Bobby and Kimberly Vickers, who reside on the Wilson County side of Goose Creek Road near Alexandria, have been granted permission by the Board of Education to keep their children enrolled in the DeKalb County School System through the end of the 2010-11 school year, but no longer.
The school board voted Thursday night to waive the non-resident policy in the case of the Vickers family so their 13 year old daughter Kiersten can complete her eighth grade year at DeKalb West School. Her brother, eight year old Kolten, will also be allowed to complete his third grade year at DeKalb West.
Next year, the Vickers will have to enroll their children in the Wilson County School system, if they continue to reside at their current address.
In making his appeal to the board, Mr. Vickers said he hated to see the children have to change schools now, especially his daughter. " I'd just like for my kids to attend DeKalb County schools at least for this year if they could. My daughter is in the eighth grade and it would be kinda hard on her to go from eighth grade here to another school and then next year start high school."
Vickers, when asked about his residential status, explained that he owns property on the DeKalb/Wilson County line but that his home is on the Wilson County side. " I own land in DeKalb and I own land in Wilson County. I own over four acres in DeKalb and about two acres in Wilson. My home is in Wilson County but I pay taxes in both counties. But my children have been going to school here. We are registered to vote in DeKalb County at the Sandlin Center in Alexandria. That was our address that we were given when we bought the place about five years ago."
First district board member John David Foutch asked Vickers whether the previous owner or resident of this property had sent his children to Wilson County Schools. Vickers said he was not sure. Foutch said he believed he had.
Foutch then asked Vickers "Now you're only requesting that your children stay in the school this year, is that correct"?
Vickers replied, "That would help us a whole lot. Next year we might own a home in DeKalb County. Who knows what might hold next year.'
Foutch further asked "If your residence doesn't change between now and next year, what are your plans? Do you want your children to remain in DeKalb County schools then?"
Vickers responded, "If they can, but if not then that will be okay."
Foutch continued, "But this is the specific year that you're wanting your children to stay because this is your daughter's eighth grade year at the West School?"
Vickers replied, "Yes."
Board Chairman Charles Robinson explained that prior to passage of this non-resident policy in 1995, the DeKalb County School System had open enrollment. He said the reason the policy was adopted was primarily to curb student overcrowding at DeKalb West School. "It's my understanding that the board at that time passed this policy because prior to that it was an open enrollment county where anyone could come into DeKalb County and attend school. But due to a large number of students attending DeKalb West School, the board had to prematurely build on to the school to accommodate the overcrowding that was from a majority of students that lived outside the county."
Fifth district member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III added, "that's when we entered into a number of reciprocal agreements with the different counties that they don't admit students from DeKalb County and we don't admit students from those counties."
Evins, while commenting that he was sympathetic to the Vickers' situation, said that he was also concerned about making exceptions to board policies, especially this one and the precedent it might set. "In my opinion, we have to consider what's happened in the past. I don't know that we ever have deviated from the policy, but if we do (I'm concerned about) the repercussions that may have from what has happened in the past or what may happen in the future."
First district member Foutch reminded the board about another family who owns property on both sides of the Smith and DeKalb County line and who wanted to send their children to the Smith County School System at the beginning of this school year, but had to enroll them in DeKalb County because their home is here.
Fourth district member Billy Miller asked if the school system has a procedure for verifying residency status, other than using a physical address.
In response, Director Wiloughby said "To say we check (verify) 100% of the time, no sir we don't. Should we? Yes sir, we probably should ask for identification, such as light bill, phone bill, maybe two or three ways of identifying the residents and then go by the 911 address. Brand new students are scrutinized more than those already in the system. Why this situation got to this point, I can't explain it."
The board policy regarding "Attendance of Non-Resident Students" states as follows:
"Effective August 12th, 1995, no child shall be permitted to attend DeKalb County Schools unless that child's parents physically reside in DeKalb County or the child is in the official custody of a person who is a physical resident of DeKalb County."
"A child enrolled in DeKalb County Schools on August 11th, 1995, may continue to attend DeKalb County Schools until the child graduates or transfers to another school system. Siblings of currently enrolled students will be permitted to enroll once they are of school age effective with the 1998-99 school year."
"Should any child presently enrolled in the DeKalb County Schools transfer to another school system, then the child's parents or person having official custody of the child must be physical residents of DeKalb County before the child can be re-admitted to DeKalb County Schools."
Mrs. Vickers told WJLE on Monday night that when her daughter, Kiersten was enrolled in Kindergarten at DeKalb West School in 2002, the family lived on Highway 53 at Liberty. The next year, the Vickers moved to Statesville and the child was enrolled in school at Watertown. Then during the 2004-05 school year when the family left Statesville and moved to where they live now, Kiersten was enrolled as a second grader at DeKalb West school and has remained in school there since. She is now thirteen years old and in the eighth grade.
Meanwhile the Vickers' younger child, Kolten who was enrolled at DeKalb West as a pre-school student four years ago, is now eight years old and in the third grade at DeKalb West School.
The Vickers children are transported to and from school by the family.
Mrs. Vickers says she and her husband got a call from Attendance Supervisor Clay Farler on the first day of school in August informing them that there was a problem. "The first day of school they (the children) went (to school). Then I came home about 11:30 a.m. or twelve o'clock and I got a phone call from Clay (Farler) who said that we had to move our children because we are in Wilson County. He said somebody had turned us in.."
During Thursday night's meeting, seventh district board member Johnny Lattimore asked Director of Schools Mark Willoughby when the issue of the Vickers' residency status came to his attention.
Director Willoughby replied, "probably the last of July, maybe the third week of July. The first day of school was around the first of August."
Mrs. Vickers then spoke up saying, "I called Mr. Willoughby that day myself (first day of school)."
Willoughby continued, "They (Vickers) did ask if they could appeal (the decision) to the board, but it was already past the ten days that we require (deadline for getting it on the agenda). Bobby asked me if the kids could stay in school until this board meeting and I said yes. But (I told him) if the board votes that the kids can't stay (in school here) then I would ask that they be transferred to Wilson County schools on the following Monday. That's why it's drawn out this long."
Lattimore then made a motion that the children be allowed to finish the school year here since the Vickers weren't notified about the residency issue until the first day of school and since transferring the children now might create a hardship on them, especially the older child. "I think this is kind of a sticky situation to be in for everybody that's involved. I agree with Mr. Evins and Charlie that it's board policy that you have to live in DeKalb County in order to go to school in this county. But they're kinda in a sticky situation that their daughter wants to finish school at the West School. I think that (transferring her) would probably upset her basket a little too much and I don't have a problem with letting them continue for the rest of this year but not one day past the rest of this (school) year. Then the understanding is that next year they would have to either go to Wilson County or move into DeKalb County."
Third district member Kenny Rhody, who offered a second to Lattimore's motion, said he believed allowing the children to stay in school here another year would be best for them, especially the eighth grader. "That's the part that's bothering me is her. Eighth grade, and this far into school, I just feel it would upset her too much to ask that kind of change right now."
Sixth district member Bruce Parsley said the fact that the Vickers are property owners in DeKalb County should be taken into consideration and suggested that the board revisit the existing policy and possibly make some changes. "I know the policy says that they have to physically reside in DeKalb County, but their farm is split and two thirds of the farm is in DeKalb County. If the house was on the other side of the farm, this discussion wouldn't even take place. So to me, the policy may need to be changed because it's ridiculous to pay two thirds of your taxes in DeKalb County and your kid have to go somewhere else to school, just because your house is sitting on the (county) line. Fifty feet to me doesn't make that much difference."