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New Johnston Student Residency Ordinance Could Impose “Unwarranted”  Penalties

Posted: October 19, 2015|Category: Due Process Category: Students' Rights

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The American Civil Liberties of Rhode Island has raised serious concerns with a Johnston town ordinance passed last week that could impose “unwarranted, and potentially unlawful, hardship and penalties on individuals who have not engaged in fraudulent activity.”

The ordinance, aimed at preventing non-residents from attending Johnston Public Schools, requires every family to submit an affidavit affirming residence their residency in the town. If they do not, the school may refuse to enroll or re-enroll a student.

This requirement means lawful Johnston residents who rent residences must rely on landlords to sign the affidavit. Landlords, however, have not legal obligation to do so, and may not be able to testify which or how many children live at the residence.  This creates a very real possibility that Johnston residents will face the same penalties as non-residents who fraudulently enroll their children, simply because they could not produce adequate documentation.

The ordinance also treats families who wrongly enroll their children in the town’s schools the same way it treats those fraudulently enroll their children, leaving them to pay the cost of their child's education until they either move to Johnston or the child leaves the school.

In a letter to Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and the Johnston Town Council submitted ahead of the ordinance’s approval, ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown also outlines other due process concerns the ordinance raises.

“In short, we believe that, despite your worthy intentions in proposing this ordinance, more work needs to be done to it to ensure that it complies with state law and targets only the people it is intended to target,” Brown said in the letter.

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