Just over a year ago, Hamlet Garcia climbed up the steps of a stately courthouse in Norristown, Pa., wondering how much longer he would be free.
The Philadelphia resident and his wife, Olesia, an insurance agent, were about to go on trial for theft of services, an offense usually reserved for cable-service pilferers and restaurant-bill dodgers. Their alleged crime: stealing an education for their 8-year-old daughter, Fiorella. He was staring at possibly seven years behind bars.
Garcia, who came to the United States from Cuba when he was 18, remembers thinking one thing as he headed into the courthouse: “This isn’t the kind of thing that happens in America.”
Their case is one of a handful in recent years in which families living in districts with failing schools have been accused of “stealing an education.” Some have been heavily fined for lying about where they live on official district documents. Others have been criminally charged and, in some cases, jailed.
Such draconian measures are helping to popularize a new term: “education theft.” There have been no definitive reports on the number of school districts cracking down on enrollment fraud, but civil-rights groups and education activists say anecdotal evidence suggests these practices may be on the rise.
“I’m hearing about it more and more every year,” said Gloria Romero, a former California state senator and founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment.
The examples are many. And while perhaps extreme, they are worrying civil-rights activists, parent-advocacy groups and some local politicians who say strict enforcement strategies unfairly affect poor families of color, who cannot easily pay their way out of trouble by refunding the value of their children’s allegedly stolen schooling.
Jonah Edelman, the CEO of Stand for Children, a national education-advocacy group, says that his group does not condone parents breaking the law.
Read More at The Seattle Times