Washington DC sues Md. parents accused of fake residency to send kids to District schools.

7. GU places_ Ellington School

D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts is seen in this 2018 photo.

WASHINGTON — The D.C. attorney general’s office is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Maryland parents who it claims faked District residency to send their children to prestigious D.C. schools without paying tuition.

Attorney General Racine has filed a total of four lawsuits seeking nearly $700,000 in unpaid tuition as well as potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

In one case, Racine’s office said a Maryland mother fabricated D.C. residency to send her child to the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts and also fraudulently enrolled herself and her children in the District’s food stamp program.

In all of the cases, parents submitted bogus addresses on official forms, the attorney general’s office said. The parents “lied repeatedly in documents” attesting to their D.C. residency, the AG’s office said in a news release.

Two of the parents sued by the AG are employees of D.C.’s Department of Corrections.

“Residency fraud, at its bottom, defrauds D.C. residents and D.C. parents and kids of the opportunity to be in the school of their choice.,” Racine told the press in an interview. Some of the schools at issue in the newly filed lawsuits are some of the most highly sought-after schools in Washington D.C., including Duke Ellington and McKinley Tech High School, where families outside the normal attendance zone are stuck in lengthy waiting lists which is part of School lottery.

Washington DC’s school lottery is a balancing act. Designed to give every family a chance at getting into a high-achieving school, the lottery lets parents request seats in schools outside their neighborhoods. The intent is to spread opportunity in a city with uneven schools and keep options open for parents, but the unintended consequence, too often, is disruption.

“So, it’s just not fair to D.C. residents that nonresidents are able to place their kids in schools and D.C. residents have to provide for alternatives,” Racine was quoted as saying.

The AG’s lawsuits are separate from a botched residency fraud investigation by D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent for Education last spring targeting students at the prominent Georgetown arts school. The since-discredited report initially reported that more than 25 percent of students at the high-demand arts school were not actually District residents and improperly attending the school. A revised report issued last month later said more than two-thirds of the 219 students caught up in the probe were wrongly accused.

The Washington DC attorney general takes referrals of residency fraud from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) but conducts its own investigations before suing parents.

“It’s important in these cases that we go through the due diligence of really examining all of the documentation, because, candidly, these cases can be difficult …. We pride ourselves on conducting a thorough investigation that really identifies the wrongdoers and not those who just may have sloppy paperwork,” Racine said.

D.C. public schools and public charter schools are free for District residents to attend. Children who live outside D.C. can apply to attend District schools but must pay tuition, which typically runs between $10,000 and $14,000 per year.

One of the lawsuits — filed against William and Cassandra Harrison, of Brandywine, Maryland in Prince George’s County — claims the couple sent three of their children to D.C. schools between 2012 and 2017, including Duke Ellington, Hyde-Addison Elementary and Hardy Middle School.

In addition, the lawsuit claims Cassandra Harrison fraudulently enrolled herself and her children in the District’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The lawsuit seeks damages of $258,253.

Ionosphere Torres, of Oxon Hill, Maryland, is accused of sending her four children to D.C. schools between 2014 and 2018, including McKinley Technology High School and Wheatley Middle School. The lawsuit seeks $188,196 in unpaid tuition.

Shawn Clark and Donnise Wortham, of Hyattsville, Maryland, are accused of sending two of their children to D.C. schools between 2007 and the current school year, including Ballou High School and Richard Wright Public Charter for Journalism and Media Arts. Both parents are employed by the D.C. Department of Corrections, according to the lawsuit. The suit seeks $192,000 in damages.

Shawn Clark is also named in a second lawsuit alongside Erica Pamela Fowler, also of Hyattsville, Maryland. The lawsuit claims the two sent their child to Capitol Hill Montessori School starting in 2017. The lawsuit is asking for $56,298 in unpaid tuition.

Racine said the D.C. Council has recently upped his office’s budget for handling residency fraud allowing for the hiring of more lawyers and investigations.

In May, the attorney general’s office sued two D.C. police officers and a D.C. teacher who the office said had faked residency and owed the District upward of $800,000 in unpaid tuition.

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT 

Based on the above scenario and analysis, majority of the parents mentioned in this article are from Prince George’s County, Maryland who seem to have been fleeing a chaotic school system at their home base for a better school life experiences in Washington DC.

In early September 2018, there were reports of Chaos in some Prince George’s County public schools (PGCPS) schools when furious Parents Blamed Interim CEO for lack of Communication and decorum. PGCPS has been a mess for many years now and lack of proper oversight has been costing parents where it hurts the most and that is the wallet. Parental involvement is important in order to help fix the issues together with the administration while avoiding pitfalls like fraudulent schemes. Becoming active in a school’s parent group is an important way to increase involvement. Involvement also encompasses:

  • Setting goals with children and fostering achievement of those goals;
  • Accessing and using children’s academic scores to ensure they’re on track;
  • Frequently viewing the parent portal (or whichever tool their school uses);
  • Developing a relationship with children’s teachers and keeping in touch with them often; and
  • Advocating for improvements in the school building and with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide a world class education to every student.

The most significant type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success. Some of the parents groups in Maryland to help parents navigate through the system are online as listed on Facebook and on twitter. (See below).

Great schools are a basic right and our shared responsibility. To all parents and families, “thank you” for being part of the education team and part of this blog. Find out more on how parents and families can contribute to student success by visiting any of the above groups and sharing your concerns or ideas to innovate the county schools and Maryland as a whole.

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McKinley Tech High School

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