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What to know as SF’s school enrollment season begins

Camille Cohen/The Standard

In much of the country, students get assigned to school based on proximity. In places like San Francisco, the process is more complicated—enough so that parents have to start figuring it out a year ahead of time. 

To that end, the San Francisco Unified School District this weekend is kicking off some of the first in-person workshops since the pandemic to help families navigate enrollment in the coming school year. 

Families can attend the workshops to learn how to enroll, get more information on transitional kindergarten, apply to language programs and see what special education resources are available at which elementary schools. 

Enrollment fairs for middle and high schools will be held virtually from next Monday to Thursday. 

The first in-person enrollment fair is a chance for parents to ask questions about what each school is like so they can figure out what’s best for their children. SFUSD is also hosting in-person school tours from November through January. 

There are plenty of factors to weigh, which can make it an anxiety-inducing process. 

How Does it Work? 

Families have until Feb. 3 to submit, revise or cancel applications for school placement before two rounds of assignments occur over the spring semester. The open enrollment period for new SFUSD students is July. 

The deadline to apply to Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Lowell High School, which will return to its controversial special admissions policy next year, is Dec. 16. 

Parents and guardians can do initial online research with the district’s school finder tool to sort by location, programming and more. The district also broke down enrollment-related lingo in a glossary and posted the updated enrollment guide in multiple languages on Friday.

Jessica Franklin, a SFUSD parent who helped run a lottery support group on Facebook, advised putting more options down, not less. 

“Instead of picking one school and being like, ‘This is the one,’ think, “These are the five that are good for my family,’” said Franklin. “The bottom line is you have some choices. There’s so many good schools, people just need to keep that in mind as they approach the process.”

Why Does SF Do It This Way?

San Francisco’s enrollment system stems from a decadeslong effort to diversify the school population in a city with neighborhoods so starkly segregated by race. 

The setup relies on families submitting applications in what’s basically a lottery system that aims to balance parent choice. 

Despite those goals, SFUSD acknowledges that the system has failed to desegregate schools. But there are plans in place to rework the process yet again.

If no more delays occur, the district will shake things up with a new elementary school assignment system implemented in the 2026-27 school year. The district is developing zones that would limit the number of schools families are eligible for in a bid to reduce uncertainty, increase diversity and assign schools closer to where the families live.  

Public schools statewide are contending with declining enrollment, looking to retain and attract families to stabilize the system. State funding is based on the number of students and attendance numbers: Each pupil lost means less revenue.

SFUSD’s enrollment dropped to 49,045 this school year from 49,204 last year—a much smaller decline than projected. It counted 52,468 students in 2018-19.

The early education and elementary school enrollment fair this weekend takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at John O’Connell High School. Snacks and child care are available. 

Another in-person enrollment workshop is set for November.