More than 90 students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts have been cleared of enrollment fraud, Ellington CEO Tia Powell Harris said in an interview with The Washington Post.
An investigation launched in May by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education accused 164 Ellington students of attending a Washington, D.C. public high school while maintaining residency outside the District. Fifty-six of the accused Ellington students remain under investigation, according to a May OSSE report.
The alleged cases of enrollment fraud come after an April 17 report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General that found D.C. Public Schools had lost over $500,000 in tuition collection by failing to accurately verify the residency of enrolled students from 2014 to 2016.
Many of the accused Ellington families have provided additional information to prove their innocence, prompting a need to review the District’s residency verification process, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said.
“There was always an expectation that some people will have come forward to supply information to prove residency,” Bowser said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If there is a big number, we would want to know why it did not come forward earlier in the process.”
OSSE has been supporting Ellington families throughout the residency verification process, according to OSSE Community Relations Specialist Fred Lewis.
“OSSE has been working with families to provide them as many due-process pathways as possible related to residency verification, including offering multiple ways of connecting with us, robust outreach, and technical assistance,” Lewis wrote in an email to The Hoya.“We are confident that we are providing families as much support and information as possible.”
Ellington, while a part of the DCPS system, costs around $12,800 for non-residents, according to the Ellington website. If a student fails to pay the correct tuition fees, the student is required to pay the tuition plus additional fees.
Since the release of the April report, D.C. Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon has thrown out Ellington’s case alleging enrollment fraud twice, according to WTOP. Zeldon said the District was following incorrect procedure and first had to investigate and verify the false addresses of accused students before having them pay the tuition through the legal system.
OSSE listed new guidelines for reviewing residency verification in the 2018-2019 enrollment season, launching an online forum for verification using tax returns in partnership with the Office of Tax and Revenue. The D.C. agency also announced it would hire new staff and update the technological system responsible for tracking and responding to reports of enrollment fraud.
The District is working to make its residency verification process as straightforward as possible, Lewis said.
“OSSE’s goal is to ensure that every child who is a resident of the District has access to the highest quality public education possible, and that our process of verifying residency is clear and fair for families,” Lewis wrote.