Who can attend public school in North Carolina?

Every child in the State of North Carolina between the ages of 5 and 20 who has not obtained a high school diploma is entitled to a free public education in the school district in which the child’s parent, legal guardian, or adult caregiver resides.  This right extends not only to United States citizens, but to every child who lives in North Carolina.  In Plyler v. Doe, 475 U.S. 202 (1982), the United States Supreme Court held that states cannot deny enrollment to children who are undocumented immigrants.  The Court found that such a practice discriminated on the basis of nationality in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.   

Because schools cannot deny enrollment to children who are undocumented, proof of U.S. citizenship is not required for children to attend public school.  Schools have no right to request proof of citizenship, and may not request any information with the purpose or result of denying access to public schools on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

What will you need for enrollment?

Below is a list of documents that parents, legal guardians, or caregivers will have to produce to enroll their children in public school in North Carolina.  The child is qualified by law for admission to public school if these documents are produced, and the local board of education MUST provide for the school assignment of that child.

  • Birth Certificate– you may give the school a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate or an original birth certificate.  If you cannot provide a certified copy of the birth certificate, you may also use one of these documents:
    • A photocopy of a birth certificate
    • Previously verified school records
    • State-issued ID
    • Driver’s license
    • Passport
    • Parent’s affidavit attesting to student’s age
    • Physician’s certificate verifying a student’s age
    • Life insurance policy
    • Immunization records
    • Baptismal or church certificate

A district may not bar a student from enrolling in its schools based on a foreign birth certificate.  Some school districts may also request a student’s social security number at enrollment, but a district may not deny enrollment to a student if you choose not to provide a social security number.

  • Immunization Record– if your child has not been immunized, contact your local school for information on when immunizations are conducted through the school.
  • Proof of Residence– what documents can serve as proof of residence will vary by school district, but this will often include lease agreements, mortgage statements or deeds, property tax statements, or utility bills.  These must be in the name of the students’ parents or court-appointed guardian.  While most school districts only require one proof of residence, some, like Mecklenburg County, require multiple proofs of residence.  Proof of citizenship or immigration status is NOT relevant to establishing residency within the district.  After you produce the residency documents, the student cannot be withheld from school while the district verifies residency status.
  • Picture ID of parent or court-appointed guardian– most school districts will also require a valid government-issued photo ID

For transfer students– If you are registering a child for 1st through 12th grade, you will also need a Discipline Status Enrollment Form (English) (Español).  This form states that the student has not been suspended or expelled from another school.  An attorney is not needed to fill out this form, but it must be signed by a parent or guardian in the presence of the notary.

Who can enroll a child in school?

The child can be enrolled by a parent or legal guardian, and can also be enrolled by a caregiver.  You can register a child for school if you are not the child’s parent or court-appointed guardian and the child’s parent is unavailable.  A parent is unavailable if they are deceased, are ill, are incarcerated, are on active military duty, have been convicted of abuse or neglect, have relinquished physical custody and control of the student, have lost their home due to natural disaster, or are otherwise impossible to locate.  To enroll the child, you will need the documents listed above and the Educational Residency Affidavit for the Caregiver (English) (Español).

You can also register a child for school if you are the child’s caregiver and the parent is available.  In order to do this, you will need the documents listed above, the Educational Residency Affidavit for the Caregiver (English) (Español), and the Educational Residency Affidavit for the Parent (English) (Español). Please be mindful that certain school districts have their own forms available that should look relatively similar to the affidavits included on this page. For example, Wake County Public School System uses the following forms: (Parental) (Non-Parental).

The Education Residency Affidavits do not need to be filled out by an attorney.  Both documents must be notarized, so the parent/caregiver should only sign the form in the presence of the notary.

Don’t let your child be denied access

Specific enrollment requirements will vary by district, but no child may be denied enrollment if the required documents listed above are produced.  Remember that parents, guardians and caretakers are not required to show proof of U.S. citizenship for them or the child in order to enroll the child into public school.  If you are asked to produce proof of U.S. citizenship or any additional information not required by law, contact SCSJ to help ensure your child is enrolled in a timely manner.