You just received notice from your child’s school that they believe your child is not a legitimate resident of your district. You request a hearing on the matter. You believe you have nothing to fear since the truth is on your side, and once you explain your circumstances, you are sure the whole thing will simply go away.

Unfortunately, you go through the hearing, and to your surprise, the district hands you a tuition bill and removes your child from registration.

Time and time again, my clients call me after they have already gone through the residency hearing where I could have helped them the most cost-effectively. They naively believe if they can explain their situation, the school district will see the truth. Unfortunately, such clients misunderstand the reality of the school hearing process.

Once a hearing is requested, the school district appoints a hearing officer. At times, the hearing officer may be one of the district’s staff and can hardly be expected to render an unbiased decision. At times, the school appoints an independent hearing officer.

What the parent fails to understand is that either way the hearing officer benefits most by finding a reason to uphold the school’s position. After all, the school pays the hearing officer and may retain them on future cases if things go well. By the time the matter comes to hearing, the school has virtually made up its mind. If the hearing officer wants to keep getting appointments, he or she would do well to find a peg to hang the school’s hat on.

When a parent appears without an attorney, this signals the school district that the parent is not willing to put serious money behind their fight. Odds are once the hearing officer rules, the parent will not appeal that decision. Hence, the hearing officer believes the school has nothing to lose even if the decision is wrong.

This is not to say that hearing officers are corrupt and dishonest. There are many fine individuals who take their jobs seriously. But the reality is they are more likely to keep getting that job if they see the school’s point of view.

Coming to the hearing with an attorney can signal that you are serious about contesting the school’s finding. An attorney can also help present the evidence most favorable to your case.

If you have questions about this or another school law topic, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email