'Illegal aliens'

Dorothy Dowling

February 15, 1993|By Dorothy Dowling

WHEN 12-year-old Johnny comes marching home after a day of classes at his Baltimore County middle school, you can be sure that he has learned at least one lesson: It is possible to get something for nothing, and every day Johnny is doing just that.

He rides the yellow county school bus to its last stop on Harford Road, waves goodbye to his bus driver -- and then walks another two blocks to his house in Baltimore City!

Johnny is one of a growing number of "illegal aliens" -- nonresidents of Baltimore County who are attending schools there under false pretenses. His parents pay no county taxes, no tuition and never show up for PTA meetings. While some couples spend years scrimping and saving in order to buy a house in the suburbs so their kids can get a better education, others simply lie and deceive overburdened pupil personnel workers, giving bogus addresses and merrily shipping their children over the city line into county schools.

As a Baltimore County taxpayer as well as a teacher in one of these borderline suburban schools, I am outraged that this travesty goes on virtually unchallenged by school administrators at all levels. This year alone I have identified five of these nonresidents in just two of the classes I teach.

This number represents 5 percent of my total student load. It took a monumental effort by my team of teachers to track down these kids and send them packing back to the city. However, many others still remain, and countless more have yet to be discovered.

How do they get away with it?

When students enter the county school system initially, parents are required to produce proof of residency. This can include a copy of a rental lease or a property tax bill. However, in a growing number of cases, parents are claiming that they are living in multi-family dwellings, of ten with their own parents, and this clouds the issue for pupil personnel workers who attempt to untangle the issue of who lives where.

In other cases, parents produce copies of bogus leases or simply have legitimate county residents sign sworn affidavits attesting to the fact that Johnny's family has moved in with them. With only one worker assigned to three or four schools, it is virtually impossible to investigate thoroughly each new entrant who comes through the doors.

Furthermore, once a student has gained access to the system, no one will follow up to make sure his or her family has kept up its county residency.

The influx of these non-residents puts an unbearable burden on an already overloaded school system. These students increase overcrowding in schools that are already bulging at their seams. They often cause severe behavior problems in a system that can ill afford more discipline infractions. In effect, these poachers are takers who use the system and offer little or nothing in return.

The solutions? Baltimore County needs to double or triple the number of pupil personnel workers to insure that these abuses are stopped. The cost of hiring new staff would be far less than the present cost of educating nonresidents in our system. If necessary, severe fines should be levied against those parents who engage in this fraud.

Perhaps the saddest lesson in this whole issue is the one that the kids learn fast and hard: Deceit and dishonesty do work!

I spend seven hours a day trying to teach American history and its related values of hard work and ethics to adolescents. However, when that 3 o'clock bell rings, I send some of these kinds home to parents who thumb their noses at those values and teach their kids how to beat the system.

Dorothy Dowling teaches eighth grade at Parkville Middle School in Baltimore County.

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