Private Investigation And Security News

The Learning Boundary

As the school year bell is rung, many parents are being asked to prove school residency.  Whether it is by presenting mortgage statements, utility bills, or apartment leases parents need to prove they live in the school district their children will attend this Fall. 

Last year, private investigators looked into thousands of families suspected of falsifying addresses to enroll their children into schools that their tax dollars did not support. 

Why do this?  Often times, a struggling school district may border an award winning district.  Parents want the best for their children and are trying to do so by enrolling their children in bordering school districts.  The problem?  The tax dollars that these parents are paying do not support this district.  The district is losing out because of these false enrollments and so are the children that legitimately live in district.

"With funding getting so tight, you have to be a little more diligent in making sure the kids the taxpayers are paying for are the ones enrolled in your district," stated John Reiniche, the Assistant Superintendent for Business Services with Orland School District 135.

Last year, the southwest suburban Orland Park School District ended up taking a parent to court after private investigators determined that his daughter attended a junior high school for two years while the family lived in Blue Island 10 miles away.  The father was convicted of providing false information and was required to compensate the school $24,208 for tuition costs. 

For the first time another suburban school, Oak Park Elementary District 97, required all 3,700 families to verify their residence before students enrolled for the new school year regardless of the school’s past relationships with long-time residents. 

Calumet School District 132 requires parents to confirm their addresses each fall and verifies them roughly four times throughout the school year.  Oak Lawn Community High School District 218 sporadically posts school security officers at bus stops to see if students sneak on the busses arriving from Chicago.

"There's a part of me that says, 'God bless those parents who find a way to get their kids to a better school,'" said John Byrne, Superintendent of District 218. "I'm not unsympathetic. But it does raise the cost of educating a child here."

The somewhat controversial issue gained national attention this year in Akron, Ohio, when a mother was imprisoned for nine days after she was convicted of tampering with official records to falsely enroll her two daughters in a better, safer school in the district where her father resides.

This case revealed the lengths that some parents go to shield their children from low-performing schools, said Gary Orfield, the co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California in Los Angeles.

"Any parent faced with sending their kid to a dropout factory that is dangerous will try almost anything to change their kid's future," Orfield said. "This is a serious educational and moral crisis."

While school districts are reacting to a major budget crisis by trying to protect their local tax dollars, enforcing school residency restrictions tends to keep poor and minority students caught in underperforming schools.

"It's a fact that those who need good schools the most are segregated into the most inferior schools in our country," he said.

In addition, the economic instability has left many parents without work with homes foreclosed and drove some families to move in with relatives.  This has only exacerbated the number of residency disputes.

"Every Illinois child has a constitutional right to attend a public school that is tuition-free. Generally then, the question is where?" said the director of the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Laurene Heybach.

In Illinois, the state school code defines residency as the "regular fixed nighttime abode." To prevent students from missing large chunks of school in residency disputes, state officials urge districts to enroll the student first and ask questions later. 

The fact is that residency has been an issue in the Chicago region for years.  Parents, however, are becoming more bold in their efforts to get their children into other districts, presenting fake driver’s licenses, taking out short-term leases, or forging utility bills.

Many schools have turned to private investigators for help to root out the boundary-hoppers by following parents, staking-out homes, and tracking comings and goings.

It is simple.  Parents are trying to get better lives for their children at any cost.  And schools are trying to keep their heads above rising costs.  Be aware, though, that school are taking notice and it may cost the parent more than expected.