Baltimore County students entering middle and high school have until Friday to confirm that they are, in fact, area residents - or face being withdrawn, according to school officials.
"We just want everybody to get this done so it will be one less thing they have to worry about as they go back to school," said Charles A. Herndon, a district spokesman.
Now in its second year, the residency verification policy was designed, at least in part, to prevent students who live outside the county from enrolling - and to help schools maintain accurate student records. Nearly 60 percent of the rising sixth- and ninth-grade students to whom the requirement applies had verified their residency as of the end of June, Herndon said. To do so, parents and guardians must provide schools with a photo ID, lease or deed, and three pieces of mail sent to their homes within the past 60 days.
The residency issue has long been a point of contention between county officials and the school system, as County Council members have sought to get more information on the number of out-of-county students attending local schools. Several have expressed concerns about the unfair cost of such students to taxpayers.
In 2004, the council passed a resolution noting a community perception that an "inordinate number of ineligible nonresident students" are enrolled, asking the district to report on efforts to find and remove those students. Two years later, the council authorized the county auditor to examine school records for evidence of fraudulent enrollment. But the district has said federal law shields many of its records from public view.
Last year, nearly 4 percent of sixth-graders and almost 10 percent of ninth-graders had not verified their residency by the first day of school, according to an early 2009 report on the process. School officials considered all enrolled students verified as of September, said Dale Rauenzahn, executive director of student support services.
"For the first year, I think it went very well," said Rauenzahn, who described the verification policy as "just another tightening of the belt" to ensure residents and those legally attending county schools are being served.
About 500 of the more than 15,600 students subject to the new requirement left their schools - for a variety of reasons - as of Sept. 8, according to the report. It is unclear how many of the withdrawals involved students illegally going to county schools, as the district does not have a specific category for fraudulent enrollment, officials said.
About 30 percent of the students transferred to another public school in the state, while nearly 9 percent went to another county school, the report said. Almost 15 percent left for a nonpublic school in the county, according to the report.
During the 2007-2008 year, nearly 500 students were withdrawn from county schools because they were fraudulently enrolled, according to the report. That number was down from the 564 withdrawn the previous year and, school officials hope, could drop more as the district's policy on fraudulent enrollment continues to be implemented.
The slight decline in such withdrawals suggests a public awareness that "we're actively pursuing those types of investigations," Rauenzahn said. "We're seeing a little bit of the public understanding what we're trying to do."