An unwanted vacation

Residency problems prevent sisters from going to school

September 02, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,STAFF WRITER

Sixteen-year-old twin sisters Heather and Jessica Seigle were all a-twitter about the first day of their sophomore year at Lansdowne High School. There would be juicy gossip with best girlfriends and wardrobe planning for super-romantic dances.

But instead of back-to-school socializing, the sisters have spent the first two days of the new school year sleeping late and hanging out with their grandmother, caught up in a squabble between their mother and Baltimore County school officials over where the girls live.

"We've just been sitting around," Jessica said yesterday. "Waiting for kids to come around," added Heather.

The sisters are caught up in the latest aggressive push by county school administrators to root out nonresidents attempting to enroll in county schools. In recent years, school officials have complained about Baltimore City parents using false addresses to get their children into county schools.

Residency issues have cropped up in other school systems, too, including Howard County, where last year officials temporarily barred a girl from high school when she could not provide proof she moved there to escape abuse in West Virginia.

Such explanations do not impress Heather and Jessica's mother, Debra Seigle, who never guessed her move to her boyfriend's house in Anne Arundel County last year would cause such complications for her children. She's upset that Baltimore County school officials took such a hard line in barring the girls from the same school where they started their high school careers last year.

"They're old enough now to make up their own minds, and they want to stay here with their grandma," Seigle said, adding that Heather and Jessica have lived most of their lives in Lansdowne with their grandmother, Edna Dorsey, 62, and have attended Baltimore County schools since the fourth grade.

The mother worries that missing classes could put the girls at a disadvantage because they have slight learning disabilities.

"All I want for them is what I didn't get -- a decent education and a high school diploma," she said.

For county officials bent on keeping nonresident children out of the system, the Seigles' family situation isn't so simple. They say that when questions of a student's residency arise, officials must have proof, usually in the form of a court order, in which a nonresident parent gives up guardianship to a Baltimore County relative or friend -- a document Seigle got yesterday.

"If a parent is just living in another county with a spouse or a girlfriend or a boyfriend, that's not enough to grant a student nonresident status," said Baltimore County schools spokesman Charles A. Herndon. "Legal custody stays with the parent unless they petition the courts to have custody assumed by someone who lives in Baltimore County."

He said that Seigle could be closer to a resolution than she thinks.

"All she has to do is bring the court order granting guardianship to the grandmother and that should fix things," he said. "The girls could be back in school [at Lansdowne High] today or tomorrow."

Exactly how Baltimore County officials learned that Seigle had moved to Anne Arundel County is unclear. But however the trouble started, she says she wishes it would end. She's spent the past several weeks on the phone with both Baltimore and Anne Arundel county school administrators trying to figure out where her daughters should start school.

Officials with both school systems said it was up to her to straighten out the residency issue, she said, adding to her frustration. Faxing documents to school headquarters has cost her precious dollars. She took a day off work yesterday to try to resolve the matter. She could be forced to take off another day today.

Heather and Jessica say they want to make their mother proud by getting their high school diplomas and getting good jobs.

"Really, all I want to do is just go back to school," Jessica said. "I miss all my friends."

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