By Terry Dean
More than 2,000 families last spring went through Oak Park and River Forest High School's residency verification process, but school administrators aren't ready to say just how many students are currently enrolled for this year.
Principal Nathaniel Rouse said administrators are still reviewing that data. New families and transfer students, meanwhile, enrolled over the summer, and that data isn't final until after Labor Day, he said.
Last April's registration process screened a total of 2,077 parents and guardians. It was a one-year pilot to verify every family all at once as opposed to checking residencies throughout the school year as they did previously. If made permanent, Rouse said, residency will be checked every April.
Parents are required to bring in proper documentation to prove where they live. The verification process in April began on a Friday and wrapped up on a Tuesday, with OPRF staff checking papers at stations setup in the Student Center. But if a question later arises about residency once a student is enrolled in classes, that student won't automatically be kicked out of school, Rouse explained.
"As the school code indicates, a student who starts with us has the right to end the year with us as well," he said. "If we prove that they're non-residents, then at the end of that year, they're going to have to go to the school where they reside."
That typically happens if a family moves out of the district during the school year. But if the high school feels a family never lived here, then those students are subject to a residency hearing.
A formal letter is sent to parents giving them 10 days to request a hearing. The student/s remains enrolled during that period.
If a hearing is requested, the student will remain enrolled until the hearing process is complete, concluding with a decision by the school board on whether or not the student is a resident.
"We investigate. We get tips, whether it's mail coming back or wonderful taxpayers who let us know things, and then we begin the process of investigating," Rouse said.
"Residency laws change from year to year and it goes back and forth," he added. "What we've gotten better at is making sure the individuals who start school here are residents.
That's what our verification process is for. It's not to play 'I got ya' after you get here. It's to prevent that problem from surfacing in the first place by scrutinizing residency early."