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Definition of a School

Provides information to local educational agencies regarding the California Department of Education's project to define a school for purposes of managing data.
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The purpose of this document is to ensure consistency among divisions of the California Department of Education (CDE) regarding department identification, classification, and reporting of school and program information.

The goals of this document are: First, to list the essential attributes that define a school such that it is possible to distinguish schools from non-school entities; second, to resolve difficulties associated with reporting information on schools; and third, to provide complete definitions that anticipate future changes in institutions for education and learning.

Definition of a School

The term "school" is used to refer to all educational institutions having the following characteristics:

  • One or more teachers to give instruction
  • An assigned administrator
  • Based in one or more buildings
  • Enrolled or prospectively enrolled students

Definition of a Public School

The CDE further defines a public school as a kindergarten through grade twelve and/or adult educational institution that

  • is supported with public funds;
  • is authorized by action of and operated under the oversight of a publicly constituted local or state educational agency;
  • provides educational services to all students who are enrolled;
  • has an appropriately credentialed teacher (or teachers) who provides instruction;
  • has at least one appropriately credentialed administrator, usually a principal, who is responsible for all aspects of school administration including supervision and evaluation of staff, fiscal responsibility, student discipline and safety, supervision and evaluation of curriculum, and assessment of academic achievement and school accountability;
  • administers California statewide assessments to its students at the required grade levels;
  • has an administrator, usually a principal, with access to and responsibility for maintaining official student records for all enrolled students;
  • except for charter schools, implements a curriculum that fully meets state requirements as specified in the California Education Code relating to required courses of study;
  • is non-sectarian;
  • except for charter schools, the entity’s budget structure is consistent with the budget structure of schools operated by the authorizing agency;
  • is based in one or more buildings that are "Field Act" compliant, unless exempt.

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Definition of a Private School

A private school is a school, as defined, that is owned or operated by a private person, firm, association, organization, or corporation, rather than by a public agency.

Is it a Program?

If any of the answers to the following three questions are yes: This is not a school, and it may be a program.

  • Is the educational component of the entity secondary to the primary purpose, which is other than education?
  • Do students, who are enrolled in the entity, remain members of the school that referred them?
  • Do all students enroll on a part-time basis?

If any of the answers to the following two questions are no: This is not a school, and it may be a program.

  • Except for State Special Schools, can the entity, if it accommodates grade twelve students, grant a diploma to its graduates?
  • Do the students have full access to all of the facilities and amenities of the entity?

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What does "based in one or more buildings" mean?

Answer: Although most schools are located in a building, some educational institutions are able to deliver education via electronic means (e.g., computer-based training or Internet courses). As such, although it is not essential that the education be delivered to students in a building, it is expected that a school be based in a building. For example, a school that uses the Internet to deliver education would still have a place where it would receive mail and would have a computer located in a building.

Question: Does an administrator have to be full-time and solely devoted to one school?

Answer: There are places where the population is very small and geographically dispersed. As such, it may be necessary to establish several small entities to make education and instruction accessible to a small number of students. It would not be economically practical to require a separate administrator for each school. There are also instances where a few students must be separated from other students for disciplinary reasons. In any case, in order for each of those educational institutions to be designated a "school," each would need to have all of the characteristics of a school.

In addition, in order to determine whether two educational institutions occupying the same physical location are separate schools, one would expect to see: Either a separate administrator associated with each educational institution, or that each institution is established under separate statutory authority; and the entities have different staffing structures, schedules, and a separate physical entrance.

Question: What type of student records is the educational institution’s administrator(s) required to maintain?

Answer: The principal for an educational institution must have access to (and be responsible for maintaining) each enrolled student's pupil record. Refer to the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, sections 430, et seq., which outline the contents of the student's records as they apply to non-charter schools. Charter schools are not governed by these regulations; however, one would still expect that the administrator would maintain student records for all students enrolled in the charter school.

Question: If it is a charter school owned by a firm, is it a private, not public, school?

Answer: Because they are "established by action of and operated under the jurisdiction of a publicly constituted local or state educational agency," even those charter schools that are owned by a firm are considered to be public schools.

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Questions:   CDS Administration | | 916-327-4014
Last Reviewed: Thursday, March 24, 2016
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