Frequently asked questions about residency verification

April 19, 2013

We received a variety of questions during our recent residency-verification process. Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Rationale for the Process
Q: Why are you doing this?
A: Illinois public schools are mandated by the Illinois School Code to ensure that students attending the school district on a tuition-free basis are residents of the district. While the law does not dictate how a student’s residency within the district should be determined, the mandate to ensure students attending our school are residents is the basis for our residency verification process.

This is not a new process. We have completed the residency verification process in different ways before now. Our previous method involved a manual, paper-based process that was prone to error and was very inefficient. Additionally, this is the first year we have required all families (besides freshmen) to complete residency verification.

Q: I have lived in the district for many years and pay a lot of money in taxes. Why do I have to do this?
A: Tenure in the district was not a factor in our determining who was required to participate in our residency verification process. We also made a conscious decision to require this process for all families requesting tuition-free access to our school. We greatly appreciate the ongoing support of our tax-payers in the district. Still, we felt that the inconvenience of residency verification is outweighed by the benefits of ensuring that only families who live in and are residents of the district have access to our schools.

Confidentiality and Security
Q: Why do you need my confidential information?
A: We do not need your confidential personal information (e.g., bank account number, credit card numbers). The residency guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education requires that we offer the choice of many forms of documentation to prove residency. You have two choices if you are concerned about sharing sensitive personal information: 1) You may redact all personal information except for your name and address on any bill you provide us, or 2) you may choose other forms of residency documentation that do not contain sensitive personal information.

Q: Who can see my information?
A: Once we gather the residency verification information it becomes part of the student’s record. The records and information contained in the student’s school record is protected so that only staff that has a legitimate educational interest may view it. Normally, the only people who need to see the residency verification supporting documents are administrators, individuals with the registrar’s office, and residency compliance officers.

Q: What security measures do you have in place to ensure the protection of my personal information?
A: We have a host of security software products, including a DMZ, firewalls and virus protection to protect the information contained within a student’s record. In addition, the documents and information gathered resides on servers within the premises of the high school and access is only provided to staff that has a legitimate educational interest in viewing such information.

Information Requested
Q: Why is it important to know where siblings of the student attend?
A: Knowing where siblings attend provides us additional information to support a claim of residency in the district. For example, the fact that younger siblings attend either District 90 or 97 schools provides us an indication that the family may be legitimate residents of the district.

Q: Why do I have to sign the Affidavit of Residency? Isn’t it against the law to ask that parents sign this?
A: An affidavit of residency is your statement that the information you are providing as the basis for residency and receiving the tuition-free educational services of our school is true. It is not against the law to ask you to sign such an affidavit.

Q: There was a question on the enrollment under the residency section that asked if the child received any social support—is this just for residency?
A: Yes. You would go through a separate process at the time of fee payment to apply for financial assistance.

Students with Special Circumstances
Q: How does this process affect homeless students?
A: Homeless students do not have to go through the residency verification process.

Q: How does this process affect undocumented students?
A: We have provided a choice of submitting many forms of documentation to demonstrate residency so that an undocumented family may still prove that residency within the boundaries of our district regardless of immigration status.

Q: Why are the Special Education students at CITE exempt and not on the system?
A: Special Education students at CITE are not exempt. We did not communicate to families who have only a senior at the high school during the 2012-2013 school year. Some students have special circumstances and will be allowed to attend next school year even though they are of senior status currently. We have recognized this issue and are contacting them to enroll their students for next year.

Family Participation in the Process
Q: Why do you need me to come in to verify my residency?
A: Providing us information to verify residency is necessary for families to receive tuition-free educational services from our school. At this time, our procedures require families to come in and present this documentation. We are exploring other options of electronic submission but are in the early phases of implementation.

Q: Isn’t there an easier way to verify my residency without me coming in?
A: Based upon feedback from families and our experience from the first year of this process, we are investigating ways to make this process more convenient while not sacrificing the integrity of the residency verification process.

Cost/Benefit and Business case
Q: Why are you spending so much money to verify residency? How much does this cost you?
A: Costs are still being tallied for this process. We will provide that information at the completion of our residency verification process.

Q: How many students are attending who aren’t residents of our district?
A: While exact numbers are extremely difficult to estimate, we reviewed several hundred residency cases during the 2012-2013 school year. In the process of questioning and investigating, some families voluntarily withdrew their students from our school, while others were determined to be non-residents consistent with the procedures in the Illinois School Code. We estimate that we discouraged or actively blocked 30-50 students who were not residents of our district from attending school this year.

Q: Are all the people here on the payroll?
A: We used a combination of internal staff and external experts to run our residency process. The internal staff was chosen because of familiarity with our systems. The external staff members were brought in as they have expertise in examining residency documentation and investigating these cases.

Q: Does catching non-residents actually save money?
A: It costs approximately $20,000 a year to educate a student at Oak Park and River Forest High School. If we take a conservative estimate of 30 students who would have attended but were turned away or determined to be non-residents, this amounts to approximately $600,000.

Future Plans
Q: Will we have residency verification for everyone every year? If so, can we send our child to school with the needed documentation?
A: This year was a pilot for annual residency verification. We plan to review our process, incorporate the feedback from the families and staff, and make a recommendation to the Board of Education for future years.

Is Participation in this Process Mandatory?
Q: What if I refuse to participate? How can you keep my student from attending a public school if I choose not to go through this process?
A: If you choose not to participate, you would be considered a non-resident and therefore not entitled to the tuition-free educational services of the district.