Landlord letter dropped – Schools adjust residency requirements

After community outcry, the Greenwich Public Schools announced last Friday it would adjust its revised residency requirements.

Under this change, parents will no longer have to give the district an affidavit from their landlord to prove they live in town and can legally send their children to Greenwich schools. However, parents or guardians will still have to provide photo identification like a driver’s license, passport or another state-issued identification card.

There also has to be a notarized affidavit of parent/guardianship or notarized sponsor affidavit form showing that the adult has the right to enroll the child in school.

Homeowners have to provide a property tax bill, mortgage statement or ownership deed. Those renting or leasing may provide two current utility bills such as cable, water, electric or gas or oil. The documents have to show the same name and address.

Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty told the Post that the increased look at residency was not a directive from the board, but rather originated from the district administration. She said this had been in effect since January and that the majority of the policy had not changed, but that better tools to check on residency, such as software that checks on addresses, was available.

However, not all the changes were accepted. Parents sharply criticized the landlord affidavit requirement, saying it put too much of a hardship on parents and guardians who are renting property in Greenwich. In announcing the elimination of the landlord affidavit, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said they had heard the criticisms and understood it created a potential problem, though that had not been an intended part of the tougher requirements.

“We are confident that we have maintained an effective process for verifying residency in Greenwich while eliminating a potentially undue burden of paperwork for families,” Dr. McKersie said in the press release.

The requirement of the landlord’s affidavit was new for this year after a January review of residency requirements. The district said in the press release that, “As with any new process it is important to review how well the steps work in the actual implementation” and because of the response it was determined to not go forward with this requirement.

The change will be effective immediately. More information and enrollment forms are available on the district’s website greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=81.

In an interview with the Post on Monday, Dr. McKersie said this was taken out after he, and other members of the district’s cabinet, received feedback from the community, including parents and the members of the Board of Selectmen, that he said “made it clear” there had to be a change. The other parts of the requirements will stay in place, but this will no longer be required because of concerns that it took away the ability to prove residency from families.

“The new system is a lot clearer and a lot more family- and parent-oriented than the older one,” Dr. McKersie said. “The one issue that we found is that people were concerned this would give too much power to a third party other than the parents or guardians to be able to determine the ability of a child to go to school here. If you can’t find your landlord or there’s an issue with your landlord it shouldn’t impact the ability to send your kids to school and that’s what we learned after a lot of discussion with the community and careful consideration on our part.”

Ms. Moriarty said that there have been reports throughout the years from people saying that students attending are not, in fact, residents, but that many of these reports don’t lead anywhere. She said there are a few instances a year, but nothing that indicates this is a growing problem.

“There was never any evidence that there was a large group of students that were improperly attending school in this district,” Ms. Moriarty said. “We do get anecdotal reports from people, such as stories they’ve heard about students attending from out of town or out-of-state license plates on cars dropping kids off. When these reports come in there is follow-up from the administration and occasionally we find that the child is attending improperly, but that doesn’t happen very often.”

Ms. Moriarty said the board’s consistent focus over the years has been to “ensure that the students in our classes are the ones that belong there.” She added there had not been changes to the policy in years before this year.

While the most publicly controversial part of the residency requirements is now gone, the other new aspects of it remain and they too have raised some eyebrows since there are more of them than there were previously. Dr. McKersie told the Post that he consulted with Benjamin Branyon, managing director of operations for the district, and that having requirements like producing a photo ID are not out of line.

“We looked at the other districts to see how we line up and we fall comfortably in the middle,” Dr. McKersie said. “Some districts have more requirements than us and others have less. This is a good policy that allows us to be good stewards of the resources that the taxpayers are providing us with. We are asking families, and I will be one of them next year when my daughter begins kindergarten, to show they are residents. A photo ID is a fair request.”

Dr. McKersie stressed that while these requirements are in place it is certainly not the district’s intention to turn away eligible students. He said that if parents or guardians are missing some of the required information, such as having a photo ID, which not everyone possesses, the district will work with them to prove residency and ensure their children can attend school in town.

“We’re all doing this job because we believe in public education,” Dr. McKersie said. “We are going to work with people. We are here to serve the residents of this town.”

 

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