Schools crack down on illegal 'sneakers'

HOUSTON It happens every year, and it's a problem that has districts cracking down. Students and their parents are often drawn to districts that have outstanding reputations both in and out of the classroom.

Cy-Fair ISD, for example, is the largest recognized district in the state and one of the fastest-growing. That means space and resources are at a premium. An extra student who's not supposed to be there can wind up costing the district thousands of dollars each year.

Whether they're seeking a spot in the band, on the track team, or to play for a premiere football program - it's inevitable. Every school year students will sneak into schools where they don't belong. At Cy-Fair ISD officials bust about 200 kids a year. The penalty is automatic withdrawal. That number is significantly down. It's less than half of what it used to be eight years ago.

Cy-Fair ISD spokesperson Kelly Durham said, "We make it tough to beat the system."

In 2000, 585 "sneakers" were caught at a cost of $5,000 per student. Had the students finished out the school year, the price tag would have been closer to $4 million.

Today, new students are required to fill out residency verification forms, where parents have to show proof of address in the form of a utility bill, and it must be notarized.

"The other issue is they are also teaching children to falsify records," Durham said. "Falsify is a nice word for lie and cheat. That's not a good thing to teach students."

Cy-Fair also has truancy officers at the 78 schools throughout the district to verify residences. At Katy ISD, the coaches do the checking. An out-of-district player could imperil the entire athletic season.

Don Clayton, Katy ISD Athletic Coordinator, said, "Birth certificates, utility bills, a bona fide residence form which basically a parent has to sign as a legal document. If they falsify that, then they're going to get themselves in legal trouble."

"In Spring Branch, it's not a problem now," said Wayne Shaper, with the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees.

It's not a problem because two years ago the school district adopted a transfer policy to allow outside students to attend schools where there is available space.

Shaper explained, "It's helping the district in that it reduces our weighted average daily attendance, in that, the more students you have, the less we have to send back to state of Texas under Chapter 41."

He says they still have a few "sneakers" slip by, but it doesn't take long to find them. They do find them because ultimately it's the taxpayers who end up paying, literally.

Students can also be impacted, especially if they lose their spot on a team to someone who is at the school illegally. These out-of-districts students can be very clever -- renting apartments, but not living there or buying lots, but not building. Sneaking into a school district is falsification of records and considered a misdemeanor, though it's rarely prosecuted.

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