Attorney: Preliminary numbers show lawsuit's residency claims way off in District 428

Unofficial results show number of nonresident students far below lawsuit’s claim

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DeKALB – A lawsuit filed last year by an anonymous DeKalb taxpayer claims that about 1,000 students enrolled in DeKalb School District 428 don't live within the district.

However, in a student sample size of about 1,300, about 60 students’ residency still is in question, according to unofficial data gathered by a third-party firm’s investigation. If this figure is accurate across the remainder of the student population, the data suggest that about 300 students may be nonresidents.

Tom Lester, a partner with Rockford-based Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP, which represents the district board in the federal suit, provided an update on a residency investigation conducted for the district at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“The complaint sought various forms of relief and contained factual and legal inaccuracies,” Lester said.

But rather than go through a lengthy legal process, the board agreed to hire a private investigation firm to perform a residency check.

The investigation, performed by Channahon-based National Investigations Inc., was broken down into three phases to determine the residency of a sample size representing 20 percent of the 6,500-student district population. The sample was composed of one grade level at the elementary, junior high and high school levels.

To this day, District 428 has paid $17,860 to National Investigations for its work, which Lester said is significantly less expensive and far more expedient than it would have been to pursue the litigation in federal court.

For the first phase, National Investigation ran the names of all parents and legal guardians in the sample group through a proprietary database regularly used by the firm. Results indicated that 14.3 percent of the pool required additional investigation to draw a conclusion on residency.

The second phase involved running names through publicly available databases, such as property, motor vehicle and postal service records. After this, about 10.8 percent of the sample still required further investigation.

The third phase required an investigation beyond database searches. Lester said there were certain limitations to this phase, such as investigators not approaching people within district boundaries and no knocking on doors.

At the end of this process, National Investigations determined that 5.7 percent of the sample size may not live within district boundaries. About 50 percent of those students came from the elementary level, 29.5 percent came from the middle school level and 20.5 percent were at the high school level.

With this data and without taking action against individual students or parents, Lester said the district administration began a formal review process to confirm the information that was received. A portion of this review involved letters mailed to parents or legal guardians whose residency still was in question to meet with district staff to clear up any misunderstandings.

According to the letters, district administrators will be available to meet with remaining parents and guardians in question through June 29 at the District 428 Education Center, 901 S. Fourth St., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to address inconsistencies concerning residency.

“The remaining students as of today for which questions still arise or may exist amounts to 4.8 percent of the sample size,” Lester said. “That investigation process will continue.”

Lester said at the end of this review process, further attempts to verify residency will be conducted, which potentially could mean home visits.

Nancie Richardson, a resident of DeKalb of 40 years, said she was one of the parents who received the letter and felt families were being targeted without thorough research.

In January, the district filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The plaintiff will have until July 31 to file an amended complaint.