- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

As many as 20 percent — or about 2,000 — of Montgomery County’s eighth-graders whose parents missed a Friday deadline to prove their residency will not be allowed to attend high school next year, county schools officials said yesterday.

“It hasn’t been finally decided as to how we’re actually going to do this,” said Anita Mostow, residency-compliance coordinator for Montgomery County public schools. “But students who haven’t completed the [county] residency requirement will not be enrolled in high school this fall.”

At least one middle school reported that nearly half of its eighth-graders had not met the deadline, meaning that about 110 of its graduating students will not be allowed to enter the ninth grade.

As of late Friday, officials still had not received proof of residency from just under 20 percent of its 11,000 eighth-graders, according to schools spokeswoman Katherine D. Harrison. She said school officials are reviewing late submissions.

In an unprecedented effort to stop border crossers from illegally receiving free tuition, school officials began in March to require parents to submit documents such as lease agreements, property-tax bills, utility bills and credit-card bills to prove their residency.

Ms. Mostow said her staff in the residency-compliance office will start collecting the names of students who missed Friday’s deadline after the current school year ends next Tuesday.

“We’ll know more later this summer,” she said. “For now, we are withholding the records of the eighth-graders who did not complete the residency initiative. These students won’t get their ninth-grade schedules until they comply.”

Individual schools will stretch Friday’s deadline as much as possible for parents who submitted incomplete documentation or who could not be reached, Ms. Mostow said, adding that there’s “no excuse” for parents to have missed the deadline altogether.

“Every school has a Web site, and we’ve sent numerous press releases and letters,” she said. “We’ve been contacting parents since February or March.”

Mary Beth Waits, principal of Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring, said about 47 percent of her school’s 230 or so eighth-graders did not meet the Friday deadline.

“We’re having a lot of trouble getting verification,” Ms. Waits said. “Many of my students may be here illegally from other countries, and they are afraid they might be deported. I’ve assured them that this information won’t be shared with [federal immigration officials] or police.”

Carlos Hamlin, principal of Parkland Middle School in Rockville, said 25 percent of the approximately 430 eighth-grade students at his school did not meet the deadline.

“My school is the most diverse in the county, so we have issues of housing and student mobility,” Mr. Hamlin said. “There are also language issues and an inherent suspicion of authority. A lot of people think this is a ‘gotcha’ and they don’t want to be deported.”

Julia Guillen, an eighth-grade school counselor at Takoma Park Middle School in Silver Spring, said about 12 percent of her school’s 325 eighth-graders did not comply with the deadline.

Other administrators reported higher levels of compliance.

“We had 96 percent comply with the deadline,” said Nelson McLeod, principal of Newport Mill Middle School in Kensington, which is in its second year of operation.

Penny Miller, a secretary at Robert Frost Middle School in Rockville, said her school — which had 91 percent compliance among its 400 or so eighth-graders — catches just “two to three” border crossers a year.

“We have little problem here because we’re not on the border with D.C. or another county,” Miss Miller said.

Most administrators said they are waiting to find out how the school system plans to prevent the students from entering high school, but at least one principal speculated that schools will likely follow a long-standing practice of withdrawing the students on their own.

“Some of my parents haven’t been as forthcoming as they should be,” said Larry Hansch, principal of Briggs Chaney Middle School in Silver Spring. “I’m going to follow up with them. If they don’t comply, their kids won’t start high school in the fall.”

Briggs Chaney, which has about 250 eighth-graders, catches “a small number” of illegally enrolled students from the District and Prince George’s County each year, he added.

“It’s not a whole lot of students, but it’s $10,000 per child [in lost tuition], so it impacts our resources,” Mr. Hansch said.

“We’ve been paying attention to it for many years because we discover a few kids every year who aren’t residing in Montgomery County.”

Maryland law requires parents to pay tuition if their children attend out-of-county schools.

It also requires schools to verify students’ residency, but some parents falsify their residency documents or move to different counties without notifying school officials.

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