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Appellate Division Finds Parent Liable for Tuition Payment to School District for Lack of Domicile

By on January 5, 2018 in Students with 0 Comments

On December 27, 2017, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the Commissioner of Education’s determination in T.L. o/b/o A.B. v. Union Township Board of Education that a parent and her child were not domiciled within the Union Township School District for two school years and therefore her child was not entitled to a free public education in that district. As a result, the parent was ordered to reimburse the Union Township Board of Education (“Board”) for the cost of the child’s education for that time period.

The case involved parent T.L. and her child A.B. For the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, T.L. enrolled A.B. in the Union Township School District using A.B.’s grandmother’s house in Union Township as their residence. Meanwhile, T.L. owned a home in Hillside, which is in a different school district. T.L. claimed that she used the Hillside home for investment purposes. However, she never actually rented it. In October 2014, during a school lesson, A.B. told her teacher that she is not supposed to talk about her house and she is supposed to say that her grandmother’s house in Union Township is her house.

The teacher reported the potential residency issue. Consequently, the Board initiated an investigation. Surveillance revealed T.L. leaving the Hillside home in the morning with A.B. and driving her to school in Union Township. In contrast, T.L. was not seen leaving the Union Township address.

The Board then notified T.L. that A.B. was not properly domiciled within Union Township and was ineligible to attend school there free of charge. As a result, T.L. sought a hearing before the Board, at which time she showed her driver’s license, car registration, credit union statement, Macy’s store credit card, medical bills, voter registration, and postage from her pharmacy all bearing the Union Township address. The Board committee hearing the matter directed investigators to inspect both of the homes to gather additional information as to A.B.’s domicile. Those inspections were inconclusive. The Board ultimately found that T.L. did not establish her and A.B.’s actual residence in Union Township.

T.L. then appealed the Board’s decision. When the matter was heard before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), T.L. claimed that the Board’s surveillance was flawed insofar that she was hosting guests at the Hillside residence on the dates of observation and further that the investigator did not observe her vehicle leaving the Hillside home. However, T.L. did not provide any credible evidence to support these assertions. Further, a neighbor of the Union Township home testified that she never saw A.B. and T.L. live at that house. The ALJ also rejected T.L.’s argument that she had various documents bearing the Union Township address because she never actually established that she assisted with paying utilities there. In short, the ALJ upheld the Board’s determination, which was further affirmed by the Commissioner.

T.L. then appealed the Commissioner’s decision to the Appellate Division, which did not disturb the lower decisions because they were not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. Specifically, the Appellate Division found the surveillance by the Board to be compelling of the fact that T.L. and A.B. did not reside at the Union Township address on a continuous and permanent basis – contrary to the requirements of domicile. Further, the Appellate Division relied on A.B.’s own statements to her teacher that the Union Township house was not her home. Due to the lack of domicile, the parent was required to pay tuition to the Board for the two school years that the child was ineligible to attend school within Union Township free of charge.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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