Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on the redefinED blog on June 7, 2016. The blog is hosted by Step Up For Students and is an education blog dedicated to recasting the way we perceive public education.
Thank God the Miami-Dade School Board did not investigate my address.
In 2003, I went to a high school where fighting was widespread and I was lucky if I wasn’t accidentally hit when a brawl broke out in the hallway.
One day, while I was using the ladies room, another girl, who was double my size or at least it felt that way at the time, threatened to bash my head on the wall if I didn’t stop hanging out with a guy she liked. Growing up, my dad always told me, “Your face is too pretty to get into a fight.” So, I said to her: “Please don’t hit me. I’ll stay out of your way.”
She laughed. I went back to class, and tried to focus.
The next day, while walking on the hallway at the school, this same girl grabbed another student close to me. She pushed her against the wall and instigated a fight. The difference between myself and this new student: This girl fought back. The bully wasted no time. She grabbed her Snapple bottle, broke it on the wall, and used a piece of glass to slash the student’s face.
I left school early that day, and begged my mom to transfer me to a safer school. I wasn’t worried about the quality of my education. I just wanted to get away from that environment..
My mom and dad had only been in America for four years. Their financial situation was tough, and they didn’t know the system yet. But they knew I had to attend the school where I was assigned, based on where we lived.
So my parents did something thousands of other public-school parents feel forced to do, because they feel they have no other options. They lied about where we lived so I could go to a different school where I would feel safe.
Now, I’m reading in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the Broward County School Board wants to investigate parents who have used a different address to register their kids in better schools. If they’re caught lying about where they live, they may even be charged with a third-degree felony.
I understand that perjury is against the law, and that the law should be respected. But from my own experience, I know the parents who lie about their address are often the ones with limited resources, the ones who cannot afford to move to a more affluent neighborhood, the ones who can least afford to pay a fine or fight a felony charge.
I can also understand the families who have been kicked out of a school close to where they live, because the school is overcrowded with students from other neighborhoods. That, too, is unfair.
But that’s the problem. The system is unfair.
Isn’t it time for us change that system? Isn’t it time for the parents to have more control over where the kids go to school? Shouldn’t students who feel like they’re lost be able to find a place where they feel at home?
In the years since I’ve graduated, Florida has begun to offer choice that is not tied merely to where a family can afford to buy a home. The number of options available to families in the neighborhood where I grew up has increased. No district has created more magnet schools and choice programs than Miami-Dade County. It also has a growing array of charter schools. It’s home to some of the most vibrant private schools in Florida, and thanks to the growth of three scholarship programs, they are now within reach for thousands more families. In the coming years, parents will likely have even more choices in the public-school system, as open enrollment expands statewide.
No children should have to feel stuck in a school they don’t like. Parents shouldn’t have to commit a felony just to find a school where their child feels safe enough to learn.
To be sure, even with the proliferation of new choices, school districts have their hands full, trying to maintain order over assignment plans based on where students live.
But our schools should not leave desperate parents with few options other than to lie. Creating new and better options for disadvantaged families can help our public education system serve all students better.