An Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled in favor of the school district in a residency case, finding that a student was not a legal resident of the district. Gwozdz v. Board of Education of Park Ridge-Niles School District No. 64.

During the 2017-18 school year, parents enrolled their daughter as a seventh-grade student at a middle school located within the school district. The parents submitted documents identifying the student’s place of residence at a one-bedroom apartment in the district. According to the court opinion, the district became suspicious of the student’s residency during the verification process because the family listed two properties—a single family home outside of the district’s boundaries and the one-bedroom apartment within the school district. The opinion also noted that the district had found the lease “odd” because it was a lease from the family to itself, it was a 10-year lease, and the rent level never changed. 

Because of its suspicions, the district hired a private investigator to conduct surveillance of the family. The investigator observed that the family stayed at the out-of-district residence late in the evening and would leave the house early the next morning. The investigator also “spot-checked” the apartment building and never found the family’s vehicles at that location. After receiving the investigator’s report, the school district issued a letter informing the parents of its determination that the student was not a district resident. In response, the parents requested a hearing in front of the school board’s hearing officer to review the district’s determination. 

At the hearing, the father testified that the family owned the building within the school district and operated a flower business on the first floor. The second floor of the building consisted of eight apartments, seven of which were rented to others. The family kept a one-bedroom apartment to themselves and listed the apartment as its primary residence since December of 2012. In support of residency, the family also submitted other documents, including the student’s vaccination record, vehicle registrations and the student’s library card, all of which listed the apartment’s address. 

In finding that the student did not reside in the school district, the hearing officer noted the unlikelihood that the family lived in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment, when there was a larger single family home outside of the school district. The hearing officer also found that the family’s testimony was not credible in light of the investigator’s report and pointed to evidence that the student was enrolled in a different school district during the 2015-16 school year, even though the family testified they moved to the apartment in 2012. As a result, the hearing officer upheld the school district’s determination. The circuit court affirmed the determination and the parents appealed. 

On appeal, the Court ruled in favor of the school board. Taking all the facts presented at the hearing together, the Court concluded that the parents intended for the single family home outside of the district to act as a “home base” for day-to-day care for the child. As a result, the Court held that the student did not reside in the school district and ordered the family to pay tuition for the 2017-18 school year.

Post Authored by Rain Montero & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink