District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo said, during the school board meeting April 11, that the district’s residency process is being refined.
“There are always questions about kids attending our schools who don’t live here,” Cavallo told the board. “This has been an issue since I arrived at this district, and it still seems to come up from time to time.”
The district’s residency procedure is in line with attorney recommendations from the Illinois State Board of Education, Cavallo said.
Any adult guardian of a child registering for D91 schools must sign an affidavit that he/she is a resident of Forest Park, he said.
Additionally, the adult must provide three documents to prove they live in the district. One of these may include a real estate tax bill, mortgage payment book, signed lease, Section 8 letter or a military housing letter.
In addition, the person registering the child must provide two of the following documents: gas bill, electric bill, water/sewer bill, telephone land line bill, cable bill, bank statement, public aid card, Medicaid card statement, city sticker receipt or driver’s license.
Cavallo said there are special state laws if the family or child is considered “homeless.” These situations include if family members are temporarily doubling up with family or others outside Forest Park because they have lost housing, or are living in a hotel, motel, campground or shelter, or if the child is temporarily housed waiting for DCFS permanent foster care placement.
“We must provide education for these students, by law,” he said.
If the family ends up not moving back to Forest Park, and establishes residency or starts to pay utility bills in another district, they are no longer eligible to send their children to D91.
In addition, Cavallo said the adult registering the child must be the child’s legal guardian and prove that with a birth certificate or court guardianship order.
“A child in District 91 must live with their legal guardian to attend Forest Park schools,” he said. “Living with grandma to attend the schools in our community is not allowed.”
Cavallo acknowleged that sometimes documents can be forged.
“Believe it or not, people do lie,” he said. It’s easy to get a village auto sticker, for instance.
But “it doesn’t take long to find out,” he told the board, if a child is not a bona fide resident of the district. “Kids will talk about where they live.”
“We have a special residency referral form for teachers and school staff to fill out,” he added. “We investigate 100 percent of the anonymous tips we receive.”
Cavallo included a residency referral form in the board packet for board members to see. The form asks for details describing the circumstances that might lead to a student’s residence being questioned. The form also asks for names of any other siblings in the school.
If, after investigation, a child or family is determined not to live in the community, the district will hold a hearing. “Usually, [the students] leave the district at that point because if they lose the hearing, we will charge the family tuition and legal fees,” Cavallo said.
In the past four years, he noted, they conducted 36 residency investigations and all students who did not meet the residency qualifications left the district.
The district started to crack down on residency in a systematic way starting in 2008. “We are much stricter than we used to be, [but] we can’t be too strict and push past the legal limits [on family privacy],” he added.