Border abuse leads to changes by San Francisco Board of Education 

School officials have been enrolling students for years, but the district finally got around to defining what it means to be a resident of The City.

The new policy, which was approved by the Board of Education on Tuesday, is aimed at addressing a long-standing problem with families using false addresses to register for city schools.

“[It’s] something we’ve been struggling with a bit,” said Norman Yee, vice president of the school board. “Over the years, we’ve found a large number of people don’t live in San Francisco.”

One such investigation a few years ago uncovered a group of families using false addresses to get into prestigious Lowell High School. After ejecting the families from the school, the district began a more rigorous approach to finding families that are lying about residency.

But the new definition is nothing groundbreaking. District officials say it merely puts the details in writing.

In the district’s 2010 handbook, the residency policy says students must reside within district boundaries. But under the new definition, a district resident is a student who resides full time with their parent or guardian. The policy also says a child can only live in one place.

Because the problem with interlopers was so widespread, last year the district opened an amnesty period that allowed families to come forward and leave the district, no questions asked.

Families that came forward were able to avoid potential penalties ranging from $500 to $2,000. Students who admitted false addresses were asked to leave their school in December.

During the amnesty period, which ended in November, some 200 students came forward, district officials said. Normally, as many as 20 families are investigated for falsifying addresses.

Youth advocates, though, say the policy is too rigid and the district needs to take each family situation into account.

For instance, at least two Galileo High School students were removed because their guardians lived at different addresses than the teens. In one case, a high school senior’s mother lived in Vallejo because of the high cost of rent here, but the teen resided in San Francisco with her grandmother. The teen also helped take care of the grandmother, who was in poor health. That teen was permitted back in school after the family pleaded with the Board of Education.

Another teen’s family moved closer to a hospital where his father received extensive cancer treatment. It is unknown if that teen was able to return to school for his final semester.

Any family that has relocated for any number of reasons can apply to stay in the district under what is known as an interdistrict transfer. More than 1,000 students attend San Francisco schools under the policy.

Yee, though, said the amnesty period corrected a lot of wrongs, and he doesn’t foresee the district holding another such event anytime soon.

“I think it showed us more problems,” Yee said. “We’re hoping that the word gets out that this is our definition and we hold it for everyone — here’s the rules everyone should be aware of.”

District’s definition of living in The City

Here is how residency is defined in the SFUSD’s proposed policy:

  • Full-time occupant of a dwelling located in San Francisco
  • Place where one remains when not called elsewhere for labor or other temporary purposes
  • Can only be one residence
  • Residence cannot be lost until another is gained
  • Unmarried minor resides with parent or guardian
  • Child whose parents are separated must physically reside in San Francisco 50 percent of school year
  • Temporary residence in San Francisco solely for purpose of attending SFUSD schools is not considered residency

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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