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School Choice: Who Decides?

Article by Aleksandra Kocelko, Esq.

As we approach the end of the school year, most parents are thinking about summer vacation. However, if the parents live in different districts, school choice is a big consideration. School choice is the right to select a child’s school (self-explanatory). Some parents may not realize that if both parents share legal custody, they both need to agree on the school district, or the court will decide. If parents live in the same district, this is often not an issue, however if parents or the children have moved or are contemplating a move, this could be a major stumbling block. In other cases, the parents separated when the children were very young have not yet been enrolled in school, thus creating this issue. Most of the time, school choice issues develop in one of two scenarios, either when the child is being enrolled in kindergarten and a school has not yet been selected, or if one parent moves and wants to change the child’s school district.

Regardless of the circumstances, if parents cannot agree on a school, one or both of the parents would need to file a petition with the court to schedule a school choice hearing. At that hearing, the judge will hear testimony and evidence from both parents and ultimately make a decision. In most cases, the judge is not deciding which school the children will go to, but rather, which parent will make the decision. This is important because most judges will not hear hours of evidence on why one school is better than the other. Rather, the Court is more concerned with how the parents communicate, why one parent might feel they are in a better position to assess the child’s need, etc. Every case is different and arguments for or against school choice can vary dramatically. In most cases, if one parent is asking to change the child’s school district, there should be a good reason for the change. Stability and consistency are considerations in any custody decision. On the other hand, if the school choice is for kindergarten and the child has not yet attended any school district, there might be different factors considered by the court in making this decision.

Regardless of your situation, if school choice is going to be an issue for the upcoming school year, you should take action promptly. Don’t wait until the month school starts to bring the issue to the court’s attention as it might be difficult, if not impossible, to get a hearing scheduled that quickly. The sooner you can alert the court to an issue, the better so everyone has ample time to prepare and conduct a hearing and receive the decision.

If you have questions about your child’s school choice, contact one of our family law attorneys for a free consultation.