In a previous post, I discussed what takes place if a parent’s son or daughter has been deemed ineligible for free school accommodations because the school board has determined he or she did not reside in the district. Undoubtedly the headaches and stress that accompany the hearing and appellate processes are nothing to sneeze at, so it is important for parents to do what they can to understand ahead of time the [common] situations that may call into question their child’s residency.
Scenario #1: The child lives with both parents.
When a child lives with both parents, he or she will go to the school district in which the residence is located. Typically, a school district will request proof of residence, typically in the form of driver’s licenses or utility bills.
Scenario #2: You are a divorced parent.
If you are a divorced parent, your child is eligible to attend school in the district in which either you or your ex-spouse resides. It boils down to where your child in fact resides, which will not be defeated simply because the child divides his time between each parents’ location. Legal custody of the child is not a requirement for eligibility.
Scenario #3: Your child lives with another family member or a friend of the family.
Under Connecticut law, if a child resides with relatives or nonrelatives, “when it is the intention of such relatives or nonrelatives and the children or their parents or guardians that such residence is to be permanent, provided without pay and not for the sole purpose of obtaining school accommodations… shall be entitled to all free school privileges accorded to the resident children of the school district in which they reside.” In this situation, the school district may ask for evidentiary documentation, or even a signed affidavit to pertinent facts, that attest to compliance with statutory requirements.
Permanent residence is established by considering numerous factors, including but not limited to: where most of your child’s possessions and clothing is located; where your child attends church or other religious services; where your child’s immediate family resides; and the town that issued your child’s library card.
You cannot pay a family member or friend in exchange for allowing your child to live with them (thus gaining access to free school accommodations in that district). However, according to guidelines promulgated by the State Department of Education, “pay” does not include support payments pursuant to a court order, claiming the child as an income tax deduction, or maintenance of the child’s health insurance coverage.
Scenario #4: Your house is located on a town boundary line.
In some situations, a family’s single piece of property may span two towns – this does not, however, automatically mean that their child is entitled to attend school in whichever district they choose. Courts will make this determination on the interaction between the house itself and the town line: 1) if the residence is entirely located in one town, this is the only school district for which the child is eligible; or 2) if the town line “cuts through” the residence, the child may attend school in either district.
Scenario #5: Your child is in this country illegally.
The issue of illegal immigration has become a common topic of sparring on the national political stage, but for school districts in Connecticut, a child’s visa status is irrelevant in determining eligibility to attend its schools. According to a longstanding Supreme Court of Connecticut decision, a child is entitled to attend school if he or she is “actually present,” or residing, in the district itself.
Ensuring free school accommodations for your child is important, but even more critical is making sure you do not run afoul of residency requirements. The situations in which confusion may occur are rather commonplace, and should you find your child being denied free school accommodations due to residency issues, it is imperative that you seek the counsel of an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding eligibility and residency or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.