Before hiring residency “police” to tail DeKalb’s suspected education-thieving scofflaws, let’s make sure this effort fosters good stewardship of taxpayer’s money, and that this vigilance doesn’t lead to expensive lawsuits.
While some enrollment might be fraudulent, just as some corporations skirt tax laws and some drivers ignore speed limits, too often the supposed residency violation is, in fact, a student experiencing homelessness whose circumstances are not recognized by the residency investigator.
Not all students without homes live in shelters. Hope Haven, the only shelter accepting families in DeKalb County, could not begin to handle the number of families and youth who have nowhere to go. Alternatives to shelters include a combination of doubling up or “couch surfing” with family, friends or acquaintances; bouncing from cheap motel to motel; sleeping in vehicles, often in parking lots at 24-hour big box stores or truck stops; staying in campgrounds or sleeping in the woods; or finding an abandoned house or building for shelter.
Key, often overlooked, qualifiers to determine residency include: loss of housing due to hardship, and the degree of permanence of the person’s arrangements. These and other factors determine whether or not the student qualifies under the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act and the federal McKinney-Vento Act, laws which govern schools policies concerning students experiencing homelessness. Laws, not suggestions, that when violated could cost a school district money.
Having interviewed countless families and youth across the country in a variety of homeless situations, it’s easy to understand how, from first glance, someone might not recognize homelessness. Even the families/youth sometimes don’t realize their situation qualifies them for protection under the homeless education laws. My documentaries, found at www.hearus.us, provide plenty of first-hand accounts of homelessness guaranteed to open minds, hearts and school doors.
Assuming DeKalb’s latest focus on residency is based on an honest concern for the best use of district resources, not unabashed attempts to root out students of a certain race or ethnicity, then proper attention must be paid to the housing status of the students. A few questions, respectfully asked, can yield sufficient information to determine homelessness. The laws are clear and easy to understand, so district personnel can exert due diligence without hiring residency checkers who have no responsibility to taxpayers. Also worth considering is possible taxpayer expense when a young person is barred from school.
Please consider all implications of this action before moving forward.