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Suburban Kids Take Coveted Spots in City's Top Schools by Cheating System

By Ted Cox | January 4, 2016 11:39am
 Some students got into selective-enrollment schools by residency fraud, according to the CPS inspector general.
Some students got into selective-enrollment schools by residency fraud, according to the CPS inspector general.
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THE LOOP — Suburban kids snatched some of the most sought-after spots in Chicago's selective-enrollment schools by lying about where they actually live, according to a report by the Chicago Public Schools' watchdog.

City parents work for years — and sweat for years — trying to their kids into the selective-enrollment schools like Payton College Prep and Whitney Young.

But the new report accuses "numerous suburban families" of getting their kids into the elite selective-enrollment city schools through phony residency claims.

CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler issued the annual report, laying out almost a dozen separate cases of what he called "enrollment fraud at Chicago's public selective-enrollment high schools," some involving multiple suburban families car-pooling to shared schools.

The report also charged that the Board of Education allowed a Payton College Prep senior to graduate, after the residency fraud was discovered, because he had only "weeks" to go. The Cook County State's Attorney's office found "extraordinary circumstances" in another case and succeeded in quashing a move to kick out to have a Lane Tech junior living in Berwyn.

The schools are among the most difficult to get into in the city, and parents who've sweated getting their kids into the schools are sure to be irate over the details in the report.

• A Des Plaines student attended Payton for four years under what Schuler found to be a "phony lease" for a Chicago apartment. The family was hit with a $45,000 bill for non-resident tuition, which is still pending. Yet the Board of Education allowed him to graduate last spring, saying he had only "weeks" to go.

• A Whitney Young College Prep freshman was found to be a resident of Elmwood Park. After being questioned on residency, the student enrolled at Elmwood Park High School, and the family agreed to pay $8,500 in tuition. Yet according to the report, the family claims to have moved back into the city and "on that basis, re-enrolled their son at Whitney Young."

• A Lane Tech freshman was found to have moved to Burbank after gaining admission. His mother didn't change his school "because, she claimed, he liked being a student at Lane Tech." The student was kicked out, but the board nixed the inspector general's suggestion that he be charged $5,700, citing a state law for students moving.

• A Lane Tech freshman was found to be living in Mundelein. She was kicked out, and efforts to reclaim $13,000 in tuition are pending.

• A Jones College Prep sophomore was found to be a resident of South Holland. The family admitted the residency, then tried to rescind it, stating she was actually living with her grandmother. The report found that "implausible," and a $26,000 tuition claim is pending.

• A Lincolnwood family enrolled two children at Northside College Prep by a scheme in which the report alleged they created a "phony Chicago address" by buying a low-value property and registering a vehicle license there. "But surveillance and other evidence," according to the report, established the family actually lived in Lincolnwood. The family appealed a board move to kick the students out of Northside, but lost, and the students are now slated be kicked out at the end of the semester in February. Yet according to the report, the family is now trying to establish Chicago residency and "might attempt to continue their children's enrollment at Northside."

• A Lane Tech freshman was found to live in Calumet City. According to the report, the board is trying to kick out the student and make the family pay $13,000 in tuition, but the student is still at Lane Tech.

• A South Holland family had two students at Brooks College Prep. One was graduating just as the initial report was being delivered last spring, but the other, a sophomore, was kicked out, and the board is seeking $60,000 in tuition. Yet the investigation also uncovered a car-pooling arrangement with another South Holland family with a student at Brooks. The board is said to be trying to kick that third student out and require the family to pay $13,000 in tuition, but it hasn't been completed.

• Another car-pooling deal was turned up involving three Berwyn students, one a freshman at Payton and two juniors at Lane Tech. The family with students at Payton and Lane had its students kicked out and was charged $50,000 in tuition, but the other family had the Cook County State's Attorney's office argue against expelling the Lane student, citing what were termed "extraordinary circumstances," so the student was not expelling and CPS didn't try to make the family pay tuition. Sally Daly, spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, insisted the reference to her office was likely a "mistake," saying, "We wouldn't typically be involved in any kind of case like this."

• A Northside freshman was found to live in Elmwood Park. The board kicked the student out and is pursuing $13,000 in tuition.

• The report claimed a Payton junior was a Melrose Park resident and recommended $34,000 in tuition payments. Yet a residency hearing determined "the evidence presented was not sufficient," so the board dropped its plan to expel the student and charge the family tuition.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the district welcomes the annual report, adding, "Taxpayers and parents deserve accountability at every level — which is why the district began top-to-bottom audits under the leadership of new Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool, sharing relevant findings with the inspector general." Bittner said, "We are working and will work to address the findings of this report."

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