A recent presentation to the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education by OPRF Principal Nathaniel Rouse revealed that 245 people were prohibited from enrolling at the high school during the 2017-18 school year after residency checks found that they did not live in the school district.
Rouse’s report showed that both the number of residency cases determined ineligible and the number of questionable cases that the district had to look into have risen markedly over the last five years.
Between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years, the number of questionable cases has increased by around 30 percent — from 853 to 1,102. During that same period, the number of cases declared ineligible increased by nearly 47 percent — from 167 to 245.
During an April 17 committee of the whole meeting where he presented the data, Rouse explained that most of the 245 individuals who were turned away from OPRF this school year were attempting to transfer from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, Forest Park, Maywood, Berwyn and Bellwood.
In his report, Rouse explained that “it’s almost impossible” for the district to know the schools those students were registered in when they were trying to enroll at OPRF.
Questionable enrollment cases at OPRF last year came up during the residency verification period last June, when the district’s verification staff reviewed information that was submitted online and compared it to residency documentation that families provided.
The verification staff includes Jennifer Hoffman, OPRF’s assistant principal of student services; Gabriela Martinez, the registrar and residency coordinator; Toula Boznos, the registrar; and Frank Kennedy and Elizabeth Dickson, both district investigators.
Enrollment and residency verification applies to all incoming freshmen at OPRF, according to a letter the district sent to families on April 18. The residency verification process is “to help ensure that only students who legally reside within the district’s boundaries receive educational services funded by district tax dollars.”
This year, online residency verification for the 2018-19 school year runs from May 24 through June 26, district officials said.
“With the effective and experienced help of our team and additional clerical and [district investigators’] support, we were able to clear the majority of our families as well as identify potential cases that needed to be followed up,” Rouse stated in his report.
Rouse said enrollment issues are typically prompted by a variety of red flags, including “expired leases with insufficient proofs of address or fraudulent proofs of residency,” claims of “live-in situations” that were ruled invalid after home visits, calls from landlords alerting the district that their tenants had moved out of the area and returned mail, among other things.
Rouse said some strategies the verification staff use to determine residency include “follow-up phone calls with families, landlords and previous schools, public database checks, home visits, interviews and surveillances.”