Chicago Schools To Crack Down On Residency Fraud

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A new policy announced by Chicago Public Schools states that students who provide information to the city’s selective-enrollment schools that is false will be barred permanently from the exclusive programs.

The Chicago Tribune’s Juan Perez, Jr. writes the measure that assigns a “lifetime ban” on students who doctor their applications comes after an inspector general’s report discovered that false information is being provided to elite schools by applicant families. They do so to boost the possibility that their children will be accepted, and they are aware that the false reporting is rarely met with serious consequences.

Commonly-used falsehoods include claiming Chicago residency and claiming to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city, since socio-economic factors are a consideration when deciding which students should win access.

“Fraud not only undermines confidence in the school system, it robs a deserving student of an important educational opportunity,” district CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement. “With a lifetime ban, we are sending a strong message to parents that this fraud will no longer be tolerated and that consequences cannot be avoided.”

Students who falsify their information would also be prohibited from transferring back or re-enrolling in the same school they left.

CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler, in a January report, accused the district of not having a clear policy that would provide “lasting and meaningful penalties for selective enrollment fraud.” Schuler approved of the new policy and applauded the district for taking the right step and in such a prompt manner.

The fraud occurs because of the high-level of competition involved in attaining a seat in one of the selective-enrollment schools. CPS received 16,000 applications for just 3,200 openings at 11 high schools last year, according to school officials.

To attend a school like Whitney Young Magnet High School, a student’s test scores are taken into consideration along with the child’s ZIP code. A federal order released in 2009 eliminated using race as a central school admissions element. After that, the district turned to requiring a specific percentage of students in every school to come from each of the established socio-economic “tiers.”

Students who won their spots in the selective schools by lying on their applications, the inspector general’s office discovered, were allowed to stay in the school or transfer back to their original school. There was also a tendency by CPS to avoid removing students in the elite schools who had gained entry fraudulently but who were in their last year of school.

Originally, Schuler had suggested the lifetime ban be imposed along with a $10,000 to $25,000 penalty for each year a student remains in a selective enrollment school after using erroneous information. He added that he discovered in the district’s yearly report a minimum of 18 young people who had lied about their place of residence, writes Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Chicago-Tribune.

Schuler said he was aware that the admission process for these schools can be stressful to parents and students. Some families move to another location in hopes their children will be accepted in the selective schools. These parents, he adds, follow the rules, but often suffer because of the enrollment fraud.

The inspector general suspects that the fraud uncovered is only the tip of the iceberg. All applicant families will receive a letter from CPS requiring their signature to establish that they understand the consequences of lying about their residency.