Tuition policy fails common-sense test


November 22, 1998|By Harold Jackson

I'VE TAKEN a different approach to raking leaves this fall. When the children were younger, we would rake only a couple of times before winter. Our quartet had enough manpower to police the back and front yards in a single day, raking and bagging until every culprit leaf had been apprehended.

It's a different story with my daughter in college and my son spending his afternoons practicing for Saturday football games. My wife still helps, but is typically otherwise engaged when I get in the mood to pick up a rake.

I don't mind. The solitary activity provides some quality mulling-over time for the brain. Alone, I am confronted with the same problem of just how much raking should I do. (Blowers are too noisy; you can't think.)

As I rake, the wind showers more leaves on the ground. Any attempt to gather every leaf before the trees are nude would be unsuccessful. Yet every leaf I pick up is one less to bag another day.

Fanaticism indulged

Sometimes I indulge in fanaticism, raking and re-raking the same spots as if I could keep up with nature. But it doesn't take long to tire of this game stacked in favor of the trees and the wind. So I set a goal, and when it's reached, I put up the rake. It's called using common sense.

Sounds simple, but people often let a situation get out of hand because they forget to apply a little of it. Look at how Howard County schools have become wedded to a flaw in their policy for accepting transfer students.

The Danielle Rash case

The fallacy in the policy came to light in recent news reports concerning Danielle Rash. The child was booted out of Glenelg High School because the board didn't consider her a county resident and she couldn't afford to pay tuition as a nonresident.

It didn't matter that Ms. Rash had lived in the county since June, with an aunt who had been granted guardianship. Because her parents live in West Virginia, the board considered that Ms. Rash's home address. The board said she would have to pay tuition as a nonresident unless she could document a hardship that would justify a waiver of the fees.

How in the world could someone who goes to bed in Howard County, gets up the next morning in Howard County, eats, drinks and otherwise spends the day until it's time to go to bed again in Howard County not be considered a resident of Howard County? Common sense says she is.

The irrationality of the Howard school board in this case is a result of its zeal to keep up with a booming student population. Howard schools would have been hard pressed last year to find room for all 676 of the students deemed nonresidents who had applied for tuition waivers.

"There are a lot of people who will try all sorts of subterfuge to get their kids into Howard County schools," said Stephen C. Bounds, school board chairman.

He's right. The board should do whatever investigation is necessary to make sure a child who goes to bed in another jurisdiction isn't falsely using a Howard County address to claim residency. But that is as far as the board should go.

In most cases, it isn't the board's business why a child lives in the county. Whether it's hardship or simply a desire to attend Howard schools, once a child becomes a resident, his or her education becomes the public school system's responsibility.

The Rash story has led to some interesting comparisons.

Sun reporter Alice Lukens revealed that Wilde Lake High School football star Danny Bayron, who moved here to escape a delinquent life style in New York, successfully documented a hardship to avoid paying tuition.

But Etienne Fanfan, a refugee whose family moved to Howard County to escape the poverty and political turmoil of Haiti, was asked to pay tuition because his mother doesn't have a green card giving her U.S. resident status.

Arbitrary judgments

The school board, in requiring documentation of a hardship, is trying to avoid the appearance of arbitrariness in deciding who ,, must pay tuition. But a comparison of the Bayron and Fanfan cases shows the board has failed.

Its paperwork requirement is no guarantee that children who live in the county and should attend Howard schools won't be asked to pay tuition.

Common sense dictates that the board take another look at its residency policy. Before it accepts any nonresident student who can afford tuition, it should open the school doors to every child who genuinely lives in the county.

All a child should have to prove is the address that he calls home.

Hundreds of parents move to Howard County every year so their children can attend its public schools. Children who live with a guardian shouldn't be deprived of the same opportunity, especially when that guardian is paying taxes that support local schools.

The board doesn't need to know why a child has moved to Howard County. Its investigations of transfer students should answer three questions: Where does the child live? Is the child healthy? Is the child ready to learn?

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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