You and your spouse are divorced. You get along exceptionally well, so well that you share custody of your child. Since you live in the better school district, you enrolled your child where you live. Now, you have received notice from the school that they believe your child is not truly a resident and they wish to remove your child from enrollment.
What are your rights and what can you do?
In Illinois, a child has a right to a tuition-free education in the district where the child’s parent or guardian resides. A guardianship may not be awarded to a friend or non-parent relative solely to allow the child to attend school in a given district. In other words, you cannot give your sister legal custody of your child for the sole purpose of your child attending school in your sister’s district.
If you are divorced and have legal custody by court order, your child may attend school in your district. This does not always prevent some schools from developing suspicions about your child’s actual residence, however, and you may still have to prove that your child’s fixed nighttime abode is actually with you and not the other parent.
The situation can become more complicated if you have joint custody, or if you and the other parent were never married, but informally share custody of the child. The Illinois school statute does not seem to have contemplated such modern beneficial living arrangements. After all, if your child splits their time between parents, how do you prove which home is your child’s real nighttime abode? Fortunately, in situations with joint custody, you are generally allowed to make an election once a year as to which residence controls for school purposes. If you have no formal custody arrangement, the situation can become more problematic. You may still have to prove which parent’s residence should control.
If the school believes your child is not a resident, the school must first send you notice by certified mail. You then have ten days to request a formal hearing to provide the evidence necessary to show where your child actually lives. We advise that you have an attorney assist you with the hearing as school districts sometimes take advantage of unrepresented parents who believe the matter should be simple since they have nothing to hide. If the parent loses the hearing, the school may remove deregister your child and even charge the parent tuition.
If you have any questions about this or a similar school-related issue, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.