Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Story

My local school district is refusing to enroll my son in 1st grade because I have not proven my residency to them according to their policy. Why? What have I done wrong? Am I really a resident? Well, let's back up.

First of all, I am a resident. I live across the street from my kids' school. The school secretary literally can see my house out of her window.

Second, apparently, we have a problem in our district. People are sneaking their kids into our schools from neighboring communities even though they do not live here. Or, the parents are divorced, and one parent lives out of town and one lives in town, but the child lives out of town most of the time.

So the superintendent decided to do something about it. He and the school committee decided that all residents would have to fill out an affidavit of residency and supply 3 pieces of info. The first would be some sort of proof of ownership or tenancy; the second would be some sort of utility bill; the third would be some sort of financial bank statement or tax bill.

Then the resident would have to fill in the details about the children involved and agree to let a residency investigator for the school district visit the home to verify residency.

And then the resident would have to have this affidavit notarized. Free notaries are available in the library and in town hall, which is open till 7 pm on Wednesdays.

OK, now compare that to the proof of residency *you* have to show.

When I got the affidavit in the mail, I said "I'm not filling this crap out" and ignored it. The district hired someone full-time to deal with the residency policy and I got several calls from her. I picked up by mistake once and ended up having to explain to her that I wasn't going to complete the affidavit. What could they do to me? I asked her.

Well, they could refuse to enroll my son without proof of residency. Even though my daughter is already enrolled and about to attend 4th grade.

So what has happened? There is so much wrong with this policy that I am embarrassed for ignoring it for so long. This should have been nipped in the bud much sooner.

1. One parent filed a complaint with the state Department of Ed because she felt that the district was asking for too much personal financial info. The State DoE agreed and told the district to back off requiring 3 pieces of info. One would be enough.

2. The community in general expressed disgust with the item allowing a residency investigator to visit the house. At the last school committee meeting, they agreed to let that item slide. If people wanted to sign the affidavit but cross out the part about the unreasonable search and seizure, that would be fine with them. How kind of them.

3. My issue? The notary. In fact, that's always been my main issue. It comes across as laziness, I'm sure, but I don't understand why I should have to have this affidavit notarized. This is a child's education, not a legal contract. If a parent lies on the affidavit, do they really intend to press criminal charges against the parent? And what about the sheer difficulty/burden of having stuff notarized. I'm a professional person and pretty knowledgeable, but even I find this whole notary thing a little confusing.

What this reeks of is bullying and intimidation. They figure they will scare people away. And the residents of CorruptSmallTown have let it slide because ... learned helplessness? Well, not me.

When I went to a school committee meeting, the superintendent said that another school district had the same affidavit, and "if it's good enough for OtherTown, then it's good enough for CorruptSmallTown." If that's the case, then it's good enough for any town or city in Massachusetts. Now try imagining the city of Boston requiring all residents to have notarized affidavits of residency. Now imagine how many children in challenging circumstances of poverty and immigration and custody issues whose parents would be caught between a rock and a hard place.

The superintendent brags that 18 fraudulent moneysuckers have been expelled from our district as a result of the policy. He would imply that, because it costs $7000+ per student to educate them, then he has saved the district $126,000+.

Except that we have 4 schools in our district, 2 K-5, one middle, one high. That's basically 1 student per grade. That student could hardly cost the schools $7000 each. I'm not an economist, but isn't there a word for this, economies of scale or something?

Tomorrow, having returned from vacation the middle of last week and finally readjusting to this time zone again, I am girding myself for battle tomorrow. I sent in my "affidavit" with supporting documentation. I rewrote the affidavit to take out the offending unreasonable search and seizure stuff, and I signed it, and I showed proof of ownership via my deed.

I did not have it notarized. I sent it on August 1, the day before we left, and I haven't heard back yet. So I call the superintendent's office tomorrow.

I don't want to go to court, but I will. I find it hard to believe that the state of Massachusetts will refuse to give my son an education even though he is a resident, simply because I won't have an affidavit notarized. That would be a violation of Massachusetts General Law. Chapter 76, sections 5 and 16, to be exact.

We will find out.


MH said...

I certainly agree that having to sign a form allowing a residency investigator come by is way over the line. "You have a right to be secure from unreasonable searches unless you have a kid in school" doesn't cut it. And I think requiring a tax or financial statement is going to put a greater burden on the poorer people in the area (and was probably added just for that reason). But, while getting something like that notarized is pretty pointless, is that really the hill you want to fight on? In the grand scheme of hoops you have to jump through for various government agencies, that doesn't seem like particularly large burden, even for the poor. I've certainly completed much more pointless paperwork.

Amy P said...

The quantity of documentation (and the home visit) seem over the top, but taken individually, none of the paper requirements is individually that weird. But if they are going to do this every year, it seems worth protesting to get them to streamline their process. Also (not to give them ideas), but how does this process prove that the child actually lives at the address? All that you have demonstrated is that you live at the address. Even if the home inspector comes by, you can always say your kid is at a Brownies meeting or soccer or something like that. The level of intrusiveness makes me think that these rules won't survive in their current form. For one thing, how much is verification going to cost? This home inspector thing sounds like virtually a full-time job, and it's going to be an ongoing expense to the school district. I'm not even sure the school district is going to break even, especially if some of the banished families successfully appeal and get re-admitted.

Make this an issue and vote down the next levy--make them sit up and pay attention.

Wendy said...

MH, I'm not being snarky. I'm curious what kinds of paperwork require notarization (besides real estate paperwork or marriage licenses, both of which are notarized in the offices in which these transactions are administered), I can't think of anything offhand.

Well, the superintendent has indicated that he will continue to refuse to enroll my student until the form is notarized. Now the ball is in my court, and I have to decide if this really is the hill I want to fight on.

Amy P said...

Darn it, I just had a comment chewed up.

Anyway, the main point was that the home inspector bit is the weak point of the system. It's going to be extremely unpopular (Zoe has a soccer game that day!), as well as frightfully expensive. For a district of any size, the inspectorship would need to be an almost full-time gig, with full benefits, etc. The district is just barely going to break even on this.

MH said...


I can't recall needing to get anything notarized recently except for a will and the purchase of our house. My point was the broader issue of pointless paperwork that has to be completed. If you'd tried to register an out-of-state car in PA, getting a stamp from a notary doesn't seem like a barrier. (My biggest gripe: they wouldn't take cash for the fee, so I had to go buy a money order and get in line again.) That didn't require a notary, but a form completed by a car dealership and a visit to two inconveniently located offices.

I have no idea if you would win in court or not. I'm not trying to defend the district's action (but your district does appear to be educating kids at 1/2 the cost of mine).

Also, don't forget that the person demanding the stamp is getting paid for doing it and can probably list a fight as an 'accomplishment' for his/her annual performance review or whatever there is. ("In the course of my duties, I pro-actively maintained district-mandated standards of documentary evidence prior to enrolling new students.") On the other hand, you are burning leisure time and your own money.

Wendy said...

MH, ah yes, wills. I forgot about that.

The issue with the notarization, though, seems to be that they need the documents notarized so that they can take legal action if someone lies. Or they need to be able to threaten people. I want to know if they really plan to have people who lie on the affidavit prosecuted in criminal court. They have the ability to bill for out-of-district tuition costs now. What does the notarization accomplish?

Re the car situation: that sucks. Sorry. :( But a car is a piece of personal property, and it is a choice to purchase one. A public education is a right guaranteed by the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Amy, I don't see how much of this affidavit can hold up to serious scrutiny, which is why I want to subject it to serious scrutiny. Most importantly, I think we as a community/state/etc. need to have a conversation about this. What kind of world do we want to live in? One where we all have papers that we have to show just to prove who we are? Where we can use affidavits as threats against people? Where the poor and marginalized are criminalized because they don't have stable family situations or even homes?

Amy P said...

Another situation where I've routinely had to do a notarized affidavit of support was when I've invited a visitor from abroad. I expect that the rationale for requiring a notarized signature was to impress on the American host that they could really truly be on the hook for expenses incurred by a foreign visitor. (The system has changed a bit over the past few years.)