by Justin Fedich
Friday was the last day of the fall semester for all Fayette County public schools. For roughly 100 unverified students at Fayette County public schools, the winter break could last longer than a couple weeks.
The Board of Education voted 3-1-1 during a Monday meeting to withdraw unverified students after a semester-long effort to obtain required documentation from the students’ parents.
Board member Diane Basham said the Board of Education has an obligation to taxpayers of the county to ensure they’re spending money to educate the Fayette County public school students.
“We have done what we need to do, and I think we have the responsibility to say to those 100 students and the parents that we would love to educate you. Show up with the documents, and we’ll do what we need to do,” Basham said.
Leonard Presberg was the lone board member who opposed the withdrawal of unverified students, arguing that the county’s responsibility to educate the students should be of utmost importance, regardless of whether or not the parents have filled out the required documentation.
Presberg said the 100 students have already proven they are residents in the past, and their inability to do so once more shouldn’t leave them and their parents searching for a new school to attend.
“We’re talking about less than half a percent of our students in total spread out throughout the whole county. I wouldn’t take this opportunity to punish these students for this parent behavior,” Presberg said.
The cost of withdrawing the 100 students from the school system is said to be about $460,000, but would not affect the county until next school year. Presberg said through the costly and time-consuming process, he believes it has been proven that the issue is not the huge problem some in the community were concerned it was.
“We’re so worried that someone might sneak in here from some other county, whether it be on a bus or in a school or anything else, that I think we’re losing sight of what our school system is really supposed to do,” Presberg said.
Superintendent Joseph Barrow said he doesn’t want any of the students who were withdrawn to ultimately have to find another school to attend. While he supported the decision to withdraw the unverified students, Barrow hopes as many students as possible can re-enroll before next semester begins by turning in the necessary documentation to prove residency.
“There’s a concern about this in the community, and we’re sensitive to that,” Barrow said. “My hope is that all of these students can become verified in the right way, accurately, and can be able to maintain enrollment in our system.”
The school system released the number of unverified students by school feeder pattern as of December 8. Fayette County High School feeder (including Bennett’s Mill Middle, Cleveland Elementary, Fayetteville Elementary, and Spring Hill Elementary) had 37 unverified households and 45 unverified students. McIntosh feeder (including J.C. Booth Middle, Crabapple Lane Elementary, Huddleston Elementary, Kedron Elementary, and Peachtree City Elementary) had seven unverified households and seven unverified students. Sandy Creek feeder (including Flat Rock Middle, North Fayette Elementary, and Burch Elementary) had 22 unverified households and 24 unverified students. Starr’s Mill feeder (including Rising Starr Middle, Braelinn Elementary, Oak Grove Elementary, and Peeples Elementary) had seven unverified households and 10 unverified students. Whitewater feeder (including Whitewater Middle, Inman Elementary, and Sara Harp Minter Elementary) had 23 unverified households and 28 unverified students.
Audrey Toney, Director of Student Services for the school system, has played a large role in making sure students started working on verification at the beginning of the semester and has seen the process through to the end of the semester. She said if a similar process is done in the following school years, the county won’t run into the same stumbling blocks each year.
“I certainly think that it was well worth the effort, even though it’s probably been longer than we all anticipated,” Toney said.