Officials wary of magnet school attraction

Stricter residency rules considered

Richmond County school board member Jimmy Atkins is concerned about people crossing borders, but it has nothing to do with illegal immigration.

At a recent school board meeting, Atkins said people from other counties are sending their children to Richmond County schools, especially magnet schools.

"We still have a big problem in this county with students from other counties and even other states with us being a border community attending schools here," he said.

To address the situation, Atkins recently asked school administrators to consider devising a plan this summer "to where we can completely address that issue." He later said officials need to crack down more on such cases, adding that he would even favor out-of-county parents with children in Richmond County schools being fined the cost per day to educate that child.

"Whatever it takes to put a stop to it," he said.

When school starts, two forms proving a student's residency now will be required for admission, said A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School Principal Deborah Walker.

"This year, before any student will be allowed to register at A.R. Johnson, a new contract must be signed and proof of residency for all students must be established," she said. "We have two notaries in the building who will be checking the official documents at registration."

Atkins gave his fellow board members a recent example of a case that he says proves across-the-border activity has been ongoing.

He said a friend of his who is a sheriff's sergeant had pulled a woman over to ticket her and asked where she was headed. The woman said she was driving to A.R. Johnson, but the officer noticed she had a Columbia County car tag.

Atkins said the officer asked the woman why she would be heading to A.R. Johnson. "She said, 'Well, we don't have magnet schools in Columbia County.' So, I know that it's still happening."

Atkins, whose son attends C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet School, also said he has noticed "numerous tags from other counties and from South Carolina" as people pick up or drop off students.

The discussion about out-of-county students came after the board was told Richmond County's enrollment could increase at the start of next school year, which he said could place a further strain on a system already financially stressed from years of state cutbacks.

A.R. Johnson Assistant Principal Lou Anne Grove said she isn't aware of any students from outside of the county attending her school.

Grove said people sometimes forget that children of Georgia educators can attend the school where a parent teaches. Grove said there also are cases of shared custody, where one parent lives in Richmond County. If a child lives with a Richmond County parent, the student can apply for A.R. Johnson.

Student Services Director Carol Rountree said in an e-mail that her office also is responsive to public reports of possible violators.

"If someone notifies us that there is a violation, it is referred to the school social worker assigned to that building who then makes a home visit to verify physically that the family resides at the school in question," she said, noting that the same procedure applies to magnet schools.

Rountree said that if it's determined someone was admitted with inaccurate information the parent is notified in writing that the student will be withdrawn and must attend classes at the appropriate school.

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