Albany Unified School District's superintendent, with the support of the school board, has embarked on a new effort to ensure that students who attend Albany schools actually live within city boundaries, or have received permits to study on district campuses.
In a , Superintendent told board members she'd like to take a strong stance to remove children from Albany schools whose families have lied to officials about their true addresses.
Families in this position have until March 31 to confess to the district. The children of those who do will be given amnesty to remain in Albany schools to complete the school year.
Students whose families don't comply would be forced to leave April 1, Stephenson said.
The main goal, officials said, is to make room for more than 100 students who are stuck on a slow-moving waiting list to transfer into Albany schools.
"What's most difficult is very honest people who say, 'I want to apply for an interdistrict permit,'" said Nancy Powell, who was hired two months ago on a part-time basis to verify student addresses. "They might as well write it on a Kleenex and throw it out the window.... The people who are here illegally are taking the spots of the people who are trying to play by the rules."
Of roughly 3,850 students who attend Albany schools, there are about 550 "legal" interdistrict transfers. These include children of teachers and children whose siblings attend district schools, along with a number of students accepted into the district by the previous superintendent to help bring in more money from the state.
According to a document released in the Feb. 15 session, and attached as a PDF above, there could be hundreds of students who attend Albany schools illegally. Thirty-five out-of-district cases have been confirmed in the past two months; 36 students are on the "hot list" and have been avoiding all communication with the district; and another 200 or so remain to be verified.
Another 86 students, whose addresses were questioned, have been verified as legal in-district students.
"The creativity of people who are in the district illegally is amazing," Powell told the board. "There are landlords people are paying to say they live in an apartment they clearly don't live in."
She said landlords have told her some families rent apartments for August and September only, just long enough to complete enrollment. Some families, she said, rent a second home or office in Albany simply to use the address. Leases and other documents have been faked, and one woman, said the superintendent, "just basically lied, even with Nancy and me sitting there."
The district has a range of ways to identify suspicious cases.
Sometimes it's teachers and principals who make reports. Powell said she's recently been getting one to two reports a day from principals. Teachers notice when students consistently show up "tardy to first period. It's clear that they're coming from a distance."
Other times returned mail, with forwarding addresses to cities such as Pinole, Richmond, El Cerrito and Oakland, provides a tip-off.
Some people use post office boxes, which can be a red flag. In other cases, multiple families report living at the same address. She said she's come across studio apartments, or single bed- and bathoom units, where ostensibly a family lives.
"Clearly a family of three is not living there," she said.
"It costs less than private school tuition," said Board President Pat Low.
The district hired hourly clerks in the fall to input all emergency contact forms into a database system to help keep track of the information; previously, the forms were kept as hard copies in binders.
Powell is the third person hired to attempt the daunting task of verification, said Stephenson. The first stepped down, and the second was released from the contract, she added. The job can be challenging because of the time-consuming investigation each case requires and the emotional responses of some families.
"People don't like being confronted on the fact that they are in the district illegally," said Powell. "People who come to the desk can be extremely intimidating. The kind of rancor simply asking them for a lease agreement could bring can be significant."
Stephenson said it can take at least five hours for Powell to try to pull together the information to verify each case, and another five or six hours for an investigator to visit an address believed to be real, document six sightings there and put together a case file on the student.
The district has strict standards for establishing residency. There are three main categories for students who attend Albany schools:
- The student's parent or guardian lives within the district on a full-time permanent basis "that is seven days and seven nights."
- The student lives at a licensed children's institution.
- The child has been admitted through the interdistrict attendance program.
One family who has had trouble because of the new effort attended Tuesday's meeting.
Diana Li, a University of California, Berkeley, student who graduated from Albany High, spoke to Albany Patch on behalf of her family after the meeting, which had no public comment period. She said she has a younger sibling who attends elementary school in Albany, and has done so since he began school several years ago.
She said her family owns a home in another city, but stays there only on weekends.
"The seven days and seven nights rule is very tenuous. We're in Albany for five days and five nights," she said. "We don't have another district, but we don't fall under Albany rules either."
She continued: "It's also difficult for them to believe we live in a one-bedroom apartment. Those people who lie make our situation seem illegitimate, but that's just how some families live. In many immigrant families, there are two siblings and two parents who live in one bedroom. It may seem absurd to some people, and like a lie, but it's not."
The district plans to send home letters, in multiple languages, with all elementary school students to explain residency requirements and board policy. Middle and High School parents will receive the information via school e-mail lists. (, in the "Schools" section.) The deadline for coming forward to report an out-of-district address is March 31; families who move are required to report new addresses to the district within 72 hours.
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