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Fathers sue over enrollment policy

By Trina Trice

Three Clayton County fathers filed a lawsuit against the county school system Tuesday alleging their sons have been denied enrollment.

The fathers are clients of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. which filed the complaint on their behalf following a press conference on the steps of the Harold Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro.

The Atlanta Legal Aid Society received a number of phone calls from fathers through the Clayton County Pro Bono Project, according to Talley Wells of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

The organization helps individuals who can't afford legal representation.

The fathers' dilemma is similar to that of Maurice William's who has tried to enroll his 10-year-old son Jawanza Ghafoor Williams into Arnold Elementary School.

"The school forced the father to file court papers to show he was the child's father," Wells said. "The father could not afford an attorney and had to rely on the courthouse library to learn how to file the correct papers. The child could not attend school until the papers were filed, missing enough days to prevent his promotion to fourth grade."

Williams said he worked out an agreement with Jawanza's birth mother that would allow their son to reside with him.

"The family is filing a lawsuit against Clayton County to require it to enroll the child without requiring a formal custody order to be obtained since the father has written proof of the mother's consent," Wells said. "The child is entitled to a free public education under the Georgia Constitution. Georgia law allows the child to go to school at the local school where he resides. Since Jawanza lives with his father in Clayton County, he should be allowed to enroll in Clayton County."

By requiring the father to file a formal custody order, issues concerning child support emerge, said Attorney Willie George Davis Jr., who is working with Wells on the lawsuit.

"It's up to the judge to decide (whether or not child support should be paid)," he said. "It doesn't become an issue until the mother realizes she has to pay child support. If she's told she has to pay $500 a month, she'll then say, ?Let me have my child back'."

Kelvin Cistrunk has been trying to enroll his two sons, Kelvin McDonald and Miami Taylor at Lovejoy High School said.

Cistrunk said that having to file for formal custody, "makes it sound like we're going after the mothers for child support."

The two boys decided to move in with their father so they'd have better opportunity at playing sports. Their mother lives in Oregon.

"They were sent to me," Cistrunk said. "They should be with their dad. They're older. (Their mother) did a good job, but it's my turn.

"My problem I have is that we just passed a law called No Child Left Behind and here we have two they're leaving behind. I hope (the judge) looks at the constitutional right of an individual to have an education. If there is still a problem with enrolling them, let me deal with it while these kids

go to school."

Sammie Daniel is also trying to get his son Dominic Blankchip into Brown Elementary School.

"This child needs to be in school," he said. "I can't afford to have him at home with me. I need to go to work. It's another expense they're creating for me."

School administrators could not be reached by press time.

"I want to get into school," Taylor said. "We need to get into school because otherwise we are going to be behind on credits. I want to play sports. I know I've got to be in school for my future."