An Illinois school board backed down from legal action against two parents it accused of “illegally enrolling” their twin fifth graders in the district though their father’s legal residence is in that district.
After three times insisting the family remove the twins and hiring a private investigator to inspect the family’s residence, the Beach Park School Board decided the children could finish fifth grade in Beach Park, but it said the family must create a “more concrete residency plan” for fall 2012.
“I am a taxpayer in Beach Park,” said Samuel Callahan, the children’s father. “It’s unfair to deny our children a quality education.”
Dividing by ZIP Code
Two cases of illegal public school enrollments received national attention in 2011. In Ohio, a jury convicted single mother Kelley Williams-Bolar of falsifying documents so her children could attend school in a better district. In Connecticut, a homeless mother was arrested for the same. Her case is pending.
“Once again, ZIP code has become the biggest divider in this country, preventing equal access to an education,” said Gloria Romero, a former California state Senate majority leader who successfully championed Parent Trigger legislation there. “This appears to be a national trend, accusing mothers and fathers of stealing a free education.”
Annette and Samuel Callahan are divorced and have joint custody of their children, Hannah and Josiah. Annette lives in Waukegan, Illinois, and Samuel lives in Beach Park. Both listed the twins on their leases, because the children live part-time with each parent. Since Beach Park is a higher-performing school district and Josiah had been badly bullied in Waukegan, the Callahans enrolled the children in Beach Park.
“On numerous occasions Josiah was hit, called names, and once locked in a bathroom by some other boys,” Annette Callahan recalled. “He’d walk out of school crying. Every few days there was an incident.”
After the Callahans enrolled in Beach Park again this school year, the district notified the family three times the children were illegally enrolled and had to be removed. The family appealed each time to the school board, requesting a hearing.
On Jan. 9, the board deliberated behind closed doors and decided to let Hannah and Josiah finish out the school year but left the family’s options for fall 2012 uncertain.
“My children were receiving a substandard education at Waukegan schools,” Samuel Callahan said.
Students in the Waukegan School District scored in the 38th percentile in math and 40th percentile in reading compared with U.S. students as a whole on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the latest available for comparison. Students in Beach Park scored in the 48th and 50th percentiles on these tests, respectively.
Annette Callahan said she became worried when her honor-roll children began scoring below state averages on state tests in Waukegan schools.
Tying Funds to the Child
“Wanting what’s best for one’s children shouldn’t be a crime,” said Kevin Chavous, chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. He says the core problem behind the Callahans’ difficulty is current school funding models that don’t tie education funding to each child.
“I would support [tax] money following the children to private, public, or charter schools, especially for parents that don’t live in a high-performing district,” Annette Callahan said.
Incidents like this are leading many parents, particularly those with low incomes or who feel they haven’t enough control over their child’s education or enough flexibility within their local school system, to form parent unions and demand legislators offer options such as the Parent Trigger, Chavous said.
“The emergence of this parent power movement has the potential to shake the education establishment to its core,” he concluded.
High-Profile Illegal Residence Cases
- April 2011: Homeless mother in Norwalk, Connecticut is charged with larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny for enrolling her son in Norwalk Public Schools. Case pending. If convicted, Tanya McDowell could spend 20 years in prison.
- January 2011: An Ohio jury convicts Kelley Williams-Bolar of falsifying documents so her children could attend better public schools. The governor later reduces her felony conviction to a misdemeanor.
Image by Kilalya Pilon.