BENNINGTON - The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union may toughen its proof of residency requirement for students attending local schools now that a board member has said he knows of families flouting the law.
Although a 2004 policy places the burden of proof on students and/or their parents, it does not specify how proof of residency must be checked. More should be done "We ask for a recent utility bill, for example. Something that's verifiable that they have residency," David Beriau, associate principal at Mount Anthony Union High School, told the SVSU Policy Committee at a meeting Wednesday. While a bill gives some proof, Superintendent Catherine McClure said more should be done.
"I think the issue here that I've run into is one form is not enough. Anyone can go down and change a utility bill to a residency in their name and pay that bill," McClure said. "We've had people do that, saying, 'I'm living at that address,' but it's really their aunt's house and their aunt says, 'Sure, you can go down and put your name on the bill and bring it in.'"
With few exceptions, a child attending public school in Vermont is statutorily required to do so in the school district where they reside - if possible - unless tuition is paid to go elsewhere by either a parent or the sending school district.
Last month Matthew Patterson, a member of the North Bennington Prudential Committee, said at a meeting he knows families who ignore the law.
"I know many students who are violating that law. They chose to lie about it," Patterson said during a discussion of allowing two children who moved out of the North Bennington district to be able to continue attending the school.
McClure told the committee she has asked principals to check three proofs of residency, although but she does not know of anything in writing that makes clear how many proofs of residency, or what types of proof, are required. Leon Johnson, longtime chairman of the SVSU Policy Committee, believes there are guidelines written somewhere outside of the policy, although their whereabouts are unknown.
McClure said there have been cases in her three years as superintendent when the Bennington County Sheriff's Department has been called to investigate a student's residency. If a family is found breaking the law they may be fined or even imprisoned, McClure said.
Johnson, who sits on the Mount Anthony Union school board, said from time to time students who do not live in sending towns claim they do so they can participate in athletic programs at Mount Anthony Union High School.
"The issue that we really face has been at the middle to high school where we've had individuals who came to participate in the extracurricular activities and in some form or fashion tried to rig up something to be legal," he said. "We've had several of those."
According to board members, another more common instance when families lie about residency is when they move from Bennington to an outlying town with a child entering sixth grade. In Bennington, sixth grade students attend Mount Anthony Union Middle School, but all of the other towns that make up the MAU district do not send children to the middle school until seventh grade.
"We had three show up one year that said they lived in Bennington," Sean-Marie Oller, chairwoman of the MAU board, said.
Committee members proposed to strengthen the policy and its enforcement by coming up with a specific list of acceptable proofs of residency and requiring anywhere from three to five of them upon enrolling in a school.
While it was only discussed briefly, the residency policy also contradicts public statements that have been made recently at North Bennington meetings that a child who moves out of a district after beginning classes at a school has the right to continue attending that school for the remainder of the academic year.
The actual policy says if a family moves from a district with 60 or fewer days remaining in the academic year the family may apply to the superintendent seeking permission for the student to finish the grade at that school. If the family moves with more than 60 days remaining they are not entitled to continue attending the school. McClure said she has approved such requests near the end of the school year in her time as superintendent. Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi