A school policy that flunks Disputes over residency shouldn't keep children from attending school.

October 23, 1995

CARROLL COUNTY'S education department gave itself an unnecessary black eye when it refused to allow 13-year-old Derek Roll to enroll in school for seven weeks. As soon as his case was publicized, school bureaucrats permitted the seventh grader to attend Sykesville Middle School and his situation has been resolved.

This is not the first such incident. Last year, after a family had to temporarily locate in Baltimore County after their Carroll home had burned down, there was some doubt about whether officials would allow the children to continue their schooling in the county even though the parents were rebuilding in Carroll.

The school system should have a better method for dealing with situations where disputes over residency result in children staying away from school. The current method flies in the face of the state's efforts to encourage better attendance. It also harms children who miss instruction and fall behind in their studies.

It is understandable that the education department carefully scrutinizes student registrations. Officials don't want children from other jurisdictions filling up Carroll classrooms. However, while adults may try to improperly enroll children in Carroll schools, the current system punishes the children.

Rather than keep children at home while these residency disputes are being resolved, school officials should allow enrollment.

However, the department should advise the adults that if the decision is against them, they will have to reimburse the county for the cost of the schooling. If the adults are Maryland residents, the county could file liens against their property or file a claim against state tax refunds.

Derek's case was unusual. The teen, whose mom is reportedly homeless in Los Angeles and who is staying with his aunt, had been unable to attend school this year because bureaucrats determined his aunt did not have proper guardianship. Once the system heard from an attorney that a guardianship petition had been filed, the barriers to Derek's enrollment disappeared. Superintendent Brian Lockard should see to it that his staff knows when to employ common sense even if there's no such chapter heading in its book of rules.

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