Riverside Elementary School District 96 will tighten up its registration process for all students – particularly regarding proof of residency – after board members agreed with Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye’s recommendations for a more rigorous examination of residency issues at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting.
For at least next year, and perhaps in future years, all families will have to re-enroll in person as part a centralized process, similar to the one at Riverside-Brookfield High School. Right now, only new students must enroll in person and returning families can upload residency documents online.
“Increasing the rigor in the residency process would make a lot of sense,” Ryan-Toye said.
The centralized process would likely take place over several days next spring. The dates have not been set at this time.
Ryan-Toye also has recommended not enrolling any student, including returning students, until complete residency documents are submitted. In addition, the district will look to update parent/guardian questionnaires, similar to the ones used at RBHS, so the district has a better handle on more complicated family situations.
District officials will also work to improve communication about the registration process, specifically with respect to deadlines and required documents to make the process more efficient.
Finally, the district may look at changing the firm it uses to investigate families whose residency is in question. National Investigations has provided residency investigation services for District 96 for at least the past six years. Riverside-Brookfield High School in 2010 dropped the firm in favor of R.E. Walsh and Associates.
Ryan-Toye said at the Oct. 19 board meeting that she was “intrigued” by the RBHS firm’s capabilities.
Two District 96 parents urged greater efforts by officials regarding residency checks at that same meeting.
Riverside resident Cathy Daun described the district’s residency checking efforts as “apathetic” and said the issue was a “growing concern” among parents.
“We, as taxpayers and parents of children who legitimately attend District 96, are not OK with what we consider to be an apathetic attitude or a blind eye towards students attending District 96 schools illicitly,” Daun said.
Another parent, Deirdre Smith, said it was “likely” that her two children were sitting next to children who didn’t live in the district and wondered if large class sizes and growing enrollment might be related to children improperly attending Riverside schools.
Smith said she has seen children who attend District 96 schools getting on and off the Metra train in Riverside or being picked up and dropped off by vehicles without Riverside vehicle stickers.
“We feel it’s not only your fiduciary responsibility as residents, but we feel there’s an administrative responsibility that only parents who can rightfully enroll their children in these schools are doing so,” Smith said.
Ryan-Toye, who said she understands there may be some families who enroll their children illegally, cautioned that complex family situations could account for someone being picked up by a relative, care provider or someone who shares custody of a child who is not a Riverside resident.
The Landmark has reported in the past that some children who live in the Hollywood section of Brookfield, which is part of District 96, travel to and from Hauser Junior High via the Metra train. Metra is quicker than walking, and some parents prefer the option because it avoids having their kids cross First Avenue.
Ryan-Toye said she wanted to make sure there was a balance between being “both embracing and cautious” in District 96.
Data provided by District 96 showed that between 2011 and 2016, National Investigations has made in-person “door knock” visits to more than 300 homes where the residency of a student was in question. The firm did surveillance of 24 questionable residences between 2011 and 2016.
And between 2011 and 2016, a total of 13 families withdrew from the district after their residency was questioned.
But the data didn’t necessarily prove the problem wasn’t bigger than it appeared, because there are “gaps” that have been identified in the system, said board member Rich Regan.
“Perhaps we were exploited by people in the past,” he said. “I don’t think you can fairly identify what’s happened in the past based on this report.”
Board member Lynda Murphy added that the school district had only recently begun asking returning students for residency documents each year. She supported tightening re-enrollment to ensure gaps in the process were filled.
“Making sure we have a tight policy we are actually following, there’s no downside to that,” Murphy said.