Exception to the rule Residency case: Danielle Rash case points to problems with Howard schools' strict requirements.

November 09, 1998

A RULE that prevents a girl who says she is escaping an abusive stepfather from attending a Howard County school without paying tuition must be changed.

The rule requiring Howard residency for tuition-free schooling is well-intended. Each year, hundreds of nonresident children try to enroll in county schools. But a policy requiring a child living in the county to offer an extraordinary level of proof of residency is wrong.

Danielle Rash, 16, was removed from Glenelg High School because she did not meet the school system's strict residency rules.

A local judge has granted guardianship of Ms. Rash to an aunt who lives in Howard County. Ms. Rash told the court she had moved to get away from an emotionally abusive stepfather in West Virginia.

But a guardianship order alone doesn't guarantee a seat in a Howard school. Board officials say Ms. Rash must provide proof of the alleged abuse -- a letter from police or a social worker -- before she can attend school for free.

The school system wants to be consistent in applying its rules for any applicant for a tuition waiver. But that's inappropriate in this case. Tuition waivers should be for nonresidents who must prove hardship making it necessary for them to attend Howard schools.

A judge has said Ms. Rash can live with her aunt. She has moved to the county. No resident child should need a tuition waiver.

If the school system believes judges are being too lenient in granting guardianship orders, that matter should be addressed separately. The courts are better equipped than school administrators to determine whether a child needs to move to a new home.

The school system is right to demand that children prove residency. The county can't pay for books and teachers for everyone who shows up. But once residency has been established, it's the school system's job to educate the child, not to ask "why are you here?"

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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