Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
I am an assistant principal at a great middle school and we are a very welcoming bunch. Five months ago, a parent of another student attending our school came in with an eighth grade girl and asked that she be enrolled as well because the girl would be living with them now. I wanted to be friendly, and I certainly didn’t want to pry. So I told the secretary to enroll the girl. Since her enrollment, the girl has been a model student in every way.
Given all that, I was shocked to get an urgent telephone call this morning from a man asking if the student, by name, is attending our school. I didn’t improve the situation when I glibly responded with “Who wants to know?” The man became quite angry, and he yelled “Her father, that’s who!” I apologized and did my best to calm him down, and eventually we had a civilized conversation about the situation. It turns out that his daughter has run away from home and came to live with her friend in our district shortly before she enrolled in our school.
Well, I certainly didn’t want to get in the middle of this family drama, and I tried politely to disengage by expressing sympathy about how kids are today. But then he came to the point. He said that we violated his rights by enrolling his daughter in our school without his written permission. If we do not immediately disenroll his daughter and exclude her from our school, he threatened, he will be suing me and the school district for interfering with his parental rights.
I didn’t intend to cause trouble by enrolling his daughter, and I sure don’t want to be sued. Should I call the girl down to the office, tell her that the jig is up and send her packing?
I understand your desire not to be involved in a family drama, but, sadly, you already are. While we may be sympathetic to the father’s frustration with his daughter, she has rights too, and this situation cannot simply be resolved by sending the girl packing.
Students have the right to attend school in the district where they reside. What may be surprising is that such residence may even be apart from their parents without their permission. Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-253(d) provides in relevant part:
(d) Children residing with relatives or nonrelatives, when it is the intention of such relatives or nonrelatives and of the children or their parents or guardians that such residence is to be permanent, provided without pay and not for the sole purpose of obtaining school accommodations . . . shall be entitled to all free school privileges accorded to resident children of the school district in which they then reside.
In reading the statute, we see that this girl’s right to attend school in your district is not contingent on parent permission. Rather, the student is entitled to free school privileges as long as it is the intention of the host family (the “relatives or nonrelatives”) and the child OR the parents that the residence in your district is:
• provided without pay; and
• not for the sole purpose of education.
It may seem odd that this child could be entitled to education in your school district even when her father objects. However, it makes sense when we consider the strong public policy to assure that children are educated. If you play it out, there is no assurance that the girl would return to her father if you exclude her from school. If she and her family do not reconcile and she continues to reside in your district, she would be denied her important right to attend school. If you accede to the father’s demand and exclude her from school, she would not be able to attend school either in your district or in the district where her father lives (unless she changes her residence and returns to that town). Therefore, the appropriate course here is to permit her to continue to attend school as long as she actually resides in your school district.