DeKalb resident files suit to stop school district from enrolling out-of-towners

DeKALB – An anonymous Dekalb taxpayer has filed a federal lawsuit inhopes of stopping DeKalb School District 428 from enrolling students who don’t live in the school district, court records show.

The suit, filed by lawyer Michael Coghlan in the Northern Illinois District Court in Rockford on behalf of a DeKalb resident identified only as "John Doe" says about 1,000 students enrolled in the district don’t live there, and that it costs taxpayers about $7.5 million per year.

The suit names the school district and the school board’s members, Victoria Newport, Jeff Hallgren, Valerie Pena-Hernandez, Kerry Mellot, Rick Smith, Howard Solomon and Fred Davis.

The lawsuit says “insiders,” who Coghlan said are district employees, estimate between 500 and 1,500 students are fraudulently enrolled.

The suit claims a D-428 administrator “coached” people from outside the district on how to get around school residency laws and rules after the Aug. 22 meeting.

It also says in the days following that meeting, children were seen sitting on porches of vacant homes waiting to be picked up by people driving vehicles with out-of-town stickers in their windows. The suit says some of the children have been seen walking the streets at late as 7 p.m. before their ride arrived.

Coghlan said such practices are common in Illinois school districts.

“Criminal offenses such as these are actually very common,” Coghlan said.

The lawsuit isn’t seeking money – just for the district to stop allowing out-of-district students to enroll.

“My client isn’t doing this for financial gain,” Coghlan said. “My client wants the school district to stop facilitating the known admission of out-of-district students, and to stop facilitating enrollment violations.”

Figures from the Illinois Report Card website show enrollment in DeKalb School District 428 has grown from 6,245 to 6,450 between 2013 and 2016. Current year enrollment is at 6,491, plus another 125 outplaced students. The biggest changes from 2016 include a 61-student jump at DeKalb High School, and a 32-student drop at Huntley Middle School.

The school board heard a presentation from Channahon-based National Investigations Inc. on a potential investigation into which students are improperly enrolled at the Aug. 22 meeting. Company representative William Beitler said the investigation would be unbiased, and that in the past, the firm has torn up contracts with districts that have asked the firm to target specific groups of students.

The board tabled the issue during that meeting, and Superintendent Jamie Craven suggested bringing it back after the district’s demographer presented findings, which will take place sometime this month, or in November.

Craven said Monday that neither he nor board members would comment on a pending lawsuit.

The case is scheduled for a 9 a.m. hearing Dec. 5 in Rockford.