By Johnny Jackson
Henry County school officials say they are prepared for a possible influx of non-Henry residents into the county's school system this school year.
There has been increased concern lately that some students from the neighboring Clayton County School System - which is in danger of losing its accreditation - might illegally enroll in already crowded schools in Henry.
The school system's student services department has received several phone calls requesting information about its residency requirements, said Connie Rutherford, spokeswoman for the school system. "We're aware and alert to it, however. It is not something we have just started being aware of - from any county," Rutherford said.
According to Henry County Board of Education Policy, students must be full-time Henry residents in order to enroll in the school system, and the board has residency policies and procedures to determine and investigate whether the custodial parents of students who enroll in the school system are Henry residents.
"We monitor student enrollment throughout the school year and pay careful attention to any enrollment changes that may occur at schools during the summer months," Rutherford said.
She said the school system investigates reports of allegations of non-resident students, including those from anonymous tips. Henry employs eight officers whose job is to investigate suspicious "proofs of residence" or suspected falsified documents of residency to cross school district lines.
"Proof of residence is required when a student enrolls in our system and whenever a change of residence occurs," Rutherford said. However, a parent or legal guardian, who owns property in Henry County, but does not reside at their stated address, is not considered a resident for enrollment purposes.
Upon enrollment, parents must be able to provide the following: two current residential utility bills (gas, electric, sanitation, water, or cable) that contain the name and address of the parent or guardian; or a valid residential written lease/rental agreement or a current residential property tax statement or deed to a home in Henry County and a utility bill; or a third-person affidavit, declaring their residency within the county.
If a "proof of residence" investigator determines a student does not live within the school district, the student's school will be notified to immediately withdraw him or her.
Those students who enroll using false information are illegally enrolled, Rutherford said, adding that the student's parent may be charged tuition for the time the student was enrolled illegally.
So far, hundreds of students have withdrawn from the school system as a result of the investigations.
In January, the school system reported that roughly 500 such cases were investigated within the previous seven months, turning up 200 verified Henry residents and about 300 cases in which students were withdrawn.
Henry has dealt with an increasing number of "proof of residence" cases over the years - a few have resulted in indictments through Henry County's District Attorney's Office.
The school system is currently preparing 16 "proof of residence" cases to submit to the District Attorney's Office; those cases involve residents of various counties in the area.
"We will continue to focus on ensuring success for Henry County students," added Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma. "We will also continue to check residency requirements on students, so we are able to most appropriately serve the students who are full-time residents of Henry County."