Pegasus sculpture at Booker T. Washington High School (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Pegasus sculpture at Booker T. Washington High School (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Pulling back the curtain on serial cheating at Dallas magnet schools

No one likes a cheater. But as it turns out, Dallas ISD has tolerated them for years.

Families of students who cheat their way into the district’s top magnet schools have been excused and even encouraged in some cases.

Over the past few months, magnets have been under the magnifying glass as Advocate reporting and trustee questions have pressed administrators for numbers on who is getting in and how. At issue is whether Parkies and suburbanites are taking spots that should be given to students who live within DISD boundaries.

When administrators took a closer look, a pattern emerged of families applying with a DISD address and moving within the school year, coupled with a “lax” approach to the board policy that requires DISD to check magnet students’ residency from year to year. One trustee spoke anecdotally about a welcome session where new parents were told, “If you move, we don’t want to know about it.”

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Principled principals make a point to check a student’s address when they see a utility bill with scant activity or notice a similar suspicion. Notarized affidavits of residency, however, which are designed for homeless students who find shelter with extended family or friends, were considered legal documents and couldn’t be questioned.

A discovery that affidavits were being abused at popular and overcrowded neighborhood schools, such as Woodrow Wilson High School, led us to ask the district for numbers and copies of affidavits at several DISD schools, including magnets. The district couldn’t provide them, however — at least without us forking over more than $23,000 — because DISD doesn’t track affidavits or keep them on file from year to year.

All of this adds up to gaping loopholes that savvy parents have been able to worm their way through. Most of the incoming students are rich and white, DISD administrators say, and infuse diversity into a district that is overwhelmingly poor and minority. Some trustees welcome the outsiders in the name of enrollment and financial growth; others want to ensure that Dallas students have first dibs.

We want to know what you think. Read the full series:

How many kids are cheating their way into Dallas ISD magnet schools?

• Shrewd families are scheming a Dallas ISD program for homeless kids

Which students add more value to magnets: Dallas kids or suburban kids?

• Rich + white + suburban students » Dallas magnet schools ≠ diversity

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DISD’s poorest students face long odds to attend magnet schools

And don’t forget to read our December cover story that launched a deep dive into these issues.

Parents or students with questions about the magnet admission process or concerns about fellow students attending schools without proper documentation can contact Keisha Crowder-Davis at 972.925.6710 or magnetschools@dallasisd.org and can copy us at kmitchell@advocatemag.com.