March 14, 2011
METHUEN — A district-wide effort to make students to prove residency resulted 81 students removed from city schools.
Superintendent Judith Scannell said officials spent seven months sending letters, making phone calls and verifying paperwork to prove that Methuen students are Methuen residents.
"It's a big district, and this needed to be done," Scannell said. "We had to do this."
School Committee member Evan Chaisson helped draft the district's new residency policy, passed by the school committee last year. He said the residency effort is "looking to be a huge success," saying that removing non-Methuen students reduces class sizes and ensures Methuen tax dollars are being spent on residents.
"It helps on all aspects of the school," Chaisson said.
Scannell pointed out that some of the students removed from the district have behavioral issues. The superintendent did say that she empathizes with the students being removed.
"This is going to be a break in their education, and I want the best for all of them. I want them to have a good education," Scannell said. "This hurts the child more than I think people realize."
School committees can choose to review their rolls and remove students at their discretion. Methuen, which has 7,000 students, is not a school-choice district, meaning Methuen does not allow out-of-district students to enroll.
"This is something where a local school committee establishes its policy," said JC Considine, spokesperson for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Considine said the state does not provide any guidelines or guidance related to reviewing student addresses.
For months, the superintendent updated the school committee as more non-Methuen residents were removed. By Feb. 4, the district had removed 55 students.
Efforts to complete the residency verification stepped up in the past month as administrators told parents that their students would be withdrawn from schools if they did not comply with residency requirements by Feb. 28.
When a few hundred students had yet to comply, students were called to administration offices and parents were notified that their children could not return to school.
By the end of last week, phone calls produced another 60 students that had not proven residency, although many of those were able to offer proof in the last few days.
After nine months, Chaisson said, "At this point I have no sympathy for the ones that did not comply with the policy."
By last week, the district completed its residency effort, with 26 non-Methuen students being found in the final push.
"This was seven months solid, day after day after day working on this piece," Scannell said. "I applaud every one (school personnel), and they were class act beginning to end."
Last year, the School Committee passed a tightened residency policy requiring all students to prove they live in Methuen every year. There's also a hot line for tips about non-Methuen students.
Scannell said she took some comfort from the effort, as schools now have valid contact information for all students.
"At least we know the location and an address for each child and a telephone number," Scannell said. "That's been frightening over the years when you cannot reach a parent and none of your phone numbers connect."
Methuen secretaries will double-check phone numbers and addresses over the next few months, Scannell said.
She added that she plans to stagger the residency verification efforts next year, with a goal of limiting them to just kindergarten, fifth grade and ninth grade.
BOX MATERIAL FOLLOWS —
Where are the students coming from?
Between November 2010 and Feb. 4, 2011, Methuen schools rooted out 55 students who were not Methuen residents. They came from around the region. Since Feb. 4, Methuen has forced out 26 more students, although their original locations are not yet available. Below is a breakdown of the first 55 students.
North Andover 4
Nashua, N.H. 3
Sandown, N.H. 3
Salem, N.H. 1