Fayette schools kick out 255 illegal students since 2009

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Most popular schools for illegal out-of-county students: Fayette County and Sandy Creek high schools, Flat Rock Middle School, North Fayette and Burch elementary schools

The Fayette County School System has received criticism in recent years for not doing enough to catch and expel out-of-county students illegally attending classes here. What do the numbers say about that?

School system Director of Pupil Personnel Services Barbara Serapion answered that question at the Aug. 15 meeting of the Board of Education, reporting that 255 students had been withdrawn by the school system in just over two years due to residency requirements.

The more difficult issue for The Citizen was to obtain a school-by-school breakdown of those numbers.

Information subsequently supplied by the school system showed that over the past two years and so far this year there have been 114 elementary students withdrawn over residency issues, 51 middle school students, 80 high school students and 10 students enrolled in other academic areas.

While the school system does not, and often cannot, track the county of residence of the illegal students, it is clear that students attending Fayette schools illegally during the period were attending those schools in the areas of the county in closest proximity to Fulton and Clayton counties.

As for previous school years, there were 41 students withdrawn in 2004-2005, 98 in 2005-2006, 68 in 2006-2007, 176 in 2007-2008 and 136 in 2008-2009.

Obtaining the breakdown on the various schools for 2009-2011 proved to be more difficult than first anticipated. A request by The Citizen for that information was first met with the response that Serapion did not collect some of those details.

“The only numbers she has is what she presented at the board meeting since she didn’t take over residency until 2009,” school system spokesperson Melinda Berry-Dreisbach said of the totals for 2009-2011 reported on at the Aug. 15 board meeting.

A subsequent conversation with Superintendent Jeff Bearden on Aug. 29 after several email exchanges with Berry-Dreisbach cleared up the question. Bearden said he thought the delay in obtaining the information requested by The Citizen might have been due to a miscommunication between Serapion and Berry-Dreisbach.

Bearden said the breakdown by schools was not included in Serapion’s database, adding that he asked her secretary to go back and pull the information by hand.

Another request by The Citizen, that of the county of residence of students found to be illegally attending Fayette schools, is not tracked since it is often difficult to determine since a parent sometimes withdraws their child prior to the school system showing that the child is attending illegally, Bearden said.

“A lot of times that information (on the county of residence) comes from the child and we do the follow-up,” Bearden said.

That said, Bearden said the school system is concerned about out-of-county students attending Fayette schools. And Bearden did note that, “It was because of the perception that the system doesn’t care if out-of-county students attend that I had asked Barbara to give a report to the school board. I wanted to make a public report knowing that the media would be there. We’re very aggressive when we find out that a student is not here legally.”

Broadening the issue, Bearden was asked if he believed that Fayette residents and taxpayers have a right to know the full extent of the information on illegal residency.

“Residents have the right to know whatever they want to know and we have the obligation to provide that information if we can,” Bearden responded.