If the pace seen in the first three months of the school year continues, District 91 will investigate a far greater number of students suspected of sneaking illegally into Forest Park classrooms than last year. According to figures provided by school administrators, the district has nearly matched its total number of investigations from the 2007-08 school year.
Though the figures through the start of the academic year are larger, Superintendent Lou Cavallo said this is not necessarily indicative of a more widespread problem. In fact, said the superintendent, the spike is partially by design.
“I have emphasized a lot that I want residency investigations to be done quickly,” Cavallo said.
State law dictates that students in public schools must attend the district that serves their community. The problem of so-called border jumping occurs when children attend class in an area where they do not live. As a result, the child can be forced out of the district and must enroll elsewhere.
Cavallo said he would rather resolve these cases earlier in the school year so that a student’s education isn’t interrupted late in the year.
Since the start of this school year in August and through Nov. 20, the district has opened 24 residency investigations. During the previous school year, administrators conducted 26 residency investigations.
Parents who register their child in District 91 must show several forms of identification proving they are residents of the village. That process often weeds out some would-be border jumpers, said Cavallo. As the year progresses, students who should not be in the district are often discovered by teachers who overhear a child’s conversation. Mailings returned to the district are another indication that a family does not live in Forest Park.
“I don’t think it’s a widespread issue,” Cavallo said. “I think a lot of the kids people don’t believe live in the district actually do, or have multiple homes.”
School board member Mary Turek, who also has children in the district, said the perception that border jumpers are taking over the classroom seems to have subsided. When Turek joined the board about two years ago, the issue was a hot button for parents, she said. Now, it’s rare to hear people discussing the issue.
“I’m pleased it’s being addressed,” Turek said. “I know it’s a distraction.”
The board received an update on the investigations for the year during its last meeting Nov. 13. It was made clear that the numbers already rival those of last year.
Board President Glenn Garlisch said he was not alarmed by the figures thus far, and agrees with the superintendent’s desire to resolve such questions as soon as possible for the benefit of the student. Garlisch, also a parent, said grumblings from taxpayers on the issue have quieted.
“I think we’re doing our due diligence with these investigations,” Garlisch said.
When educators suspect a student is unlawfully occupying a desk, they investigate where the child lives. Depending on the findings, the student will be asked to leave or allowed to stay. Homeless students, by law, are allowed to continue their education and cannot be removed from the classroom.
District 91 pays a River Forest firm $45 an hour to conduct its residency investigations.