New policy could result in students being turned away from county schools

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comOctober 29, 2011 

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Nearly 900 Beaufort County students will be turned away from their schools next month if their parents or guardians do not comply with a new policy requiring them to re-establish proof of residency, county school district officials say.

During the final day of a two-day work session Saturday, members of the Beaufort County Board of Education were told district officials did not have the required paperwork for 894 students across the district, down from more than 2,000 earlier this month.

The policy, implemented in July, requires a parent or guardian to provide two bills or pieces of identification to prove their child is enrolled in the proper school. They can provide a single document if they have a real estate tax bill, property assessment, signed lease or a military or section 8 housing letter. Parents will be required to update that information every year.

Sean Alford, the district's chief instructional services officer, said district official plan to contact families of the remaining students this week and send social workers to the homes to obtain the required information. If school officials don't have what they need by the end of next week, the students will be withdrawn from their schools Nov. 7.

"We need those people to be responsible and responsive to a simple, unobtrusive request," Alford said. "The majority of people in the district, 96 percent, have done that. The last thing we want to do is turn a child away from their school."

Board member Michael Rivers of St. Helena Island voiced concerns the policy would needlessly punish lower-income children whose families cannot produce a utility bill or another form of proof of residency.

"We have kids coming to our schools whose families get their electricity from someone down the street with an extension cord," Rivers said. "Our job is to educate these kids instead of trying to find ways to keep them out of our schools."

Board members Julie Bell of Hilton Head Island and Laura Bush, who represents parts of Bluffton and Daufuskie Island, supported the new policy but said district officials should have demanded the information sooner.

"We should have had these by the second week of school," Bell said. "If we didn't have them by then, the child could have enrolled somewhere else instead of being pulled out of school in November and disrupting the learning process."

On Saturday, board members also discussed the district's efforts to conserve energy, settled the meeting calendar for next year and discussed its recent anti-bullying initiative.

Board chairman Fred Washington said district officials were pleased with how the campaign was received by teachers and students but said awareness must continue.

"This is not going to be a one-time event," Washington said. "We can't have this great response to bullying for a month then forget about it. We must take a community-wide approach to this issue. This will not work as a piecemeal effort."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

District says students must prove residency each year, July 4, 2011

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