There have been new developments since yesterday’s Dropout Nation report on Waukegan, Il. mother Annette Callahan’s battle with the Beach Park school district over its efforts to remove her two children from its schools.
Last night, after a lengthy meeting (and after Dropout Nation readers and others flooded the district with letters and calls), the Beach Park school board agreed to allow Annette’s two children, Josiah and Hannah, to remain in the district and continue in its middle schools once Annette and her ex-husband, Samuel, come up with a “concrete” plan for the kids to live in its boundaries. As it was reported yesterday, Beach Park wanted to remove the two kids from Howe Elementary because, despite the fact that the husband lives in the district and has both kids named on his apartment lease, the kids spend more time with her in Waukegan. Based on that argument, the students, as far as Beach Park bureaucrats were concerned, were not residents of the district.
During the hearing, Beach Park board members were surprised to learn that Annette had not received copies of the evidence used by the district in determining Josiah’s and Hannah’s residency. The board noted that Annette should have received all information pertaining to the case. After a closed session, in which the district’s investigator stormed out of the room, Beach Park board members made its ruling.
Even before the hearing, Annette and Samuel was able to secure some legal help. Heartland Institute education policy director Bruno Behrend wrote in to Dropout Nation and offered to take on their case. A lawyer by training who can practice in Illinois, Behrend argued in the inaugural Conversation at Dropout Nation podcast for families to use the courts to secure school choice and Parent Power.
Certainly there is still some uncertainty as to what Beach Park demands in a “concrete” residency plan. That said, for Annette, Samuel, Josiah, and Hannah, the Beach Park ruling keeps the kids in a school in which they were thriving. As Callahan said yesterday during a press conference, she was able to work with teachers at Howe to help get the twins on track after years of alleged educational neglect and malpractice in the Waukegan district. If not for the ruling, Annette and Samuel would either have to return Josiah and Hannah into a school environment in which they were falling behind academically or look at other options.
At the same time, Annette and Samuel are one more example of why we need to end residency laws and other Zip Code Education policies that condemn families and children to failure mills, restrict them from the kind of school choice they need to help their kids succeed, and lead to parents being criminalized for fighting hard for the futures of their kids. Connecticut Parents Union President Gwen Samuel, who, along with the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the newly-formed Ohio Parents Union led by Kelley Williams-Bolar, had teamed up to advocate on Annette’s and Samuel’s behalf, has said that regardless of the outcome, she is requesting the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate Beach Park’s handling of Annette and Samuel. From where she sits, Beach Park is just one more example of the kind of punitive actions districts are taking against families for doing what’s right for their kids. Writes Samuel: “we have work to do because I am sure more cases will surface.”
Which is why now, more than ever, we must overhaul school finance systems in order to allow families to send their child to any high-quality school, regardless of where it is located or whether it is traditional public, charter, private, or virtual.