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Grosse Pointe school board members say residency rules burden renters, working parents

Defer Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park.
Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Defer Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park.

Grosse Pointe Public Schools has some of the strictest residency rules in the state. The district has never participated in schools of choice, and aggressively pursues and expels students who are improperly enrolled from outside of the district.

Students' families must bring five original documents, in person, to the school office during business hours. Those documents include identification, proof of home ownership or rental, utility bills, and proof of car insurance. 

The district follows up on complaints from the community, at times hiring a private investigator, and maintains an anonymous tip line. 

Superintendent Gary Niehaus said that in the past three years, the district has spent $74,528 on investigations and legal fees related to out-of-district students. That figure does not include the salaries of employees in the student residency office. 

In those three years, the district responded to 328 tips, investigated 392 students, and expelled 87, as of March 2, 2017.

Some of the concerns expressed by board members were that the paperwork was excessive; that the requirement to present documents in person during school hours was burdensome for single parents and working families; that in some cases it was too difficult for renters to obtain a notarized affidavit from their landlord; and that requiring proof of car insurance made no sense.

"The car insurance requirement I think is just weird. You don't need a car to be a resident of any place, so it's just an odd requirement," said Board President Brian Clark Summerfield.

Board member Kathleen Abke also expressed concern that the district's open encouragement of tips leading to investigations may lead to stalking.

"I have been approached by people who believe that students are attending our school outside of the residency requirement, and in the community try to investigate that themselves. I've had people tell me they've followed kids home, and that is extremely concerning for me," said Abke.

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