Houston approves new enrollment rules

WARNER ROBINS — The Houston County Board of Education unanimously approved a measure aimed at curbing improper enrollment at a called meeting Wednesday.

The amendment prohibits parents from granting legal guardianship to Houston County residents or renting or leasing property in the county “primarily for the purpose of having their children attend Houston County schools rather than the schools of the school district where the parents reside,” according to the policy.

Robin Hines, assistant superintendent of school operations, presented the proposed changes to the system’s school admissions policy to the board at the noon meeting at the Houston County Career and Technology Center.

While Hines acknowledged that individual families may face hardships that force them into special circumstances, he said the amendment is meant to address those who are trying to take advantage of the system.

“It is clear this amendment is needed,” Hines said.

The policy change takes effect immediately, said Beth McLaughlin, director of community and school affairs.

Before the amendment was approved, board member Fred Wilson asked how the measure would be monitored. Superintendent David Carpenter responded that social workers employed by the system are already in place to monitor cases of suspected false address documentation, visiting homes to track activity and verify the addresses.

“This does not affect most people,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter also said situations where a transfer of legal guardianship seemed questionable would also be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Wednesday’s measure was a continuation of a larger effort by the school system and the Houston County District Attorney’s office to crack down on out-of-county and out-of-zone enrollment. Two indictments already have been issued, and District Attorney Kelly Burke has indicated more are possible.

After the measure was approved, the board went into executive session.

Few people were in attendance at the midday meeting. Kim Simmons, a mother of two who has a third-grade daughter at Quail Run Elementary, attended because of a disagreement with the school board over obtaining an out-of-zone waiver. While Simmons did not use a false address to enroll her daughter in school, she sympathizes with the parents who did.

“All these people who actually did lie, they did that because they didn’t have a viable way out,” she said.

Simmons, who said she is an information technologies employee at Robins Air Force Base, attended Wednesday’s meeting during her lunch break but had to take leave time when the meeting took longer than she expected.

“Even if (the parents) did care, they really didn’t have opportunity to know about the meeting, let alone get to it,” she said.

Hines said the meeting was held Wednesday instead of waiting for the board’s regular meeting in October because the previous version of the policy provided a loophole for out-of-county residents. He said that investigations of the matter had uncovered cases using tactics specifically addressed in the new amendments.

The next Houston County Board of Education meeting is Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. at the school board office, located at 1100 Main St. in Perry.

To contact Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.