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A student's school and resident school district is based on where the student resides. In some circumstances, a family may ask to transfer their student to a school outside of their resident district. This is called a nonresident student transfer. You may also hear it referred to as an out-of-district transfer, interdistrict transfer, choice transfer, variance, waiver, or school choice.
- Nonresident students are those who live outside the school district boundaries of the district they are asking to attend.
- Whether the student transfer request is accepted or denied is determined by the school districts. The process a school district uses to determine transfer requests is established in their policies and procedures.
- Both the student's resident district and the nonresident district must approve a transfer prior to the student attending a nonresident district. The resident district "releases" the student, and the nonresident district "admits" the student.
- Denied requests can be appealed by requesting a hearing through the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Appeals are heard on OSPI's behalf by an administrative law judge with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). OSPI staff does not grant or deny nonresident student transfers.
EXAMPLE: Sarah lives within the boundaries of the Green School District. Due to certain life circumstances, Sarah wants to attend a school within the Blue School District. In order for Sarah to attend school in the Blue School District, both the Green School District and the Blue School District must approve the transfer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Step 1: Contact the nonresident school district before starting the transfer process. Make sure the district is accepting nonresident applications for the school and grade level you are requesting. Many school districts are experiencing student enrollment growth and cannot accept students who live outside of their district. If the district is accepting nonresident applications, contact your resident district to complete a Choice Transfer application form. Many districts have the form on their website. In addition to the title of Choice Transfer, the form may be referred to as an interdistrict transfer, interdistrict variance, interdistrict waiver, or school choice form. You can also call the school district to find out how to get the form.
Step 2: Complete the application. As part of the application, the resident district will ask you to mark on the form which of the following best describes your reason(s) for requesting your district's release. The resident district must release the student from his/her district for any of these reasons:
- The student’s financial, educational, safety, or health conditions would likely be improved, or
- Attendance in the nonresident district is more accessible to the parent’s/guardian’s place of work or to the location of child care, or
- There is a special hardship or detrimental condition, or
- The purpose of the transfer is for enrollment in an online course or school program offered by an OSPI-approved provider.
No. Nonresident districts are under no obligation to accept the student for any of these same reasons.
School districts must have a policy for acceptance and rejection of nonresident transfer applications that is fair and equitably applied. Under the law, districts can deny nonresident transfer applications for the following reasons:
- Acceptance of a nonresident student would result in the district experiencing a financial hardship;
- The student's disciplinary records indicate a history of convictions for offenses or crimes, violent or disruptive behavior, or gang membership;
- The student has been expelled or suspended from a public school for more than ten consecutive days. Any policy allowing for readmission of expelled or suspended students must apply uniformly to both resident and nonresident students;
- Enrollment of a child would displace a child who is a resident of the district, except if a child was admitted because they are the child of an employee of the nonresident district;
- The student has repeatedly failed to comply with requirements for participation in an online school program, such as participating in weekly direct contact with the teacher or monthly progress evaluations.
If your non-resident student transfer request is denied, you have the right to appeal that decision. An appeal means you are requesting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge with the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
Many school districts have an internal appeal process in which district staff will again review a student transfer request. Many times, the issue can be resolved between the school district and the nonresident student's parent/guardian.
If parents/guardians choose to first appeal to the school district according to the school district's procedures, they maintain the right to submit an appeal to OAH if the district does not change their denial decision. Parents are not required to first follow a school district's appeal process before submitting an appeal to OAH.
If you choose to submit an appeal to OAH to request a hearing, complete the Notice of Appeal Form (PDF). Send only the appeal application form and a copy of the denial letter/email to (a brief cover letter is optional):
Appeals may also be filed via email: OAH.OSPI@oah.wa.gov. The notice of appeal form must be sent by secure email. If you do not have a secure email password, send an email to this address, without the form attached, to request instructions for filing the form by secure email.
Parents should be sure to have their child enrolled in a school while they are waiting to hear the outcome of their appeal.
The case is assigned to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). See the OAH Hearings Guide for full details on this process and what you can expect.
All non-resident student transfer appeal cases are heard by an ALJ. After hearing both sides of the case, the ALJ decides whether the nonresident school district must admit the student or if the parent's appeal is denied.
The ALJ is only permitted to decide whether or not the school district:
- Followed the laws governing transfer requests;
- Followed its own policies and procedures; or
- Applied their policies fairly and equitably.
In the final decision, the ALJ cannot consider a family or student's personal circumstances, no matter how compelling. The law and regulations do not allow the ALJ to consider personal circumstances.
For example, the ALJ cannot consider the family's transportation needs, childcare needs, unique activities or courses offered at the nonresident school, social or academic struggles of the student, financial struggles, or any other personal reasons. The ALJ only has the authority to order a school district to admit a nonresident student if the district failed to comply with the law and/or its own policies and procedures.
In preparation for the hearing, parents/guardians should make sure to keep all documents relevant to the appeal. Carefully review the OAH Hearings Guide, and follow the ALJ's scheduling orders. The hearings are typically conducted by telephone. Find a private place where you can discuss the specific student information in confidence.
In the hearing, parents/guardians should keep their presentation to the reasons that their request was denied. The ALJ cannot consider a family or student's personal circumstances in the final decision.
As noted in "Who Decides?", the ALJ can only rule on whether the school district followed the law, whether the district has policies in place that support the reason for the denial, or whether the district applied its policies fairly and equitably.
Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and can take 4 - 6 weeks to resolve. A high volume of student transfer appeal cases are often filed just before a new school year begins. During this time of high volume, it may take a few weeks for a case to be processed, heard, and a decision made. Parents should not wait to hear the outcome of an appeal before enrolling their child in a school.
During the summer, Siyu's family moved out of the River School District into the neighboring Hills School District. Siyu is a model student who loves his school and has made many friends there over the years. His parents requested a nonresident transfer so he could continue to attend his same school. The Hills SD released Siyu but the River SD denied the request based on the lack of space in the school and grade requested. His parents filed an appeal.
Finding: The District can only accept a student if there is space. Even though Siyu previously attended school in the River SD, the River SD is first required to meet the needs of students who live in the district. The ALJ denied the parents' request because the district followed all nonresident transfer laws and school district policies.
Ian's guardian appealed the denial of his nonresident transfer request into the Blue School District. The Blue SD sent a letter to the guardian informing them of the denial. The letter did not provide a reason for the denial or explain the guardian's right to appeal to OSPI.
Finding: State regulation requires that a student be admitted when the school district does not comply with the standards and procedures set in law. The Blue SD had not informed the guardian of the reason for Ian's denial or the guardian's right to appeal to OSPI. The ALJ granted the guardian's appeal and ordered the Blue SD to admit the student.
Nara's family lives very close to the border of two neighboring school districts. Her parents want her to attend Landon High School, which is closer to their home. Landon HS is in the Carter School District, which is not their resident district.
Her parents apply for a nonresident transfer but are denied by the Carter SD. They are informed that the denial is based on lack of space in Nara's grade level at Landon HS. They are also informed of their right to appeal to OSPI. Nara's parents decide to appeal the decision to OSPI.
During the hearing, the parents explain that if Nara attended Landon HS, her schedule would allow her to care for a sibling after school. This would help their family financially. The parents also shared that they saw Landon HS as a better fit for their daughter because of its smaller size, greater number of course offerings, and more team sports than their neighborhood high school.
The Carter SD explained that they anticipated being over capacity in Landon HS with their resident students and showed how enrollment projections are determined. Carter SD must also consider their bargaining agreements with their teachers, which includes overload pay for each student that exceeds a class size limit. They have denied all nonresident transfer requests to Landon HS.
Finding: The ALJ acknowledged that the parents had important reasons for wanting their child to attend Landon HS, but that there was no legal basis to overturn the Carter SD's decision. The ALJ denied the parents' appeal request.
The ALJ cannot require a school district to accept nonresident students for reasons other than permitted by law. The school district must also follow its own policy not to admit nonresident students when there is no space available.
- WAC 392-137 Finance-Nonresident Attendance
- RCW 28A.225.217 Children of military families-Continued enrollment in district schools
- RCW 28A.225.220 Adults, children from other districts, agreements for attending school - Tuition. When a district, receiving students from another district, may charge tuition/fees.
- RCW 28A.225.225 Applications from school employees' children, nonresident students, or students receiving home-based instruction to attend district school - Acceptance and rejection standards - Notification. How a district can accept or reject applications from nonresident students or home-based instruction students to attend the school district and the notification process.
- RCW 28A.225.230 Appeal from certain decisions to deny student's request to attend nonresident district - Procedure. Appeal process from certain decisions of the receiving school district for a nonresident student to enroll in the district.
- RCW 28A.225.270 Intradistrict enrollment options policies. Process for a student to request a transfer from one school to another within his/her resident school district.
- RCW 28A.225.280 Transfer students' eligibility for extracurricular activities. Eligibility of transfer students for extracurricular activities under Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) rules.
- RCW 28A.225.290 Enrollment options information booklet (as amended by 2009 c 450). Duty of the superintendent of public instruction to prepare the enrollment options booklet.