Parents in four different states have been arrested this last year for sending their children to public schools outside their boundaries, according to a recent op-ed by Micheal Flaherty, president and cofounder of Walden Media and producer of the 2010 documentary "Waiting for Superman."
In his piece "The Latest Crime Wave: Sending Your Child to a Better School" for The Wall Street Journal, Flaherty wrote specifically about a mother in Ohio who spent nine days in jail for using her father's address to send her two daughters to a better school outside her district.
School district officials told ABC News that the mother "was cheating because her daughters received a quality education without paying taxes to fund it." They also asked her to pay $30,000 in back tuition.
The judge told the news outlet that the mother was used as a sort-of example to deter others from doing the same.
Another women in Ohio was arrested earlier this year for using her 6-year-old son's babysitter's address to enroll him in a better school, the Stamford Advocate reported. The woman was homeless and was charged with stealing more than $15,000 from the school. The mayor there told the Stamford Advocate that she too was being made an example.
Yet Flaherty, a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, and many others who have commented on his column don't feel right about such charges.
"These arrests represent two major forms of exasperation," Flaherty wrote. "First is that of parents whose children are zoned into failing public schools — they can't afford private schooling, they can't access school vouchers, and they haven't won or haven't even been able to enter a lottery for a better charter school. Then there's the exasperation of school officials finding it more and more difficult to deal with these boundary-hopping parents. … Only in a world where irony is dead could people not marvel at concerned parents being prosecuted for stealing a free public education for their children."
Rush Limbaugh also spoke of the column in a recent show.
"You're probably listening to this in one degree of incredulity or another," Limbaugh said about the arrests. "You can't believe what you're hearing. Parents are felons and are going to jail for sending their kids to better schools outside of the districts in which they live!"
He went on to say, "Liberal policies in public education are continuing to hurt the poor. Poor kids whose parents are desperate... Like most parents, regardless of income, they want the best for their kids and the best education."
But these kinds of arrests may just be getting started.
"From California to Massachusetts, districts are hiring special investigators to follow children from school to their homes to determine their true residences and decide if they 'belong' at high-achieving public schools," Flaherty wrote. "School districts in Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all boasted recently about new address-verification programs designed to pull up their drawbridges and keep 'illegal students' from entering their gates."
Other schools are using the company to find students at a school who are not in the boundaries.
"Investigators may conduct covert surveillance to document and confirm the actual domicile residence of the subject," the company's website states. "Surveillance, conducted at different times of day and night over the course of several days, will document and (ensure) that the newly identified residence is the actual majority domicile location."
On their home site, the company states the importance of such verification.
"Reduced budgets and a lack of state funding are forcing municipalities to (ensure) that all of the students within the school district meet residency requirements."
Yet Flaherty writes that parents at under-performing schools need to step up by giving the example of a book about a young girl whose father claimed residency in a different school boundary.
"At the good school, 'The parents were too American, too aware of the rights granted them by their Constitution to accept injustices meekly. They could not be bulldozed and exploited … .'"
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org TWITTER:saralenz
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