Beating down the door

April 25, 2002, midnight | By Stephen Wertheim Jenny Alyono | 18 years, 9 months ago

Students go to extremes to enroll in crowded Blair

Admission to Blair High School is the hottest ticket in town—and even the hottest ticket in West Virginia. From riding Amtrak to posing as homeless, students are finding crafty ways to break residency regulations in order to attend Blair and, in the process, are exacerbating the school's overcrowding problem.

Illegally enrolled students living outside Blair boundaries comprise ten percent of the current Blair population, estimated social studies teacher Brian Hinkle, who worked at the MCPS Residency Compliance Office last summer.

The "latest trend" of students enrolling illegally, said Guidance Resource Counselor Barbara Drumm, seems to be false claims of homelessness. Students falsely claiming to live in shared housing or to be homeless in order to attend Blair, Drumm said, are "an absolute nightmare for us."

Blair administration removed at least 50 to 60 illegally enrolled students during the 2000-2001 school year, according to Hinkle; this year, about 20 to 25 students have been removed. Last summer, Blair's population further declined by 154 students after all current freshmen and sophomores underwent re-registration.

Principal Phillip Gainous hopes that re-registration of incoming freshmen this summer will help alleviate Blair's over-enrollment. "The word is out that we're going to catch you if you don't live in the county," he said.

According to Assistant Principal Carole Working, most out-of-county Blair students live in Prince George's County and Washington, D.C.

Blair also attracts students from even farther distances. Gainous recalled with a laugh that students have journeyed from as far away as West Virginia. According to Hinkle, about four years ago a student residing in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia rode the Amtrak train "like a businessman, every morning" to Blair.

Hinkle said that another Blazer who lived in Washington, D.C., was removed from Blair in his freshman year but apparentlywas undeterred, returning to Blair two years later. An investigation revealed the student's claim of buying a Blair-area house to be false, Hinkle said, and the student was again removed.

During the school year, Blair administration discovers illegally enrolled students in a number of ways. According to Hinkle, mail returned after being sent to non-existent or non-residential addresses and out-of-county phone numbers alert Blair administrators, as do students who regularly arrive late to school.

County investigators look into the residency claims of students who Blair administrators suspect live out-of-area. One example cited by Gainous was an investigator's call to a Blair parent who worked as a realtor and lived outside the Blair district.

During the call, the investigator feigned an interest in the Blair-area property the parent was selling. When the investigator asked about the quality of Blair, the parent responded, "‘Oh, wonderful school. In fact, I've got my kids going there!'" Gainous said.

Stan Truman, a pupil personnel worker with the county's Spring Mill Field Office, which investigates students' residency claims, believes that out-of-area students attend Blair because of Blair's reputation for excellence. "Blair High School is one of the finest institutions in the United States," he said. "As a result, people from all over want to come here."

Gainous said Blair's proximity to Prince George's County and Washington, D.C., also attracts illegal students.

Out-of-county students, Hinkle noted, can attend MCPS schools legally by paying $9,195 in tuition per year. Illegal students evade the tuition, thus "sapping" the tax dollars of Montgomery County residents, according to Hinkle.

Most recently, a legal case between MCPS and a male Blair student, who claimed homelessness to attend Blair but who MCPS believes to live in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for May. The case could establish criteria regarding who qualifies as homeless.

An MCPS official in the Residency Compliance Office said that MCPS "does not have a real [homeless] policy yet" but that the school in which a homeless person enrolls is "left up to [school] administrators."

Although Gainous said he could not comment on the specifics of a case still in litigation, he called the lawsuit "a big case" because his impression of county policy is that homeless people can attend the school in whose district they resided before becoming homeless.

According to Drumm, students have begun exploiting the homeless enrollment policy in order to attend Blair. "They've learned to milk that," she said, citing three to five current Blair students whose claims of homelessness are "rather questionable."

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Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

Jenny Alyono. Jennifer Alyono, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School, was born on October 8, 1984 in St. Paul, Minnesota. She attended Potomac and Cold Spring Elementary schools, and the magnet program at Takoma Park Middle School. This year she serves as Ombudsman, Managing Page Editor … More »

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