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Parent Required to Reimburse School District for Failure to Establish Student’s Eligibility for Enrollment

By on March 1, 2016 in Students with 0 Comments

A child is eligible to enroll in a school district and receive a free public education if the parent or guardian of the child is domiciled within the district or the child is kept in the home of an-other person domiciled within the school district as an affidavit student pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:38-1(b)(1).  Domicile is established when the student spends the majority of his time at a residence located within the school district and intends to make that residence his permanent home.  Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 6A:22-3.1(a)(1)(i), when the parents are separated and are domiciled in different school districts, the student’s domicile is the school district of the parent or guardian with whom the student lives for the majority of the school year.

On January 26, 2016, the New Jersey Appellate Division in I.J. o/b/o Q.J. v. Hamilton Township Board of Education, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 149 (App. Div. 2016) affirmed the Commissioner of Education’s decision to find that student I.Q. was not eligible for a free education in the Hamilton Township School District (“District”) during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years and required parent I.J. to reimburse the District for tuition during the time period of ineligibility.  In 2011, I.Q.’s parents, who lived in separate residences, registered him for elementary school in the District.  They indicated that I.Q. would be living with his father D.B. and D.B.’s cousin at a residence located in Hamilton Township owned by D.B.’s cousin.  I.Q.’s mother I.J. owned a home in Trenton in which she has lived for several years.

In April 2012, the District conducted an investigation regarding I.Q.’s residency which showed I.Q. leaving I.J.’s Trenton home in the morning, being dropped off at school, and returning to I.J.’s home after school ended.  The investigator concluded that I.Q. was not eligible for a free education in the District because he was domiciled in Trenton, not Hamilton.  When the matter was brought before the Hamilton Township Board of Education, I.Q.’s parents testified that I.Q. lived with D.B. in Hamilton during the school year, but due to D.B.’s unpredictable work schedule, I.Q. was required to stay with I.J.  The Board allowed Q.J. to continue attending school at the District’s schools but required I.Q.’s parents to inform the District when D.B. would be away from Hamilton Township for an extended period of time.

However, based on a second residency investigation, D.B. was not seen by any staff at I.Q.’s school beginning in September 2012.  Moreover, between April and May 2013, surveillance revealed that I.Q. continued to leave for school from I.J.’s residence in Trenton and returned there after school ended.  The District determined that I.Q. was ineligible to attend school within the District because he spent the majority of his time in Trenton and required I.J. to reimburse the District for tuition.  The Board held another residency hearing with I.Q.’s parent, and thereafter found I.Q. ineligible for attendance because he was not domiciled in Hamilton Township.

I.J. appealed the Board’s determination to the Commissioner of Education, who transmitted the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) for a hearing. Ms. Dev handled this matter before the OAL and Commissioner. At the OAL hearing conducted on January 2, 2014, I.J. did not dispute the surveillance conducted by the Board.  She also testified that D.B. had been incarcerated since September 2012 and has not lived at the Hamilton address since that time.  Importantly, I.Q. had a bedroom at I.J.’s Trenton residence and she financially took care of I.Q.’s needs, including clothing, lunches, school supplies, and medical insurance.  In contrast, I.Q. did not have a bedroom at the purported Hamilton address and D.B.’s cousin worked long hours during the week and weekend making it almost impossible for her to have cared for I.Q., an elementary school student.  The Administrative Law Judge upheld the Board’s determination of ineligibility and assessed tuition against I.J.

After the Commissioner agreed with the ALJ’s decision as to ineligibility, I.J. appealed the case to the New Jersey Appellate Division.  Ultimately, the Appellate Division affirmed the Commissioner’s decision finding that it was not arbitrary and capricious and that I.J. failed to sustain her burden of proving I.Q.’s eligibility for a free education.  Based on the facts of the case, there was no evidence demonstrating that I.Q. lived in Hamilton for the majority of the school years in question.

This case is a reminder for school districts that they are not without recourse when they suspect that a child is not properly domiciled within their district.  However, school districts should compile sufficient evidence, such as surveillance, which conclusively demonstrates that the student is living outside of the district’s jurisdictional boundaries on a continuous basis.

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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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