By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
Just days after the public outcry of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, faculty, staff and parents of students confronted the SBOE about residency fraud claim, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has provided a detailed timeline of events that impacted their decision to investigate the school, according to officials.
“OSSE’s goal is to ensure that every child who is a resident of the District has access to the highest quality public education possible, and that our process of verifying residency is clear and fair for families,” according to a statement sent to the AFRO. “OSSE has been working with families to provide them as many due-process pathways as possible related to residency verification, including offering multiple ways of connecting with us, robust outreach and technical assistance.”
During a meeting with D.C.’s State Board of Education (SBOE) on December 19, parents expressed their disappointment in the notification and subsequent execution of possible residency issues at Duke Ellington.
In May, the OSSE released a residency report on Duke Ellington School of the Arts stating in part that, “OSSE’s investigation revealed significant and systemic issues of non-compliance with the requirements of residency verification at Ellington. Based on this investigation, OSSE has deemed a total of 164 of the 570 investigated students to be non-residents, without tuition agreements in place. A total of 56 students remain under investigation, as the information obtained about their actual place of residence is thus far inconclusive. An additional 46 students were found to be non-residents with existing tuition agreements with the District. A total of 304 students were confirmed as D.C. residents.”
Parents of some of the students pushed back suing OSSE in D.C. Superior Court. Letters sent to the those students were withdrawn. Still not satisfied with OSSE’s response, parents and educators took their grievances to the SBOE.
Lisa Burkett a D.C. resident and federal worker read her statement at that meeting saying:
“I was accused of residency fraud by OSSE. This accusation could have destroyed my 30-year federal career,” Burkett said in her statement. “I have been extremely disappointed in OSSE’s performance since enrolling my son at Ellington. We started as a non-resident family and had to practically beat down the door to DEMAND to pay tuition. Then, when my son and I moved into the District, I followed every rule related to the application and documentation, but I was still accused of fraud, even though OSSE had no solid evidence of such fraud. The burden of proof was put on the families, so we were deemed guilty until proven innocent,” she said.
“In the end, the actual harm to me was minimal because I was deemed innocent. Beyond my righteous indignation, it was more of a hassle, waste of time, and annoyance than anything else. But I am absolutely outraged at the impact on other families and on the school as a whole. Without the great support by the Ellington Family, many innocent families would have been deemed guilty without due process.”
The AFRO reached out to OSSE with the following questions for clarification on the matter.
- Besides the report was there any other public correspondence or statement released to school, parents or the public?
- I was at the SBOE meeting yesterday, was there a representative from OSSE in attendance? And if not why?
- Will there be an official statement closing this investigation?
- How many students were actually found not to be D.C. residents who were not paying tuition?
- Is OSSE still confident with its investigation, findings, and communication up to this point?
OSSE provided a detailed statement and “background” in regards to the AFRO’s questions.
COMMUNICATING WITH THE COMMUNITY LOCAL EDUCATION AGENCIES (LEA’s)
OSSE issued an open letter to the community in early March 2018 explaining OSSE’s role in residency and enrollment and what we can and will do to ensure that residency verification process is handled with the utmost integrity.
Beginning in July 2017, OSSE began communicating with local education agency staff about changes to the enrollment audit process that had gone into effect in the spring of 2017: https://osse.dc.gov/node/1259546
Following an initial report on Ellington released in May, OSSE released a letter to the community in July outlining the opportunity for administrative review and sharing more information about the details of their cases as well as options to provide further documentation. OSSE emailed the letters to families and followed up with phone calls to ensure that families are aware (attached);
OSSE also followed up with a seven-page FAQ for families that explains why they received a letter, options for non-residents seeking to pay tuition, explanation of continued student enrollment during administrative review, clarity on documents required to prove residency and an explanation of the administrative review process, among others (attached);
OSSE also included an administrative review checklist that further explains the administrative review process.
WHERE THE INVESTIGATION IS NOW
OSSE has closed out all investigations into DESA for SY17-18. All students and families who were involved in OSSE’s SY17-18 residency investigation have received notice of any non-residency finding and individual cases are proceeding through the administrative process pursuant to District laws and regulations.
RELEASING OF FURTHER INFORMATION
OSSE is still in the process of resolving individual non-residency matters. Until all matters have been resolved through the administrative process, a final tally is not available. Please refer to the OSSE website for additional information provided to families regarding enrollment and residency: https://osse.dc.gov/service/supporting-families-supporting-schools-enrollment-season-2018-19
OSSE’s CONFIDENCE IN THEIR FINDINGS
OSSE is confident that because of the facts presented during the SY17-18 enrollment audit of DESA, the subsequent investigatory inquiry was warranted based on the totality of the circumstances and information available to OSSE at that time.
It was not clear when the final tally will be released. The AFRO are following this story. To access interim reports from the SBOE please click here. https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/Interim%20Update%20on%20Duke%20Ellington%20Investigation%20November%202018%20vFinal.pdf