The child of an Oak Park family who was denied enrollment in Elementary School District 97 over suspected residency issues has now been allowed to attend classes after the family filed a lawsuit.

The suit, which was filed last week, states that D97 wrongly asserted that “the minor child is not a resident of the Village of Oak Park.”

The family, according to the suit, has lived at their Oak Park address for nearly seven years, and that all three of the family’s children have attended Oak Park schools. The boy’s two older siblings are students at Oak Park and River Forest High School, according to the suit.

D97 this year rigorously checked the residency of every child enrolled in the district, a change from past years when only new families’ addresses were checked. But the family’s youngest child, who is 13 years old, was denied enrollment for the 2011-12 school year.

The boy, according to the suit, attended Longfellow Elementary School, 715 S. Highland Ave., from 2004 to 2008 and is enrolled in Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave.

The family’s attorney, Christopher Cooper, said the child is also receiving educational services at Hillside Academy. He also questioned how D97 could say that the child wasn’t an Oak Park resident even though his older siblings are currently enrolled at OPRF.

The family is seeking monetary damages totaling $30,000, but Cooper said the family would like an apology and some assurances that their residency policies will change to prevent another family from going through this. Along with harassment, the suit accuses D97 of mistreating the family because of their race — the family is African American.

Cooper insisted that the charge of racism was not an indictment against the entire school district, but against a handful of employees whom the family believed “stereotyped” them.

According to the suit, the family brought in documents to prove residency, but were asked to bring in more. The mother did, but later received a voicemail from the district’s registrar saying that the district was not convinced that the family resided in Oak Park.

The mother in the suit alleges that she was laughed at by an employee when she brought in her documents. Cooper said the father eventually had to come in to help verify their residency.

“They saw this woman come in, and they laughed in her face. The father had to come in and say, ‘I’m the father. This is our home. My child is not living with me at another residence,'” Cooper said. “A reasonable investigation before the start of the school year would have shown that this child lives in Oak Park and has lived in Oak Park for the past seven years.”

Cooper added that the district needs a separate procedure to check the residency of existing families. The attorney said the family learned that their son could attend his school via a voicemail from the district. Cooper maintained that the issue was only resolved after the family filed its suit.

District 97 released an official response to suit last Friday: “During the past five months, District 97 worked closely and collaboratively with approximately 3600 families to verify the residency of more than 5600 children—nearly 43 percent of which are minority students. We undertook this process, and will continue to do so in the future, to ensure that we are operating in accordance with state law and, equally important, upholding our promise and responsibility to the citizens of Oak Park that their taxpayer dollars will be used to provide the children of this community with a high-quality education.”

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