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Massachusetts Charter Schools

Enrollment Policy and Practice Frequently Asked Questions
(Updated September 2016)

The Enrollment Processes Technical Advisory and the following Enrollment Policy and Practice Frequently Asked Questions provided by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) should be read carefully and reviewed in its entirety. An answer to one frequently asked question might lead a reader to an inaccurate conclusion when read in isolation from the Department’s guidance and answers to other frequently asked questions. Answers should not be reviewed or relied upon in isolation from the entirety of the Department’s guidance regarding enrollment processes. Please reach out to the Department if you have a question or concern that is not currently found in this FAQ.

Eligibility Criteria

Enrollment Process and Lottery Procedures

Waitlist

Backfilling

Acceptance of an Offer of Admission and Students Attending

General Inquiries

All

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Eligibility Criteria

1.

Does a student need to be a Massachusetts resident to apply for admission and to attend a charter school?

Yes. A student must be a resident of Massachusetts at the time of application to be eligible to participate in a charter school's enrollment process. Additionally, a student must be a resident of Massachusetts to attend and to continue attending a charter school in Massachusetts.


2.

What constitutes proof of residency?

A charter school must specify the reasonable evidence and documentation of residency in its enrollment policy, as approved by the Department. Because the enrollment preferences for applicants and funding are based upon the actual residence of students, charter schools may request reasonable information documenting the residency of both the applicant and the parent or guardian. Charter schools, however, must be flexible regarding what information they will accept as documentation. Charter schools may set reasonable requirements for documentation (e.g., utility bills, signed leases, etc.) in their enrollment policy. Schools may not require proof of residency for students who can be identified as "homeless" under the McKinney-Vento Act. See Q&A No. 3 for additional information about residential preference and students who are homeless.

In their enrollment policies, for purposes of enrollment preferences, a charter school may establish a presumption that an applicant student resides in the school district in which s/he and his/her siblings attend public school. Such a provision must specify that the applicant student may rebut this presumption through evidence indicating that they reside in a school district that is different from the one in which they attend school. Evidence submitted may include, but is not limited to, admission to the attending district through school choice, G.L. c. 76, § 12B; through an agreement between school committees; or through provisions of a collective bargaining agreement.

In their enrollment policies, for purposes of enrollment preferences, a charter school may also state that an applicant must "actually reside" in the city or town indicated on their application. "Actual residence" may be determined by looking at physical presence in the city or town with an intent to remain in the city or town and make it the applicant's home, "the center of [the applicant's] domestic, social and civil life." See Lydia D. v. Payzant, No. 03-5847-E, 2003 Mass. Super. LEXIS 471, at *6-7 (Mass. Super. Ct. Dec. 30, 2003) (addressing exclusion of students from Boston Latin School based upon residency). If the student lives in two separate residences because his or her parents share physical custody, the student may choose either location as their residence for purposes of attendance at the charter school. Factors that might be considered in determining "actual residence" might include where the applicant sleeps, where the applicant participates in other activities outside of school, where the applicant attends school, and whether the applicant intends to remain in the city or town and make it his or her home. Schools should consider consulting with legal counsel in making such determinations.

Example: a student actually resides in Quincy, but the student's parents rent an apartment in Boston for the purposes of establishing "residency" when applying to a charter school. If articulated in the charter school's enrollment policy and if the charter school determines that the student does not actually reside at the Boston rental address, then the school may not provide residential preference before the lottery takes place, or may rescind an offer of admission, may unenroll a student, or may terminate the enrollment of a currently attending student. See Q&A No. 18, for information regarding rescinding an offer of admission, unenrolling a student, or terminating the enrollment of a currently attending student.


3.

If a student is homeless, what documentation is sufficient to receive an enrollment preference based on residency?

A student who meets the definitions of McKinney-Vento as being homeless must be considered eligible to apply regardless of residency documentation. The McKinney-Vento Act prohibits students who meet the definition of homeless from being barred from enrollment due to lack of required documentation. Please review the Department's Homeless Education Advisories for additional information. Homeless students, however, must still provide reasonable proof of residency to receive an admission preference based on where they are temporarily living. What is reasonable proof of the city or town in which a homeless student's is temporarily living depends upon the circumstances. In some situations, if other reasonable documentation is not available, an affidavit may be sufficient. Homeless students should receive a residency preference based on the location of their temporary residence; if their temporary residence is located within the charter school's sending region, they are entitled to a residency preference. The location of a student's prior permanent residence does not provide a residency preference for admission.


4.

Can a foreign exchange student seek admission to or attend a charter school?

No. Charter schools may not admit foreign exchange students. Because foreign exchange students are not Massachusetts residents, they are not eligible to attend Massachusetts charter schools. Because they are not eligible to attend, they cannot enter the lottery, receive sibling preference, or be admitted. Charter schools would not receive any tuition or other funding for foreign exchange students and may not charge tuition to any foreign exchange student, a condition of eligibility for an F-1 visa to attend a secondary school. For additional information on F-1 visa requirements, please see Foreign Students in Public Schools.


5.

Other than establishing residency in Massachusetts, are there other eligibility requirements that charter schools may consider for students?

Each charter school may include a provision in its enrollment policy that requires students to complete successfully the grade prior to the grade for which they seek admission. For example, pursuant to a provision in a charter school's enrollment policy, a fifth grade student applying for entry to sixth grade may be required to successfully complete fifth grade prior to beginning sixth grade at the charter school. Please note that the school the applicant attended for the prior grade determines whether the student successfully completed that grade, not the charter school to which the student has applied. See Q&A No. 20 for additional information regarding placement testing.


6.

How can a student prove successful completion of the prior grade if they were previously home schooled?

As stated above, the determination of successful completion of a grade is made by the applicant's prior school, not the charter school to which the student has applied. Because a school does not determine successful completion of grades for students who are home schooled, grade completion can be attested to by the parents and confirmed by a review of the home schooling plan submitted to and approved by the student's district of residence and past evaluation and assessment results. Please note that such results may not be used to discriminate in admission based upon academic achievement. If a student who has previously been home schooled enrolls in a charter school, subsequent to admission, the charter school determines grade placement and whether to award course credit for work completed while the student was being home schooled. See Q&A No. 20 for additional information regarding placement testing.


7.

Can a charter school require a student to repeat a grade to be eligible for admission?

No. A charter school may not require a student who has successfully completed a grade to repeat that grade level in order to be eligible for admission. See Q&A No. 20 for additional information regarding placement testing.


8.

May a charter school set eligibility requirements based on age?

Pursuant to 603 CMR 1.05(12), each charter school in its enrollment policy shall specify age thresholds for kindergarten and maximum ages for high school programs that are consistent with state law. Schools with an entry point in kindergarten must specify the minimum age required to seek admission to those grades. For additional information, please see 603 CMR 8.00. A school's charter, enrollment policy, and application for admission should explicitly note the age eligibility for kindergarten.

With respect to setting maximum ages for high school programs, a charter school must serve students who have not yet obtained a high school diploma until age 22.

With respect to students without a high school diploma who are older than 22, on a case-by-case basis, any Commonwealth charter school whose approved enrollment policy permits it to serve such students may report these students through SIMS by requesting an exception for earlier dates of birth for SIMS element DOE006 (Date of Birth). Commonwealth charter schools may receive tuition for such students.


9.

Does a student need to attend a district school to be eligible to attend a Commonwealth charter school?

No. Students do not need to attend a district school to be eligible to attend a Commonwealth charter school. All children who are residents of Massachusetts are eligible for admission.


10.

May a Commonwealth charter school impose enrollment preferences other than those permitted under the charter school statute, such as preference for English language learners or students with disabilities?

No. Preferences for admission are specified in detail in the charter school statute and cannot be changed by the Department or by the charter school.


11.

Does a student need to attend a district school to be eligible to attend a Horace Mann charter school?

No. Students do not need to attend a district school to be eligible to attend a Horace Mann charter school. All children who are residents of the district are eligible for admission. Students attending a school of the district, however, do receive a preference at the time of the admissions lottery. A Horace Mann charter school must admit students in the following order of preference:

  1. for the initial lottery, any students attending the school, or attending school in the school building previously occupied by the school, on the date that the final application is filed with the Board;
  2. for the initial lottery, siblings of any students attending the school, or attending school in the school building previously occupied by the school, on the date that the final application is filed with the Board;
  3. in all subsequent lotteries, siblings of students currently attending the school;
  4. students who currently attend the schools of the district in which the Horace Mann charter school is located; and
  5. students who reside in the city or town in which the Horace Mann charter school is located.

12.

Can a Horace Mann charter school directly admit a student who does not reside in the district in which the school is located and the student is not attending a school in the district?

No. A Horace Mann charter school, however, may admit a student who has been admitted to and attended school in the district in which the charter school is located under the school choice statute, G.L. c. 76, § 12B. Such student must be considered for admission as a student who is currently attending a school of the district in which the Horace Mann charter school is located.


13.

May a district impose enrollment preferences at Horace Mann charter schools other than those permitted under the charter school statute, such as preference for English language learners or students with disabilities?

No. Preferences for admission are specified in detail in the charter school statute and cannot be changed by the Department, by the charter school, or by the district in which the Horace Mann charter school is located.


Enrollment Process and Lottery Procedures

14.

Are there restrictions around application deadlines and holding lotteries?

Yes. According to 603 CMR 1.05(3)(c), for the upcoming school year, a charter school cannot have a principal application deadline or hold any enrollment lottery for student admission until after January 1st and must conclude its principal enrollment process no later than March 15th of each year.


15.

May a network of charter schools use one application for prospective students?

Yes, provided that it is clear to applicants that the application form is being used by different charter schools, that those schools hold separate lotteries and admit students separately, and that transfers between those charter schools is prohibited.


16.

May a charter school with multiple campuses under one charter that serve the same grade levels assign students to specific campuses?

Yes. If the charter school operates multiple campuses under a single charter, the school in its enrollment policy may reserve the right to assign students to specific campuses for reasons of geographic proximity, student safety, or program delivery. See 603 CMR 1.05(13). The school's enrollment policy as approved by the Department, however, must clearly articulate this practice, and the application materials provided to applicants must state this clearly in a manner understandable by parents and guardians. Charter schools that operate multiple campuses under a single charter may permit applicants to indicate their campus preferences when seeking admission.


17.

What information must charter schools include or request in an application for admission?

At minimum, the application for admission must contain the applicant's full name (first, middle, last); the applicant's date of birth; city/town of residence; address; telephone number; grade level for which they are seeking admission; home addresses; and telephone numbers. The application for admission must also contain the non-discrimination statement. As part of the application process, schools may also require the applicant's age, sibling status, and reasonable proof of residency. See the discussion of reasonable proof of residency in Q&A No. 2.


18.

May a charter school retract or rescind offers of admission, unenroll students, or terminate the enrollment of currently attending students?

Yes. A charter school may only do so if the school's enrollment policy and application for admission includes clear language, readily understandable by the parent or guardian that prohibits the submission of false statements and documents. The school's enrollment policy, approved by the Commissioner, may specify for cases of falsified statements or documents, or ineligibility (such as minimum age requirements for kindergarten admission or successfully completing prior grades), that the school will retract or rescind offers of admission, unenroll students, or terminate the enrollment of currently attending students. This must be made available in the parent's native language and the parents must indicate that they understand the policy and potential consequence.


19.

What information is a charter school prohibited from collecting through an application for admission but may collect after an offer of admission is made and accepted?

While schools may ask for the following information after a student accepts an offer of admission, an application for admission may not ask for:

  • A home language survey;
  • A free and reduced price lunch form;
  • Permanent transcripts from any former school(s);
  • A publications permission form;
  • A records release form; or
  • Other student records (e.g., health records and Individualized Education Plan from a previous school).

The Department recommends that charter schools do not collect on their application for admission any personally identifiable student information that relates to protected classes; such as, ethnicity/race, religion, or national origin. Charter schools may not condition enrollment on the submission any of the items listed.


20.

May a school administer diagnostic or placement tests to students before they are admitted?

No. Charter schools may not administer tests to potential applicants or condition enrollment on results from any test of ability or achievement. Schools may perform placement testing after acceptance of an offer of admission in order to best serve the needs of students attending the school.


21.

Can a school administer diagnostic or placement tests to students after they are admitted?

Yes. Once a student accepts an offer of admission, the school may determine through placement testing which grades are best suited for students. If so, the charter school must provide a space in the appropriate grade. If the charter school does not offer that grade, it still must ensure that the student is educated at the appropriate grade level.


22.

Can a school require informational meetings as part of the enrollment process?

No. The charter school regulations, 603 CMR 1.05(3)(a), prohibit charter schools from requiring potential students and their families to attend interviews or informational meetings as a condition of enrollment.


23.

Can a school ask for either financial donations or commitments of volunteer time during the enrollment process?

No. Charter schools are prohibited from asking for donations of money or commitments of time during the enrollment process.


24.

Can a school charge an application fee?

No. Charter schools are prohibited from charging an application fee.


25.

Must a school hold a lottery if the number of applications received is fewer than the number of available seats?

No. There is no need to hold an enrollment lottery if the charter school can admit every student who seeks admission.


26.

Do previously enrolled students have enrollment preference over other applicants?

No. Previously enrolled students who stopped attending the charter school do not have a preference over any other applicants. Students who are already attending the charter school have a right to continue attending, and schools may not require such students to apply for admission to continue attending.


27.

How do I know if a student should receive sibling preference?

Applicants who have a common parent, either biologically or legally through adoption, and have a sibling attending the charter school when an offer of admission is made are entitled to a sibling preference during the enrollment process.

Receive Sibling PreferenceDo Not Receive Sibling Preference
  • Children who live in different households but share a common biological or legal parent
  • Siblings of students who will graduate at the end of the school year in which the lottery is held
  • For Commonwealth charter schools, if a student moves out of the local city or town but continues to attend the charter school, that student's siblings have preference in admission even though they are nonresidents at the time of application
  • Children who live in the same household but do not share a common biological or legal parent
  • Foster children
  • Siblings and children of alumni/ae
  • Siblings of applicants who have been accepted for admission but are not yet attending (including twins)

28.

When should schools obtain proof of residency as part of the enrollment process?

A school must ask for reasonable proof of residency before an offer of admission is made by the school. See 603 CMR 1.05(10). We strongly recommend that the school ask for and receive reasonable proof of residency before the lottery and confirm residency before making an offer of admission. Students become residents the day they move to a city or town. See also Q&A No. 2 for additional information on residency.


29.

If a student submits an application and provides reasonable proof of residency at the time of the lottery and is placed on the waitlist, does the student need to provide updated proof of residency before an actual offer of admission?

Yes. Current residency information is required to receive a residency preference. In order to establish a continued residency preference, a charter school should ask students to update their reasonable proof of residency before making an offer of admission to a student on the waitlist.


Waitlist

30.

Can a school carry, or "roll," its waitlist from one year to the next?

No. In general, the "rolling" of waitlists is prohibited. The amended charter school regulations permit schools to keep waitlists for only the current school year. 603 CMR 1.05(10)(a). If a student applies and is not admitted, they must reapply the following year to be considered for admission.

Note that the regulations do allow charter schools to use waitlists that were established prior to March 31, 2014, until the current waitlist is exhausted. The school must make clear in its enrollment policy and to all students seeking admission whether the school is currently exhausting an old waitlist or if students must apply for admission again in subsequent years if they do not receive an offer of admission in the current year. These waitlists, however, can only be used until they are exhausted or expired1. For schools that are carrying over a waitlist (established prior to March 31, 2014) from one year to the next, students who have been added to the waitlist at any point after March 31, 2014, and have not been admitted, must reapply the following year to be considered for admission. It is recommended that schools inform these families who have applied after March 31, 2014 that they must reapply the following year to be considered for subsequent admission.


31.

Do schools have to accept new applications even if they have a waitlist?

No. While schools must accept new applications, at least annually, for any grade level that the school may wish to admit students or for all grade levels for which the school is required to backfill seats, they do not have to accept new applications for grades where a waitlist has already been established prior to March 31, 2014 or through the principal lottery process for the upcoming school year. If charter schools do accept applications for grades where a waitlist has already been established or if the school accepts applications submitted after the principal application deadline, they must exhaust the previously established waitlist prior to conducting any additional lotteries. The Department recommends that schools include their plans for accepting new applications in their enrollment policy, so that parents readily understand the articulated practice.


32.

May a school add a student's name to the waitlist without holding a lottery?

No. The charter school statute explicitly requires a lottery if the number of applicants exceed the spaces available for admission and states that "students who entered the lottery but did not gain admission shall be maintained on a waitlist." G.L. c. 71, § 89(n). A student's name must be drawn, either manually or electronically, in a lottery to be placed on a waitlist. Charter schools must follow all requirements when holding subsequent lotteries.


33.

Are schools required to keep separate waitlists for siblings and residents?

No. Schools are not required to keep separate waitlists for siblings and residents. The Department discourages maintaining separate waitlists for siblings, residents, and non-residents. The Department recommends keeping one waitlist that maintains the original random lottery order of the students, either drawn manually or determined electronically. Charter schools must be able to take into consideration sibling and residential preferences for admission, which may change over time.


34.

When does a waitlisted student preference change?

It is important to note for parents and guardians that positions of names on a waitlist are not static because enrollment preferences change. There are many scenarios in which the enrollment preference of a student on the waitlist may change. Students with a new sibling preference—for example, once the sibling of a student on the waitlist begins attending the charter school—would move ahead of students who do not have a sibling preference. Additionally, if a waitlisted student has relocated to the charter school's sending districts, that student would now move ahead of students who do not have a residency preference. Any changes in sibling or residency status necessarily will cause a change in waitlist status. It is impermissible to move a child to the bottom of waitlist based on a preference change. Charter schools must describe clearly how the waitlist will be maintained to account for any preference changes during the school year.


Backfilling

35.

What are the backfilling requirements for charter schools?

In conformance with G.L. c. 71, § 89(n), charter schools shall, when a student stops attending the school for any reason, fill vacant seats up to February 15th, excluding seats in the last half of the grades offered and grades 10, 11, and 12 . If a school has an odd number of grades, the school must backfill more than half of the grades offered. 603 CMR 1.05(10)(c). A vacancy not filled after February 15th moves into the subsequent grade, and the school must fill the seat by the following September, provided such grade is not in the last half of the grades offered and is not in grades 10, 11, or 12. Seats for students who have accepted an offer of admission to the charter school but have never attended are exempt from this provision. If the school fills vacancies beyond the statutory requirements, the school must clearly articulate its practice in its enrollment policy. In order to increase access to charter schools at as many entry points as possible, the Department strongly encourages schools to consider enrollment policies that include backfilling grades beyond those required by law, with which a school must comply. Additionally, this may be required as a condition when granting requests for charter amendments, especially expansion requests.

Determining Which Grades Require Backfill

School Type: Middle
Grades: 5, 6, 7, 8
Backfill Requirement: 5, 6

School Type: K-8
Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Backfill Requirement: K, 1, 2, 3, 4

School Type: High
Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12
Backfill Requirement: 9

School Type: K-12
Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Backfill Requirement: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

36.

During the same school year, may a school backfill a vacancy in one grade by admitting a student into a different grade?

No. If there is a vacancy in a grade where there is a backfilling requirement, the statute, G.L. c. 71, § 89(n), states that the vacancy must be filled in the grade level in which it occurs. If the vacancy occurs after February 15th, the statute requires the vacancy to "remain with the grade cohort and . . . be filled in the following September if it has not previously been filled." If a vacancy occurs in a grade for which the charter school statute does not require backfilling, the school fills the vacancy in accordance with its enrollment policy and applicable laws and regulations regarding charter school enrollment.


37.

May a charter school count a student who repeats a grade toward backfilling a seat? Is a charter school required to backfill the seat of a student who repeats a grade?

No. A charter school may not count students who repeat a grade toward meeting backfill requirements. Students who repeat a grade also do not create a vacancy that needs to be filled because they have not stopped attending the charter school.


38.

What are the backfilling requirements from February 15th until the last day of school?

From February 15th through the end of the school year, charter schools are not required to fill vacancies. The school, however, must keep the vacancy with the grade cohort and fill it the following September. Alternatively, the school may choose to backfill the seat during the current school year. For example, if a vacancy occurs in a kindergarten class after February 15th and is not filled during the remaining school year, the school must fill the vacancy the following September by adding a student to the first grade class.


39.

What are the consequences for failing to backfill a vacant seat?

Charter schools must comply with the statute, which is part of the material terms of all charters. If the school fails to comply, conditions could be imposed on the school's charter and it will be considered in the school's record of performance at renewal. The Department and Board also consider failures to comply with the terms of a charter when determining whether to grant future expansion or replication requests by a school.


Acceptance of an Offer of Admission and Students Attending

40.

Can a Commonwealth charter school unenroll a student who subsequently moves to a city or town in Massachusetts?

No. A Commonwealth charter school cannot unenroll a student because the student moved to another city or town in Massachusetts even if that municipality is outside of the district in which the school is located or outside of the school's region.


41.

Can a student continue to attend a Commonwealth charter school if the student moves outside of Massachusetts?

No. If a student is attending a Commonwealth charter school and moves outside of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, s/he cannot continue to attend the Commonwealth charter school, and the school must unenroll the student.


42.

Can a sending district review residency documentation for any student for whom the district has been assessed tuition?

Yes. Sending districts are permitted to review residency determinations of every student for whom the district has been assessed tuition. If the sending district has information that may indicate a factual error in the residency information, charter schools are expected to work with the district to verify or to correct the information. If necessary, the student's parent or guardian may be asked to meet with charter school and district officials. Disputes regarding residency should be referred to the Department only after the charter school and the district have made a good faith effort to resolve the matter. If a charter school fails to maintain documentation of a student's city or town of residence, or fails to make a good faith effort to respond to and to resolve residency questions raised by sending districts, the Department may place a hold on tuition payments for that student.


43.

If a student is admitted to or attending a Horace Mann charter school and has provided accurate proof of residency at the time of application, can the student continue to attend the school even if the student moves to another city or town outside the school district in Massachusetts?

No. If a student attending a Horace Mann charter school moves to a different district, they can no longer attend the charter school.


44.

Can a charter school unenroll a student who currently attends the school because they failed to complete an intent-to-return form?

No. Once a student is attending a charter school, the school may not unenroll students if the student fails to complete an intent-to-return form or fails to complete any other activity to "secure" a seat for the next school year. While such forms may be useful in projecting enrollment for the upcoming year, the responses on such forms are not binding, and students have a right to continue attending at the charter school. As a school assesses the number of seats it has available in an upcoming school year, the school should count any student currently attending the charter school as returning unless the family has explicitly and clearly communicated that the student(s) will not return.


45.

Can a student be permitted to take a leave of absence during the school year in order to participate in a foreign exchange program or because the student is temporarily moving outside of Massachusetts?

No. A charter school cannot offer a leave of absence. If the student is not attending the charter school because they temporarily live outside of Massachusetts, they are no longer enrolled in that charter school. If they wish to re-enroll in the charter school, they must submit an application for admission and participate in the enrollment process like any other prospective student. Such student does not receive a preference when seeking to enroll again in the charter school.


General Inquiries

46.

Is written notice required prior to destroying student applications? After what period of time may a charter school destroy student applications?

If an applicant is admitted, the application form becomes part of the student's temporary record and must be maintained in accordance with 603 CMR 23.06. The state regulations for student records can be found at 603 CMR 23.00 Student Records. Temporary student records may only be destroyed if the school provides written notice in accordance with 603 CMR 23.06(2) or (3). This notice must be in writing, in the language spoken in the home of the student, and provided to the student and his/her parent. It must contain the approximate date of destruction, which records will be destroyed, and their right to receive the information in whole or in part. This notice is in addition to the routine information letter required by 603 CMR 23.10.

For applicants who are not admitted, the school must retain the application as a temporary student record for no later than seven years after the student's name is no longer on the school's waitlist. The school may destroy such applications only if it has given written notice in accordance with 603 CMR 23.06(3). For applicants who are not admitted, the school may include written notice on its application form with the approximate date of destruction and the right to receive a copy of the documents to be destroyed.


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Last Updated: September 14, 2016
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