The parents of a special needs student who sued District 97 last year in a dispute over the family’s residence status have settled their case with the district.
D97 last week released a “joint public statement that the parties agreed to release” announcing the settlement. The district had claimed the child was not a resident of Oak Park and denied him enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year. The parents disputed that claim, maintaining they have lived in the village since 2004 and that their two older children attended D97 and Oak Park and River Forest High School with no residency issues.
Two years ago, D97 changed its verification procedures to check both new and existing addresses, where in previous years only new families had to verify where they live.
The lawsuit also alleged that race was a factor in denying enrollment to the child, who is black. The district, however, insists it does not discriminate in its residency verification process.
The boy was enrolled at Longfellow Elementary School, 715 S. Highland, from 2004 to 2008 and then at Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland. The child was also receiving educational services at Hillside Academy, a common practice for some children who need additional services. The child was allowed to enroll at Julian after the family filed their lawsuit against the district. The student, 13, was entering the eighth grade when the suit was filed.
The parents alleged that they were racially stereotyped by some D97 staff when they attempted to verify their residency. The joint statement does not directly address that specific allegation but says, “The complaint further alleged that the school district failed to permit the Edwards’ child to attend school due to his race. [D97] and the Edwards settled the lawsuit during the initial discovery phase of the case. As a result of the information shared during the discovery process, the Edwards’ view of their position had changed.”
In an email to Wednesday Journal on Tuesday, D97 spokesperson Chris Jasculca said each residency case is handled fairly and even-handedly.
“We take our responsibility to the citizens of Oak Park very seriously, which is why we worked closely and collaboratively with all of our families during the past two years to verify the residency of the more than 5,600 students we serve — nearly 43 percent of which are minority students.”
D97, he added, has a “strong commitment to diversity” and noted several initiatives confirming that commitment, including ongoing discussions from the administration to the board concerning the role diversity plays in student achievement, as well as staff hiring and recruitment.
“We embrace diversity and believe it plays a critical role in the success of our schools and our ability to effectively meet the needs of the families we serve,” Jasculca said.
The Edwards family was seeking monetary damages totaling $30,000 and an apology from the district, two requests the joint statement does not address. The family also wanted assurances that the district’s residency policies would change to prevent similar future disputes with families.
The joint statement addressed that issue, stating “Oak Park Elementary School District No. 97, as a result of this lawsuit, will consider whether its residency investigatory process and its communications with families regarding the process may be improved upon, so that similar insensitivity and arbitrariness may be avoided.”