Once You’re In, You’re In

Schools scolded for “re-registering” students

By Christine Sparta

When parents in Brewster expressed concern that some students did not live in the district — one claimed as many as 40 to 50 students should not be enrolled there — school officials did something unusual: They required every student to re-register over the summer, compelling families to provide proof of residency as they had done when the student was first enrolled.

“We do realize that this procedure may be an inconvenience, but hope that you understand that with increasing property taxes and tighter school budgets, it is essential that every dollar spent in our schools goes toward the education of Brewster CSD [Central School District] residents only,” administrators told parents and guardians in a letter.

At least three districts in Westchester County — Mount Vernon, Mamaroneck and New Rochelle — have done the same to address claims of widespread “residency fraud,” in which parents or guardians don’t live in the district where their children attend school.

The state of New York was not happy. In July, the Department of Education sent a “guidance memo” to every public school principal and superintendent in the state, including at Beacon, Haldane and Garrison, reminding administrators that it is against state regulations to register students except when they initially enroll or leave and then return, or if administrators have reason to believe a child’s family has left the district.

If that happens, the state noted, there are procedures for administrators to follow, and making every student re-register is not one of them.

In Brewster, parents opposed to the re-registration process formed a Facebook group to argue that the process might be difficult for undocumented or homeless parents who do not have lease agreements, mortgages or utility bills in their names. State law does not allow schools to ask for a student’s immigration status.

Registrars for the Beacon, Haldane and Garrison districts said they follow state guidelines and have no plans to re-register students.

At the same time, “it’s pretty hard for someone to look me in the face and say I live there when I damn well know they don’t,” said Gail Morgan, registrar for the Beacon City School District, who has lived in the city for more than 60 years.

Morgan said that while school officials cannot legally question a child about where he or she lives, many times students will divulge a recent move because they are excited about the new home.

Even though she considers the Beacon district tough with its standards, Morgan says administrators will give a family that leaves the district a bit of time to make the transition. For instance, if a non-resident student were discovered in October, the family might have until the holidays to make arrangements, she said.

Laura Mitchell, who has been the superintendent of schools in Garrison since 2014, said non-resident students haven’t been an issue for the district. Officials at Haldane said the same.

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