For a decade, Cleveland has been an open enrollment school district. Parents, caregivers and students can choose which school they want to attend within the district. CMSD uses an online portal where families select their top choices for elementary or high schools. 

The process is the same whether a student is enrolling in the district for the first time or changing schools. 

Prior to 2013, most students were automatically enrolled in the neighborhood school closest to their home. The exceptions were students who applied to magnet or specialty schools, including Cleveland School of the Arts, the School of Science and Medicine, and the district’s four single-gender schools.

While many students still attend their neighborhood schools, students who enroll in the district aren’t automatically placed at a school closest to where they live, said Rick McIntosh, CMSD’s executive director of school choice and enrollment. 

When to register 

The district doesn’t give an exact date for when it opens the school choice portal each year, but it usually alerts parents and posts a notice on the school choice web page. After the initial enrollment period, the portal will close while students are assigned to schools. It will then reopen.

High school 

November: The high school portal opens

Mid-January: Portal closes for first-round choices


January: The K-8 choice portal opens

Mid-March: The first round closes


The district has a separate preschool registration page, which shows current seat availability at each school. Children must be at least 4 years old by the end of September each year to enroll.

Researching the schools

Read up on the available options to see what schools offer. 

  • The Cleveland Transformation Alliance offers a school quality guide that lists the academic track record of each school, what programs the school offers, contact information for principals, and enrollment statistics.
  • Some schools have requirements a student must meet to be considered or enrolled. Criteria could be a test score or grade point average. Some high schools require an audition, an essay or an interview. The admissions tab on each school’s website lists specific requirements.
  • Not sure about a school? High schools and some K-8 schools let students shadow or take a tour. Contact the school’s principal or the school through its website to arrange a visit.
CMSD's High Schools each cater to a variety of career-focused programs. Here's a list of those programs organized by career cluster.
CMSD’s high schools offer special programs based on the career or learning area that interests a student. Credit: Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Understanding transportation options

Starting in the fall of 2023, CMSD will provide school bus transportation to all K-8 students who live within 1 to 3 miles of their school. Previously, most 7th and 8th graders didn’t have that option.

Students attending schools outside of that range are not provided transportation, though there are a few exceptions:

  • City-wide draw schools: Schools with special programs such as the Dike School for the Arts, single-gender K-8 academies, Campus International’s K-8 school, and the Montessori schools
  • Some students who have special needs or who are on an IEP (individualized education plan) can get transportation on a case-by-case basis.
  • High school students with a commute longer than a mile are given passes to ride Greater Cleveland RTA buses and trains.

Picking top choices

First, parents or guardians have to create an account. An email or phone number is required. The district will use the email or phone number to send updates. After an account is created, a child or children can be added.

Parents registering for the first time should have this information on hand:

• Student’s birth date

• Current school and grade

• Student address

• Parent or guardian’s phone number

Once students are added, top school choices can be entered. The choices should be ranked with the first choice at the top. If the schools require additional information, it can be uploaded to the portal later.

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The History of Cleveland school choice

Assigning schools

After the first round of choice closes, the district will start to assign students to schools. Families will be notified in a text message or email.

Students will be assigned to their first choice school as long as seats are available. 

If a school has more interested students than available seats, the system will randomly assign students to the open seats based on a number assigned to them when they made their choices. Students not selected will be placed on a waiting list and be matched with their second-choice school. Students offered a seat from the waitlist have one week to respond. After that, the school will offer the seat to the next student on the waitlist.

The portal will reopen after the first round of assignments is complete. Schools with open seats are now filled on a first-come, first-served basis until a school is at capacity. Students in the second round who prioritize schools that have already filled their seats will be placed on the school’s waitlist. 

CMSD allows non-district residents to enroll through the portal. But the lottery algorithm gives residents priority. It also prioritizes K-8 students with siblings in the same school, so that siblings can be together.

Campus International K-8 school also gives priority in its seat assignments to the children of Cleveland State University faculty, staff, and students because the school has a partnership with the university. 

For more information on applying to or enrolling, visit CMSD’s school choice landing page. Find websites for individual schools in the district’s directory of elementary schools and high schools

For specific enrollment questions, information on required documents or registering or changing schools outside of the annual enrollment period, visit the district’s registration page or call the CMSD Office of School Choice and Enrollment at 216.838.3675.

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Cleveland school choice

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.