As D-FW students prepare for classes, districts double-check their addresses

Students are getting ready for school, dropping by their campuses to fill out paperwork, meet teachers and pick up class schedules.

And in several Tarrant County school districts, including Arlington, Keller and Mansfield, students also have to prove that they live in the district and the campus attendance zone.

Known as "residency verification," it's intended to thwart parents who submit false documents to get their children into schools with better academic or athletic options or schools with higher state ratings.

"This started several years ago because we had people coming across from other school districts. Our campuses are crowded as they are," said John Williams, principal of the 700-student Boren Elementary School in Mansfield. "We need to make sure we're providing space for those people who are legally in our attendance zone."

Administrators say they need accurate head counts to help plan for staffing and classroom space. And they are keen to make sure they are not unwittingly educating students whose parents don't pay taxes to that district.

Requirements vary, but in many districts parents must prove residency by providing a gas, electric or water bill or a rental agreement.

Loopholes exist

This double-checking is not foolproof.

One woman with children in the Keller school district said she knows of more than one parent who has gamed the system.

She said a friend wanted to use her utility bill so his son could attend Keller Central High School instead of Fossil Ridge High School.

"He went and had his address changed to mine on his driver's license so that it matched my utility bill," said the parent, who asked not to be identified. "I have another friend who has been paying someone else's water bill for the past two years so they can use it to get in the school they want."

She said that no matter how hard the district tries, "there are loopholes in the system."

Keller officials say it happens, but not often

"You can't catch them all," said Mark Smith, assistant superintendent of student services. "We verify and do the best that we can. Sometimes it slips through. There are 32,000 kids."

Some districts are stricter than others.

When school starts Aug. 23, Fort Worth district students will be given address update forms for their parents to complete. Various documents can be used to prove residency, such as a utility bill or lease agreement, but a phone bill isn't enough.

A student found to live outside the district may be charged tuition. For a Fort Worth student who belongs at another school, other factors come into play, such as whether there's space, said Robert Ray, chief of schools.

"We've got some flexibility there. It depends on how overcrowded it is," Ray said. "They are one of our kids, first and foremost."

In the Grapevine-Colleyville district, parents must provide two forms of address verification: either a driver's license or utility bill, plus either a property tax statement or lease or deed of sale.

This year, the registration process has been streamlined with forms that can be downloaded online, but families still must bring address verification documents to campus, said Megan Overman, school district spokeswoman.

Varying requirements

In the Arlington district, junior high and high school students must provide proof of residency before they can pick up their class schedules. For elementary students, parents fill out a form when school starts.

"If the schools have suspicion to believe a student does not currently reside in their attendance zone, they can also require that students provide proof of residency at any time throughout the school year," said Amy Casas, Arlington schools spokeswoman.

In Keller, address verification is mandatory, but families can submit documents in person or by mail, fax or e-mail. Truancy officers handle follow-ups if students are found to be attending the wrong school, Smith said.

"They would be the ones that are going to knock on the door," Smith said. "We let the kid finish the grading period. We don't want to penalize the kid."

In Hurst-Euless-Bedford, elementary and high school students must provide annual proof of residency at registration. Because junior high students don't register, they fill out an updated enrollment card when they return to school. Officials are considering changing that process to match the rest of the student body, spokeswoman Judy Ramos said.

And in Southlake-based Carroll schools, families must provide the documentation for the initial registration, but it's not required of returning students.

"You can fake that stuff, but at the same time, it's minimal. It's a difficult thing to sustain that," said Lowell Strike, assistant superintendent for student services. "We've not seen it as a problem."

But, he said, "there's always that chance that someone is pulling your leg."

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

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