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does anyone know if Berkeley allows children to return to the same school after a year away living abroad?
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As long as you live in Berkeley your child can attend Berkeley public schools. You will need to re-admit your student(s) at the District offices. However, you will have go through the lottery again, so there is no guarantee your child will be placed in the same school.
You might speak with the principal at your child's school and get their take on it. Definitely your kids can attend Berkeley schools if you are returning to live in Berkeley, but whether they can return to the same school, I don't know.
I don't live in Berkeley, but I believe it may be similar to other public schools. I don't think that any school will "hold their place" for a year. If the school is impacted, they will let someone in who will take the place of the child who left. If there is space when you return, you'll be able to re-join the same school. If not, you may be redirected to another school. I'm in Lamorinda, and this was one of my biggest concerns. When we left for a family sabbatical in January, there was literally a kid who took my son's seat the next day. We immediately put ourselves on the waiting list to get back into the school and we felt lucky to have received a spot at the same school the following school year. He was, in fact, I think the only "new kid" who entered at that grade level when we returned to the USA in August.
We took a sabbatical year from summer 2012 to summer 2013, so I have personal experience with this. Unless they have changed the rules, you have to do the whole enrollment thing again, which seems utterly stupid to me, but it's the way it is. I had to get a friend to take original birth certificates, etc. in to the office by the enrollment deadline; I couldn't even do it by mail. And in fact, my elementary school child initially got assigned to a different school for 4th grade, even though he had been at his original school since kindergarten and we had only missed his 3rd grade. Because I knew he would never forgive me for taking him from his friends at that school, I begged and pleaded and lobbied and negotiated (maybe even cried? -- cannot remember) until I finally got him back into his original school. It's ridiculous. On my mental to-do list in my abundant spare time is to write to the District and politely suggest that they come up with a policy for sabbatical families, since they are not too uncommon in Berkeley, that would allow you to return to the same school if you arrange it in advance and are only gone one year. It would make so much sense. But until then . .. be prepared, plan ahead, have the necessary documents, and make arrangements with a friend to do the process for you while you away.