Seventeen students are walking the halls of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts this fall who weren’t among those who received a “golden ticket” last spring. Others may receive word soon that they have been moved off the waitlist and into a spot at Dallas ISD’s nationally renowned public magnet school.
A total of 30 freshmen, sophomores and juniors either didn’t show up when the school year began or withdrew in August, says Tiffany Huitt, executive director of Dallas ISD’s magnet schools. The vacancies were left in the wake of Huitt and the magnet department’s new efforts to enforce DISD board policy that requires magnet families to prove that they live within district boundaries.
The Advocate published a story in May after investigating who auditions for seats at Booker T. and who is admitted. The data showed that too many students who live outside the district are cheating their way in and leaving scant spots for deserving students coming from DISD schools.
For years, suburban families have been treating Booker T. like a DFW charter school. To gain entry, they use residency tricks such as short-term apartment rentals, name substitutions on utility bills or claiming DISD-owned property as a residence.
In prior years, parents turned in utility bills only with their admission forms, due in late January, then were never asked again, despite board policy requiring annual proof. Plano and Highland Park eighth-graders whose parents knew how to scheme the system could stick around for the entirety of high school, scot-free.
Not this year.
On Monday, Aug. 19, the first day of school, Booker T. principal Scott Rudes sent home a letter informing parents that random residency checks would be taking place at three different points during the school year for any students who did not attend a DISD school the prior year or who filed a change of address.
“This is a matter that our school takes very seriously,” Rudes wrote, noting that a new process was in place that includes “legal consequences” for “providing false information for the application or registration windows.”
Rudes wasn’t alone. All magnet schools have been tasked with collecting forms that provide recent proof of residency and authorization for DISD to look into residency claims. Travis TAG parents received an email the week before school started, letting them know that if the forms weren’t submitted by Friday, Sept. 13, their “student will be withdrawn and exited from the magnet program.” Dealey Montessori parents also reported filling out the forms this year — the first time they’ve been asked for new proof of residency forms since enrolling.
Dallas ISD is now outlining the “penalties and legal liabilities for falsifying documentation or enrollment forms,” Huitt says, and is flagging students in “specific categories” who will be subject to “additional residency verification.” Perhaps their utility bill showed minimal usage; a report card came from a suburban ISD school; or their address changed between the time they applied and the time they enrolled.
Any students who: 1) applied as in-district students but are currently non-residents; 2) cannot provide proof of in-district residency; and 3) enrolled in a magnet school with an in-district waitlist may be withdrawn at the end of the fall semester, Huitt says.
Their departure makes room for Dallas ISD students on the Booker T. waitlist as of this summer. Dallas Morning News columnist Sharon Grigsby, who has been touching base with the district as they develop their new residency verification process, included a heartwarming profile in this week’s piece of Nickija Alexander, a sophomore girl from South Dallas whose theater audition last spring finally garnered a callback this fall.
“Now I go home and tell my mom I’m so happy because every day I learn so much about theater,” Nickija told Grigsby.
At Booker T. alone, Huitt says, nine freshmen, 15 sophomores and six juniors have voluntarily left already. The Advocate’s numbers, compiled from DISD open records requests, show that 36 admitted freshmen attended suburban ISD schools and applied with Dallas ISD addresses, and even more freshmen from private, charter and home schools may have come from outside the district.
The residency reckoning will continue, according to Huitt.
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