Monday, August 25, 2008

School Troubles

The latest on my school situation is that the district is still refusing to budge. They will not enroll my son unless I submit a notarized residency affidavit--in fact, I must submit their specific form.

What's happening is that they do not dispute my residency. They are asserting their power to force me to comply with the policy they have set up. On one hand, I can see that people need to follow the policies of the district. On the other, the policy exists only to ensure residency.

I got the most cracktastic letter from the district's lawyers on Saturday. I had sent a letter indicating that I was going to use my right to pursue legal action under Massachusetts General Law 76.16, which reads:

Section 16. Any pupil who has attained age eighteen, or the parent, guardian or custodian of a pupil who has not attained said age of eighteen, who has been refused admission to or excluded from the public schools or from the advantages, privileges and courses of study of such public schools shall on application be furnished by the school committee with a written statement of the reasons therefor, and thereafter, if the refusal to admit or exclusion was unlawful, such pupil may recover from the town or, in the case of such refusal or exclusion by a regional school district from the district, in tort and may examine any member of the school committee or any other officer of the town or regional school district upon interrogatories.

The lawyer claimed that since I have not fulfilled the residency requirement, I am not a resident, thus I can't sue.

*mind boggles*

OK, if I'm not a resident of the town, then I must be homeless. At which point I am entitled to certain protections under McKinney Vento, one of which is that the district can't require a residency affidavit from me.

See how ridiculous this is?

Further ridiculousness: they are not disenrolling my daughter.

In my research, I have learned that school districts often violate the laws. Pennsylvania seems to have a particular problem. (pdf file) New Jersey has a whole Education Law Center devoted to protecting student rights. I wish Massachusetts had something similar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Facebook Etiquette

The eternal question for the social-media-connected teacher:

Do I friend back students who request to friend me on Facebook? This is a new freshperson, and I want to be welcoming. I also do not want to hear about how much beer he drank last night, you know?

For now, I friended him back.

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.
OK, I have a question for you all. What is reasonable for a school district to ask of parents in order to prove residency in the district?

What does your school district require of you to prove residency? Is it enough? Too much? Are people trying to sneak their kids into your school district? What actions should your school district be permitted to take in order to prevent people from fraudulently enrolling their children in your school district?