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What Would Drive Families to Deceive to Get a Child into Aspen Schools?

A little over 18 months ago, a story broke out of Ohio that a mom was charged with a felony for falsifying information about where she lived to get her daughter into a different public school. Neither Kelley Williams-Bolar nor any other parent should be forced to choose between finding a better education and obeying the law. Back then I wrote:

For someone like me living in Colorado, with a strong (but not perfect) open enrollment law, the first reaction was: You have to lie to get your kid into another school district? It’s very sad that some K-12 systems can be so backward and unresponsive, but it’s symptomatic of a larger problem….

Well, color me naive. A new story from the Aspen Times (H/T Ed News Colorado) reports that the problem is real in the resort town’s high-end school district, and includes more than just one person:

According to [Aspen Superintendent Dr. John] Maloy, the district has already conducted more than 20 residency-related investigations this school year, which began last week for high schoolers and Monday for other students. Investigations are launched any time questions of residency arise or if proper residency documents are not provided.

In these cases, parents are called in for an interview. If the concern persists, school resource officers — which include an Aspen police officer and a Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy — are called in to conduct home visits.

In addition, the school district has been forced to consult with its attorneys after some district administrators received “threats” related to residency investigations. Attorneys have also been consulted about instances where parents attempt to hand over guardianship of their children to in-district families for the sole purpose of having the children attend the Aspen schools.

Say what? I hope my mom and dad aren’t reading this to get any ideas. I kind of like my bedroom and my stash of toys. But seriously, don’t you think one of the important messages here is that a significant number of Colorado parents out there demand something better for their children? As long as some are trapped in unwanted situations, even with a strong (but obviously imperfect) open enrollment law, we’re selling the promise short.

To be fair, the article later reports the superintendent saying that “not necessarily all” 20 cases involved deceptive efforts on enrollment documents. And furthermore, let’s be clear: Lying isn’t right. My parents have made that point effectively to me. But what does it say about the availability of excellent and otherwise desirable educational opportunities that some people are willing to go as far as they did? (You may be sensing a theme develop here….)

There is a right way for parents to go about finding the most suitable school for their children by taking advantage of the Colorado law that allows families to choose public schools within within and across district boundaries. The fantastic School Choice for Kids website is just the place you need to go for that. Know your rights and your options. Realize there are things many school boards can do to craft their local open enrollment policies to be more parent-friendly.

Kelley Williams-Bolar ended up being convicted and serving jail time, and since has started the Ohio Parents Union. She advocates for the power of the “parent trigger” law to help families like hers trapped in desperate schooling situations to get out and achieve something greater.

Without more information, it’s difficult to say how the situation compares for families living beyond the borders of the Aspen School District. The “parent trigger” could only exist as a viable option for the most consistently failing school systems. But the two stories are similar in this respect: Educational opportunities shouldn’t seem so dire that families are confronted with serious temptation to lie or break the law as what seems the best (or only) way to escape their limited boundaries.