Waiting for my daughter at her Decatur middle school the other day, I noticed a Henry County car parked in front of me, also waiting to pick up a student.
I wasn’t concerned that the student was not a Decatur resident. The parent could be a city employee, in which case the child is entitled to attend the schools. The student could be paying tuition. The child could have one parent living in Decatur and the other in Henry. It could be the parent had only recently moved to Decatur and hadn’t updated the tag.
It would be a mistake to assume that a student is illegally attending an out-of-district school simply by license plate. However, I often hear from readers who believe that their system is overrun with students feigning residency because of all the cars with out-of-county license tags dropping off at their schools each morning.
“We know we have them here. But we need people to tip us off and let us know who they are,” Fayette schools spokeswoman Melinda Berry-Dreisbach told Channel 2. “I had a resident in a neighborhood contact me because he saw a lot of cars with Fulton County tags dropping kids off at the bus stop,” the spokeswoman said. Some parents, she added, “go rent an apartment and never live in it.”
During the past two years, the Fayette district has caught 255 elementary, middle and high school students attending their schools illegally. It has collected $60,000 total from the parents of such students, Berry-Dreisbach said.
In 2009, a Henry County jury found a Clayton woman and her brother-in-law from McDonough guilty of “making a false writing” by in enrolling the woman’s son in a Henry County high school. The defendants received probation and were ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and reimburse the school district nearly $1,200 in tuition costs.
To deter unlawful enrollments, Fulton County schools require parents to submit a notarized affidavit of residence for each student. Proof of residency also is required for newly enrolled students, children entering the sixth or ninth grades and students who have moved since submitting their last affidavit.
Is there a more straightforward and efficient method to ascertain residency? In my district, I had to show a tax bill, although it would seem that the school system could check enrollment records electronically against property and tax records. Should systems encourage parents to turn in other parents?
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog