Crossing the Line

By Naomi Dillon

It took Jim Frasure two months before he discovered “the witching hour.” Hunkered down on a quiet tree-lined street, on his first official stakeout, Frasure waited for some sign, some indication of what he’d been tipped off about. Nothing happened.

He arrived earlier the next morning and even earlier the morning after that until he finally settled on a time he says never fails to deliver. “If you go at 5 or 6, you’re going to miss,” the former security guard says. “But if you go at 4, you never miss. That 4 o’clock is a special time.”

“Special” is a subjective term. What Frasure catches at the break of dawn is never special in the sense that it is good, nor in the sense that it is rare. In Frasure’s district, and in others across the country, more and more families these days are willing to go to any lengths to get their children into the right schools, even if means crossing the line between right and wrong.

“I think I watched maybe 50 to 70 houses and it was amazing the kinds of things you see,” says Frasure, who was hired last year by the Gahanna-Jefferson School District in Ohio to investigate suspected out-of-district students. “I had one lady drop her son off at 4 a.m. and he went and hid on someone’s porch until the bus came. Children’s services were involved with that one.”

Boundary hopping -- the practice of falsifying residency status to attend a particular school -- has been around for years. In a handful of states, it has been alleviated by open enrollment, choice programs, and, to a lesser extent, charter schools. But in a number of top school districts, many of which are already at or over capacity, it continues to be a problem.

Early morning drop-offs, forged signatures, and fake documents are just some of the methods sly families use to enter districts where they do not legally reside. Their reasons for such duplicity are just as varied, but what is clear is that school districts, education agencies, and even municipal governments are cracking down. Safeguarding borders isn’t just a national security issue. It’s become an education one, too.
 
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