About BUSD: How School Assignment Works

The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) assigns new K-8 students to schools based on the "zone" they live in. There are three zones in Berkeley -- roughly three parallel strips stretching from the hills to the bay. BUSD created these zones in order to balance schools socio-economically by including both affluent families (in the hills) and middle-class and working-class families (in the flat lands). In each zone, there are 3-5 elementary schools and one middle school. All students attend Berkeley High School. To find out which zone you live in, see the District Map on the BUSD website.

For elementary school (K-5) you may request your top three choices in your zone, but ultimately, BUSD decides which school you are assigned to, based on the census tract you live in (income, education level, etc.). Once assigned to a school, you may request to be wait-listed at a preferred school in your zone, but there is no guarantee. There is very little chance of attending a school outside your zone except in rare cases where your desired zone is under-enrolled. See parent discussions about this.

Out-of-district transfers: Many Berkeley schools are over-enrolled so officially, BUSD accepts few transfers from other school districts. Unofficially, it is said that as many as 12% of BUSD students are from outside the district.

See Also: Berkeley Unified School District webpage ... BUSD: Enrollment & School Choice

Parent Q&A

Advice on finding out BUSD lottery placement? Jul 16, 2020 (2 responses below)
BUSD vs Private school notification dates in March Feb 24, 2020 (3 responses below)
Incredibly frustrated with BUSD - sexual assault victim Aug 16, 2019 (10 responses below)
Is Claremont hills BUSD or OUSD? Jul 6, 2019 (3 responses below)
  • We recently moved to Berkeley and have 5 yo twins starting kindergarten in the fall.  We went through the second-round lottery but haven't been able to find out their school assignment, or even confirm that BUSD received our application materials and included them in the lottery.  Any suggestions on how to follow up?  We are sensitive to all of the demands on school administrators right now, but it would be helpful to know our school assignment so we can start thinking about joining a pod this fall.  


    I would send an email to Admissions [at] berkeley.edu to check on status. We submitted the required paperwork for round 3 and received a confirmation email within a week stating pre enrollment is Complete.  We’re supposed to find out late July/early August.

    Dear Hezzie,

    I would send an e-mail to school secretaries/school admin assistant. I used it to check if my upcoming KG kid has all the documents in.

    The names are listed under that of a principal for each school. There is a link to each of the schools from Berkeley USD website.

    To get an e-mail address, you would have to use the school directory.

    All Berkeley USD schools will be on-line at least until October, at least...

  • Does anyone know when BUSD will notify us about what schools our kids are assigned for the 2020-2021 school year? We applied to and were accepted by one private school, and we have to let them know if we are accepting by mid-March. Both my husband and I have rather inflexible jobs (when it comes to hours), so we are quite nervous about our kids being assigned different schools (even twins get different schools, we were told) and/or late start schools.

    BUSD kindergarten assignment letters go out mid-March. I'm trying to remember exactly when we got ours (it's been two years now) but I think it was somewhere like March 15-17. I remember fervently checking the mailbox every day. Best wishes!

    Last two weeks of March

    According to the BUSD website, you should hear in mid-March (https://www.berkeleyschools.net/departments/berkeley-school-admissions/enrollment-faq/) - they are not more specific than that.  It is very unlikely your two kids will be assigned two different schools - while it does happen, it's very rare, especially if you met the initial enrollment deadline.  Siblings are given priority.  Also, late-start schools all have optional (paid) before-school care, so you should be able to drop-off early.  And all BUSD elementary and middle-schools have afterschool programs, as well.  Good luck with your decision!

  • My daughter came to live with me this summer. She was previously out of state with her other parent. What precipitated the relocation was her being the victim of sexual assault. I am currently in the process of developing a treatment plan for her with the Center for Child Protection at Oakland Children's Hospital, who were referred to me by Bay Area Women Against Rape. The crime is currently under active investigation. Given her current fragile psychological condition, as well as her unfamiliarity with navigating Berkeley, I believe it is crucial that she goes to school as close to home as possible; she has a pretty high level of anxiety at this point, and does suffer from trauma due to the assault. Her stepmother and myself are both teachers, and will not be able to drop her at school on the other side of the city due to our work hours, and I do not feel comfortable putting her on a bus, given her current state. However, BUSD is telling me the school close to us is full and they cannot put her in it due to union rules and told me I just need to get on the wait list, which I've done. But surely she is not the only student in BUSD who has a critical need to attend school close to home! Is there anyone out there who can suggest how to get around this madness? Thanks.

    I would initiate the process of getting an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Students with "severe emotional disturbance" can be eligible for an IEP. It is a complicated process, but the excellent people at https://dredf.org/ can help you get started.

    Some people register for public school, but then put their kids in private school. You might want to try keeping her home for a few days after school starts, and see if there are any openings at your preferred site. I understand the reasoning behind busing kids, but I do believe that there is value in neighborhood schools, especially in situations like this. 

    Hi, I hope you might find a solution.  I don’t have an answer, but just wanted to say that likely a very high percentage of families want their child(ren) in the school closest to them, which of course BUSD can’t accommodate for everyone.  I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but there are great after school programs (or clubs, if she’s in HS) at all the schools, which accommodate parent schedules, since not all of us are lucky enough to have one parent not working outside the home.  I sincerely hope your daughter finds the support she needs, even if not at your closest Berkeley school.

  • Is Claremont hills BUSD or OUSD?

    (3 replies)

    Hello all - I am planning to buy a home in Claremont hills with a Berkeley address but having a hard time finding out what schools are zoned for the neighborhood. I checked the BUSD website, but the street name there is not listed. Anyone here who lives in Claremont with elementary school age kids ? Also, my wife and I will both be commuting to SF. What’s the best transport option from there ? I have heard Transbay route E works best. Is that true ?

    Check Oakland Unified's site--there are a number of homes in the Claremont hills that are actually in Oakland and are served by Oakland schools despite having Berkeley addresses, so if the street does not appear on the BUSD site, you are probably looking at one of these. (You can also tell by looking at the Alameda County Assessor's website--you will see either Oakland or Berkeley taxes listed for the property, except in some really unusual situations with split parcels.) The Oakland schools that serve Claremont-area homes are generally well regarded, although it is worth following the situation with Kaiser Elementary, which may move (which would likely lead to changes in the school zone boundaries).

    Hi there,

    We recently moved to a neighborhood close to yours. You’ll be in the South Berkeley zone, so your kid will be eligible to go to John Muir, Malcolm X, Emerson, and Le Conte/Sylvia Mendez.

    Both of us work in the city but we’ve been using the Bart (we live mid way between Ashby and  Rockridge stations, so we’re able to get into the Richmond or Pittsburg/Antioch lines. I don’t have experience with the Transbay network.

    Hope this helps!


    Call BUSD and OUSD registration.  Provide the exact address and ask about zoning.  The online maps can sometimes be misunderstood/incorrect.  I know two families that looked at the online maps, and they were pretty upset to find out that their house wasn’t zoned the way they expected.

    If possible, see if the school registrar can put your zoning in writing.  I called to confirm my zoning, but it took a few weeks to get straightened out when I registered my kids for school.  I didn’t think to try to get it in writing when I bought my house, but that would have saved me a bit of stress while things were getting sorted out.

  • Hi all, I am hoping to get advice on applying to a BUSD elementary school that is not within our zone. We live in the Central zone, and have five schools that are available to us, however some are quite far out to where we live (I don’t drive, and I will be doing the school run). On my tours, I have already talked to PTA about the bus service, however, we wont know how long the bus ride  will take until we sign up (one parents who lives in the flats goes to Cragmont and the bus takes 1h 20mins). 

    I have two questions :

    1/ Have any parents chosen a school out of their zone and and had offered? Or had a second choice school out of zone offered?

    2/ Are there any tips to increase chances in getting your school choice? We are attending tours and also going to information nights, if offered by the school.

    Any tips /advice is appreciated! Thank you.

    There isn't anything you can do to increase your chances of a 1st choice school. But, you can get on the waitlist and be willing to switch your kid part way through the year to your 1st choice school. 

    I think some of this depends on what school you want to get into. We tried to switch our daughter all of her kindergarten year from a South Zone school to one of a few North Zone schools, because the other schools offered free busing to her aftercare program. The office told me that, in general, it is really hard to get into a North zone school. Last year, he said that the only option for us to switch was Craigmont, but with no bus option and a 9am start that didn't work for us. 

    I have been through this process a few years ago. We are the LAST house in the central zone. I have ranked the schools based on the distance from my house. If you choose the school out of your zone, you automatically waive your right for a school bus. We have people from our class who drive 25 minutes to Cragmont from the flats, because they are out of the zone. I was assigned to the 5th choice on my application...The next thing to do (preferable the SAME DAY) is to go on waiting lists of all the schools that you ranked higher and did not get. I did get into 2 schools that I was on a waiting list, out of 4. This being said, I met parents who like the school bus, because they get more time without children. 1h 20 min...we ARE at Cragmont and I am surprised by this number, it is rather high...

    You can always appeal you don’t get your first choice- of which you have a 70% chance. And maybe through that process you can explain what a hardship it might be re: drop off etc. but do it quickly. You don’t want your kid to get acclimated to where she ends up only to Ben moved again.