Recently, in the District of Columbia and across the United States, there have been sporadic civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against people accused of false school district student residency claims in out of boundary school districts. These laws are not just limited to parents but anyone found to be directly aiding the parent in the false school student registration. The most recent lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia in early October 2012. In that case, a D.C. resident who claimed to be the legal guardian of the student, and the student’s mother, a Maryland resident, were alleged to be involved in a false school residency scheme. The student who earned her high school diploma from a District of Columbia school, attended the school for all four high years. In the civil lawsuit, D.C. Attorney General, Irvin B. Nathan, asked for $31,294.00 from the parent for four years of unpaid tuition and $69,160.00 in civil damages and penalties for violating the District of Columbia False Claims Act from the D.C. resident.
The District of Columbia law states: “anyone (including a school official) who knowingly supplies false information to a public official in connection with student residency verification is subject to up to 90 days’ imprisonment, retroactive tuition, a fine of up to $500.00, or any combination of these.” D.C. Code Section 38-312.
The District of Columbia is not alone in its strict student residency requirements and penalties. Arkansas, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Pennsylvania all have varying levels of penalties for falsifying student residency documents including jail time for misdemeanors and felonies, community service, fines, and tuition reimbursement. There are other jurisdictions that also go after alleged offenders under more general falsifying documents laws, as in the case of the civil lawsuit against the D.C. resident.
An African American woman in Ohio with no criminal history, was convicted of two felony counts of tampering with records in order to send her children to an out of boundary school district. This woman was sentenced to five years prison time for each count and two years of community control. The judge considered that the woman had no prior criminal history and reduced the sentence to 10 days in jail, two years community control, and 80 hours of community service. This woman was attending college to become a teacher. The presiding judge at sentencing, noted that the woman would not be able to get a teacher’s license in Ohio, because of the felony on her record. In another highly publicized case, a single, African American woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut was criminally charged and pled guilty to first degree larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny for enrolling her six year old son in a Norwalk, Connecticut school, by using the address of the child’s babysitter.
Parents enrolling their children in better performing school districts is not something new. I am sure that in the District of Columbia as well as in other school districts nationally, parents, teachers, and school officials see cars with out of state tags dropping off students. District of Columbia Attorney General, Irvin B. Nathan, states that he is aware of other cases of student residency falsification and that he is working closely with the District of Columbia Public Schools, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, to identify and go after these violators.
The unfortunate effect of the active pursuit of violators of school residency laws is that the poor and minorities will be disproportionately targeted. Let’s face it, this is the group who cannot afford to pay costly school tuition for better performing schools. Consequently, in their pursuit to provide their children with quality education, these parents are subject to jail time as well as huge civil lawsuit penalties. There is something inherently wrong and bleak with this picture.
I do not advocate breaking laws for a better education for your children. What I do advocate is for local legislatures and school systems to review its laws and its school system and to make systematic changes in both. Changes at the legislative level will prevent parents from being forced to choose between a quality education for their children and going to jail or paying huge civil lawsuit penalties. In the meantime, if you are a parent or if you are a person somehow directly involved in sending a child to an out of boundary school district, as a result of the falsification of residency records, stop. As local economic budgets tightens, It is clear that school systems across the country are becoming more vigilant in pursuing and penalizing parents and other involved people in these student residency false claim schemes.