- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

The D.C. public school system is cracking down on students who cannot prove their residency in an attempt to improve attendance and other enrollment problems.

“If any one of the pieces of information is missing, the principal will be given an opportunity to supply the additional documentation,” said Ralph Neal, D.C. public school’s assistant superintendent. “If the principal does not, then the student will not be counted.”

School officials said parents and guardians of nearly 700 of the system’s 60,799 students failed to provide proof of residency by the deadline on Tuesday, about five weeks after the school year began.

The search to verify residency started in September after new Superintendent Clifford B. Janey reviewed an internal audit and then told administrators to re-examine records and documents, Mr. Neal said.

Officials said the records showed that about 10,000 students lacked proof of residency as recently as last week. Administrators responded by sending home warning letters and making calls, then going into neighborhoods.

Antonia Peters, the principal of MacFarland Middle School on Iowa Avenue NW, gathered staffers and went door to door on Wednesday and yesterday.

“It was brought to my attention that 72 students did not provide” proof of residency, she said.

Without such proof, the students are not allowed inside the District’s roughly 200 public schools, which will lose funding because they cannot verify all the students that they have enrolled.

Ms. Peters said MacFarland alone could lose $500,000 in the 2005-06 school year.

“You are talking about losing teachers, losing staff, losing custodians,” she said. “We’re talking about losing counselors and registrars. We’re talking about losing money for books. … The list goes on.”

Ms. Peters and her team have visited 39 homes so far. MacFarland has 485 students and serves students from 11 elementary schools.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “At the last minute, I had to hit the pavement. We have a diverse student body so I had to get a bilingual assistant to translate. If I don’t go get [proof of residency], if I don’t knock on doors, I will lose resources.”

Yesterday was the deadline for final enrollment numbers for the 2004-05 school year, and D.C. auditors will visit schools later this month to verify the records.

Neighboring school districts also are requiring families to provide proof of their children’s residency.

Montgomery County started requesting proof of residency in March from its roughly 11,000 ninth-graders and said those who failed to provide the information by June would have to pay as much as $10,000 a year in tuition or not be allowed to attend classes.

About 3,300 students missed the June deadline. An official said yesterday the most recent records show that fewer than 60 students are still without proof.

A spokeswoman for Prince George’s County public schools said late yesterday she had no official numbers on how many of the system’s roughly135,000 students had yet to provide proof.

Verifying residency is just part of the overall aggressive approach that the District has taken this year to resolving student enrollment problems. Such efforts also coincide with the arrival in August of Mr. Janey, the system’s fifth superintendent in nine years.

Mr. Janey, 58, told principals last week to refer more than 400 students to truancy court for not having up-to-date immunization records. Those students were confined to designated classrooms or auditoriums.

D.C. officials also have adopted a hard-line approach to truancy, including a revised policy that included three major changes.

Students are allowed only five unexcused absences in each of the school year’s four marking periods before officials request a conference with parents. A student with 10 days of unexcused absences in a period is referred to the city’s Child and Family Services agency, and students with 15 such absences are referred to the city’s truancy court.

Officials reportedin late September that 756families already had been notified about problems with their children’s attendance. The revised program started in elementary schools and will move into middle, junior and high schools in the 2005-06 school year.

The Washington Times reported in April that several D.C. high schools said 20 percent or more of their students were truant during the 2001-02 school year, the most recent year for which complete data were available. The Times also reported that 6.7 percent of students in D.C. schools were truant during that period. At that time, 15.3 percent of high school students were truant. However, the records are unreliable because they have a “25 percent error rate,” D.C. school officials said.

D.C. officials said yesterday they will continue to try to verify residency, even though the deadline has passed. Parents or guardians can prove residency by presenting documents such as a pay stub, a driver’s license, a lease or a recent utility bill with a receipt.

“Once parents come in and prove residency, it’s not an issue until next year,” said Julianne Wade, a coordinator in the school system’s Student Residency Office.

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