Stop Mississippi public schools from requiring court involvement
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I am requesting your assistance in prohibiting Mississippi school districts from barring admission to students who have non-traditional family situations. They are currently in the practice of telling some applicants that it is a “state law” that they must establish custody through the judicial system in order to enroll a student in school, when there is NO such state law, nor should there be.
I use examples from our family, but I would imagine there are countless others who were told the very same thing and had to either bear the expense of court proceedings or find alternate educational arrangements. This is in violation of their right to a free public education, and unfortunately many parents or guardians may lack the education or financial means to investigate further.
My ex-husband, in attempting to enroll our twin boys in middle school this year, was told that he could not enroll them unless the judicial system designated custody. There are other, easier ways to ensure the kids are there with both parents’ permission. I will explain shortly why this should not be a matter for the school district, but first let me explain what the “state law” they refer to ACTUALLY says.
The “law” is not a law, but a policy set forth by the Mississippi State Board of Education in their State Board Policy Manual. It never deals explicitly with custody (as it is my belief that a school has no business to determine what is an acceptable custody arrangement); rather, it discusses residency.
According to Chapter 68 of the manual, Rule 68.1, Item 2.a.1:
“The parent or legal guardian of a student seeking to enroll must provide the school district with at least two of the items numbered (1) through (9) below as verification of their address…”
My ex-husband is the legal and biological parent of the children.
Item 2.c of that same rule:
“The district resident must provide the school with an affidavit stating his or her relationship to the student, and that the student will be living at his/her abode full time and provide documentation fully explaining the reason(s) (other than school attendance zone or district preference) for this arrangement…”
This clearly illustrates that a sworn statement, not judicial proceedings, will suffice in establishing the relationship between student and the parent or guardian, the district resident. An affidavit is a far quicker and more financially attainable document, which is often a concern in a time-sensitive environment such as education.
Lastly, subparagraph iii of that item:
“Whenever appropriate, the person who has assumed responsibility for the care and custody of the child shall be encouraged to obtain legal guardianship of the child.” (emphasis mine)
It is ENCOURAGED. Not required.
As the Mississippi State Board of Education seems to understand, it is not the domain of a school to determine custody of the child. Whatever the intent of citing the mysterious “state law,” it could be perceived as discriminatory to those in non-traditional families and without the financial means to undertake judicial proceedings. For example, modifying custody in one Mississippi county comes with a $148 filing fee. The court does not provide the documents necessary to file such a case, and lacking any legal knowledge themselves, many would need to procure legal representation, an additional expense. On a matter families have worked out amicably amongst themselves, and that could be settled with a sworn statement from that acknowledges who has physical custody. Simply for the luxury of a FREE public education.
As you can see, this fallacious proclamation - “state law” - given carelessly by representatives of the school district, has very real consequences to our children. I am perhaps an optimist, but I would like to believe that the goal of education – particularly public education – is to ensure EVERY child receives an education, not just those with simple family situations.
If you are in support of a better Mississippi, one in which we no longer place last in the country in education, please help me in ensuring the school districts are prohibited from turning away these children.
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