An immigrant family from Afghanistan found that America’s promise of a free public education for their children was a false one when an administrative judge ruled that they owed New Jersey’s Belleville school district $35,466 for inadvertently living in Newark and sending their children to schools in Belleville. Unbeknownst to the family, the school district boundary ran through their living room and property taxes on their Belleville apartment were paid to Newark, not to Belleville.
In 1993, dissatisfied with Newark’s schools, Akbar Zadran moved his family to what was advertised as “beautiful sunny Belleville,” according to New York Times reporter Maria Newman. Belleville officials initially determined that the family lived in the district, but they reversed their decision in 1995, prompting the Zadrans to appeal. When the judge ruled against the family in December 1996, the school district immediately expelled the Zadran children, pulling one out in the middle of a final chemistry exam.
Unwanted by Belleville schools, the Zadran children then found they also were unwelcome at Newark schools, which initially refused to accept them as students because their address was in Belleville. But when the Zadrans moved across the hall to another apartment, their children were allowed back into the Belleville schools.
Although a state legal committee ruled in February that the Zadrans should not have to pay out-of-district fees because they acted in good faith, Belleville school board officials disagree and will continue to press the immigrant family for payment of the $35,466 tuition bill.