By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School denied enrollment to more than 160 students for the 2013-2014 school year due to questions about their parents' residency.
It's the highest number of students denied entry in recent memory. The school also investigated its highest numbers of cases — more than 850 — last school year.
Cases flagged involved parents or guardians failing to prove where they live. Several factors can trigger an investigation, such as parents providing improper or questionable documentation, or the school receiving a tip about a questionable living situation.
The school's Residency Confirmation Officers (RCOs) are the main investigators; the process includes visits to homes and surveillance.
The roughly 850 cases identified last year were more than three times the normal amount for a given year. Of those cases, about 680 were "cleared" and determined not to be in violation. A total of 167 students, however, were denied enrollment.
In the past five years, the number of students denied enrollment was in double or single digits. The recent spike is tied to the school's upgraded residency verification process, implemented in 2012. The residency verification period takes place in April over a seven-day period for all families.
Parents and guardians are required to provide the proper documentation to the school registrar's office in order to enroll their child. The new process was piloted in spring 2012 and made permanent last year. Families unable to show up during the verification period must call the school to set up an appointment to bring in their documentation, which includes signed leases and tax bills.
School officials note that, historically, some families would start the enrollment process but not complete it. Parents or guardians would, for instance, decide to enroll their kids somewhere else, or those students simply wouldn't show up at OPRF on the first day of school.
In all, 853 cases were flagged before last school year. By comparison, 314 were flagged before the 2011-2012 school year and 294 cases the previous year. The number of students denied enrollment was also much lower over that period. In 2011-12, for instance, only three students were denied entry. That year, 76 students ended up enrolling elsewhere while another 50 students were no-shows on the first day.
Prior to 2012, families could bring in documentation at any point during the year. When requested by the school to do so, some parents failed to do so in a timely fashion or not at all.
The one-time verification period was implemented, in part, to address that problem, school officials said.