MCEC® created the original Ducklings booklet in 2006 to provide parents basic information regarding age and vaccination requirements for young children enrolling in U.S. public or DoDEA schools, it was since revised in May 2014.
Most military families already know that school entry requirements vary from state to state; however, individual districts may impose additional requirements so variations can also be seen within the same state.
!!!!CAUTION!!!! These requirements can also change quickly, depending on local circumstances. Our best advice is to contact your new school district to make sure you have the most accurate information about their current requirements and to mindful of the details. Many school districts have their own web sites, which frequently list information regarding school entry requirements and/or contact information for the best people to provide that information. Be sure to ask if you have any special issues or questions. Please also talk with your health care provider if you have any concerns about the required vaccines or your child’s health.
What Do Parents Need to Know Prior to Enrollment?
- When must your children attend school?
- Is your child required to attend Kindergarten?
- Is it possible to either opt-out or opt-into kindergarten?
- What immunizations are required to enter school? Do these differ by grade level?
- May district policies differ within a state?
- Do states have other entry requirements?
- How has the work of the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission and correlating state legislation impacted enrollment in state kindergarten programs?
- What about Pre-K enrollment policies?
When Must Your Children Attend School?
Required or compulsory attendance legislation includes the minimum age, the maximum age, and may include the total number of years required for students to attend or the highest grade that must be completed for some states. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) along with its weekly updates provides the most accurate statewide information in one location. Free and Compulsory School Age Requirements is an informative resource that covers compulsory age requirements by state.
Is Your Child Required to Attend Kindergarten?
15 states plus the District of Columbia require a child to attend kindergarten. Read 50 State Comparision: State Kindergarten Policies to learn if your child is required to attend. The report will also tell you each state's compulsory school age requirements, kindergarten entrance age, waivers, and more.
Is it Possible to Either Opt-Out or Opt-Into Kindergarten?
Yes. in this ECS March 2014 report there were many states that have opt-out and several that have opt-in waivers under certain conditions (i.e., talented and gifted) or the decision may be based on a local decision. Other states and the District of Columbia do not specify any waivers. Note that in some states, once a child is enrolled, the child is subject to compulsory attendance laws. Need more information? The Education Commission’s website about Age Exemptions and Waivers should be informative.
May District Policies Differ Within a State?
Yes, even state kindergarten policies may differ at the district level. State Kindergarten Policies: State Profiles displays individual state profiles kindergarten policies.
What Immunizations Are Required to Enter School? Do These Differ by Grade Level?
Most states follow the immunization schedules established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention which are available in English and Spanish for:
In addition, the Immunizations for Public Health (I4PH) website links to state-specific immunization sites and mandates. It also provides up-to-date information on public health information on public health issues and answers questions about topics such a vaccinations and possible side effects.
In case you also have preschool-aged students, know that most preschools require the Hib, or Haemophilus Influenzae Type B vaccine. Evidence of a TB test is also required in some districts.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institute for Vaccine Safety maintains a map linking to vaccination exemption procedures in each state. If your child has medical issues, you and your health care provider may decide to delay or avoid certain vaccinations. Each state has its own procedure for medical exemptions from the aforementioned school entry requirements. Many states also have religious or philosophical waivers if religious or other beliefs are an issue when considering vaccinations.
Links to Immunization Schedules:
Do States Have Other Entry Requirements?
Yes. Many states and school districts have additional requirements and specific forms that may need to be completed prior to enrollment.
Here is a checklist of items you will want to have ready when enrolling your child in a new school:
- Social security card
- Birth certificate
- Photo identification of parent or guardian
- Records regarding any special need your child may have, such as test results or past modifications (a recent IEP)
- Records regarding any health concerns your child may have
If your child has been in a gifted and talented program, letters of recommendations from past teachers may facilitate enrollment in a similar program at the new school. Similarly these letters could prove helpful for special needs students.
Finally, the new school district will ask for proof of residency and may also require one of more of the following:
- Evidence of child’s physical exam within the last 12-18 months. The district may require that the doctor complete a specific state form.
- Screenings needed, such as visual, auditory, dental, or lead screenings. Again the district may require the completion of a specific state form.
- Evidence of vaccinations on specific state forms (this is required by some states, be sure to ask about this).
How Has the Work of the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission and Correlating State Legislation Impacted Enrollment in State Kindergarten Programs?
What About Pre-K Enrollment Policies?
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has published an annual yearbook covering funding, state policies, and access since 2001.
If you would like to review the latest Pre-Kindergarten yearbook, as well as specific state profiles, visit the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Additional Web Sites
Most states follow the basic structure of the CDC’s recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedules. To view the most current information, as well as catch-up schedules in case your child did not receive vaccinations for a period of time, visit the CDC’s Immunization Schedules page.
For more information and latest developments concerning H1N1, please visit the Center for Disease Control site.
The web site for the Immunizations for Public Health (I4PH) details vaccinations needed for school and day care enrollment in each state. It also provides up-to-date information on public health issues and answers questions about topics such as vaccinations and possible side effects.
The site hosted by the Immunization Action Coalition provides links to state mandates on specific vaccinations.
If your child has medical issues, you and your health care provider may decide to delay or avoid certain vaccinations. Each state has their own procedure for medical exemptions from the aforementioned school entry requirements. Many states also have religious or philosophical waivers if religious or other beliefs are an issue when considering vaccinations. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institute for Vaccine Safety maintains a map linking to the exemption procedures available in each state.