By Johnny Jackson
The Henry County District Attorney's Office recently won a case involving a parent who was found guilty of making a false statement to the Henry County School System.
The case, which was decided on Feb. 4, dates back to December 2007. It involved Tanja Hale, a resident of Ellenwood (Clayton County), who enrolled her 15-year-old son in Luella High School by affidavit.
School officials said Hale stated on her affidavit that her son resided with an uncle, James Lewis, of McDonough (Henry County).
In March 2008, school officials investigated the validity of the sworn affidavit, which is used to illustrate proof of residence by parents and guardians who cannot provide other necessary proof.
Through further investigation, officials became convinced that the affidavit contained falsehoods. Trea Pipkin, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, used testimony given during the trial by the Georgia Power Co., custodian of records, who told the court that a large amount of electricity was being used at the Clayton County address, where the defendant testified they no longer lived.
Pipkin, also subpoenaed the custodian of records at Forest Park High School, who revealed that the day after Hale withdrew her son from the Henry County School System (Luella High), she enrolled him in the Clayton County School System (Forest Park High), using the Clayton County address (44199 Old Slate Road, Ellenwood) where she testified that she no longer lived.
The defendants -- Tanja Hale and her son's uncle, James Lewis -- were convicted on Feb. 4 of "making a false writing," a felony, for falsely swearing on an affidavit.
Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero sentenced them to pay the Henry County tuition of $1,191.14, for the four months the student was illegally enrolled in the school system; an additional $1,100 in restitution; 100 hours of community service, and five years probation.
Henry typically investigates several false-affidavit cases a year, but only a few of them result in convictions, as illegally enrolled students often withdraw from school before investigations go to the district attorney's office.
Twelve such cases have been submitted for criminal prosecution or tuition reimbursement this year. There are 31 other cases in which school officials are gathering evidence to prosecute.
Connie Rutherford, a spokesperson for Henry County Schools, acknowledged that many cases come about through community involvement - when residents notice and report students being dropped off at school bus stops, or parents who park at their schools with out-of-county license plates.
"It is our obligation to confirm that any student educated in Henry County is a full-time resident of Henry County," she said. "[...] we will continue to conduct investigations and prosecute as appropriate."
So far, this year, the school system has accepted 4,240 affidavits, which is fewer than the 4,489 accepted during the 2007-08 school year.
"We are overcrowded," Rutherford said. "Student enrollment is 39,665 students with approximately 7,400 of those students being served in portable classrooms. It is vital that we are good stewards of funding and classroom space provided for residents of Henry County."