disability or blindness benefit, as determined by the SSA.

If benefits stop at age 18, the young adult has a right to appeal the decision through reconsideration or appeal to administrative law judge.  If the appeal is filed within 10 days of the redetermination notice, SSI payments will continue while the appeal is in process.

If The Child Was Receiving SSI as a Military Dependent Overseas

The special rule that allows dependent children of active duty servicemembers serving on permanent duty ashore to an overseas assignment does not apply after the child turns 18 years of age. Once the child turns 18, they will no longer be eligible for SSI until they have been living within the United States for thirty (30) consecutive days. The SSA requires proof of residence stateside, which may include a utility bill or rental agreement.  If the young adult was not paying room and board from the date residency began, the period during which they were not charged will be considered in-kind income and may delay a positive eligibility determination.

More On This Topic

Health Insurance: How a Change in Federal Policy Might Impact Your Family

Families with insurance from the Health Insurance Exchange that was established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be eligible for lower cost insurance because of a rule that changed just in time for the Open Enrollment period that started November 1, 2022.

Open Enrollment ends January 15, 2023. Note that for new coverages to begin on January 1, enrollment must be completed by December 15.

The rule change corrects a problem called the “family glitch,” which created a financial burden for an employee trying to ensure a whole family, not just themselves. The new rule will expand access to affordable coverage for families by using the premium for family coverage ― rather than employee-only coverage ― to determine eligibility for premium tax credits (PTCs). If a person does not have any offer of employer insurance that meets standards for affordability and adequacy, based on calculations that consider the family’s financial picture, they may now be eligible for PTCs to purchase coverage through the marketplace.

In Washington State, information about health insurance plan options is provided at The website supports language access, including sign language, and provides cultural navigators that understand the Indian Health System as well as Medicaid.

For healthcare navigation help by phone, call 1-855-923-4633.

Washington’s Health Plan Finder is also where individuals can sign up for or renew their Apple Health coverage. Washington State is a Medicaid expansion state and provides Medicaid options for a larger portion of adults and children based on income. The state provides an Eligibility Overview for 2022, with information about monthly income limits for families.

Another place for information and help to understand insurance options is parenthelp123, which has navigators who speak English and Spanish: Call 1.800.322.2588.

More information about the “family glitch” legislation can be found at the Center on Budget and Policy or the Common Wealth Fund.