Houston enrollment indictments set to proceed

At least one case against a parent who has falsified an address to attend the Houston County schools will be presented Nov. 10, Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke said.

It will be the first indictment made as part of a concerted effort by the DA and Houston County schools against improper enrollment since Sept. 15, when Burke presented two cases to a grand jury. While Burke made plans to indict other parents Sept. 29, attorneys working on the cases could not do so because of other work demands, he said.

However, Burke said most cases will not be prosecuted and instead will be settled through the Houston County Board of Education.

Currently, the board can collect a total of $135,880 in restitution charges for 22 students, and more parents may be faced with restitution charges, said Robin Hines, assistant superintendent for school operations.

The most common restitution charge parents face is $2,854, the county’s share per student last year, plus the number of days the student attended this year, at $12.45 per day, Hines said. There were 28 days from the first day of school until the Sept. 11 amnesty deadline.

“As the DA is working through the legal end, for those that want to pay and work with us, we are working with those people,” Hines said.

Parents who refuse to pay restitution charges may face civil restitution through the courts.

The DA’s office was working on 119 cases as of two weeks ago, Burke said. Of those, home visits were made to 10.

For many of those cases, the parents are undergoing divorce or separation, or may face special circumstances such as having a parent deployed, he said.

In those cases, it can be unclear who the child or children reside with, and as a result, Burke usually refers them to the Board of Education to sort out.

“I’m not looking to indict everyone in that situation,” Burke said. “I’m looking to resolve it.”

However, for parents who do not make an effort to abide by the law, there are consequences.

“There was one case where the person said, ‘Too bad, so sad, what are you going to do about it?’ ” Burke said.

“We’ll let the grand jury hear it. It’s worthy of indictment if you want to go that route.”

Among those facing restitution charges is one couple who own a home in Houston County but have been living in Peach County for two years to take care of family, Burke said.

Meanwhile, their children still were enrolled in Houston County schools.

While the family had good intentions, he said, they did not follow the rules.

Now, that family faces restitution charges for three children during the time they were attending the schools as out-of-county students.

“These are not people who are actively seeking to defraud the Houston County school system,” Burke said.

Another family who never lived in Houston County will owe 12 years worth of back restitution charges for their child who is a high school senior, Burke said.

The DA’s office currently is focusing its efforts on out-of-county violations but may tackle out-of-zone cases later on to determine whether they are worthy of prosecution.

Almost 500 students had been found to be attending schools either out-of-county or out-of-zone as a result of the investigation, Hines said.

“The law is falsifying records to a government agency,” Hines said. “It’s the same in-county and out-of-county.”

Ultimately, the school board intends to get all of the students into the schools in which they belong.

“From the beginning, the goal has been to get people in the appropriate schools, the appropriate zones. The prosecution has helped us do that,” Hines said.

“We’re not concerned about prosecuting anybody. We want them in their appropriate zone and county.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.