Berkeley school board reflects on new enrollment verification policy

Victoria Glynn/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District is toughening its enrollment standards with the results of a new address verification policy presented to the Board of Education last Wednesday.

Enacted last year, the new policy requires families of all students entering Berkeley Unified School District schools for sixth grade or ninth grade to provide proof of residency in Berkeley. The report showed that a small percentage of families did not verify their Berkeley residency to re-apply for enrollment despite receiving written notifications and personal phone calls from the district.

Another aspect of the new policy is a vetting process, in which district staff investigate whether the residences of students applying for Berkeley Unified School District enrollment are in compliance with their enrollment application information. Admissions officers personally visited 503 documented addresses of students entering the district to confirm their residency.

“Each year our staff look(s) to how we can better improve our communication to families and students regarding their status in the district and also create a … productive way to address concerns regarding the transparency of out of district students in BUSD,” said Board of Education President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler in an emailed statement.

At the meeting, Berkeley Unified School District Admissions Manager Francisco Martínez reported that 33 of the approximately 698 fifth graders enrolled in the 2015-16 school year did not submit proof of Berkeley residency to continue on to a Berkeley Unified School District middle school. In addition, 28 of the approximately 740 eighth graders in the district did not submit proof of residency to move on to Berkeley High School.

Some students living outside of Berkeley are enrolled at Berkeley Unified School District schools. According to the report, Berkeley Unified School District accepted 799 students on interdistrict permits for the 2016-17 school year, most of whom were already students in the district.

“We believe that in Berkeley, we have very good schools in our districts,” Martínez said.

Board Clerk Judy Appel said during the meeting that there needs to be further discussion on the impact of the new policy on the makeup of Berkeley Unified School District schools.

Multiracial representation in Berkeley neighborhoods is decreasing, said board member Karen Hemphill at the meeting. This trend, she said, is affecting the Berkeley Unified School District’s state and federal funding for programs such as Title I and the Local Control and Accountability Plan, both of which aim to combat racial predictability and racial isolation.

“How do we further our equity work as the population changes?” Hemphill said at the meeting.

Hemphill noted that concerns from Berkeley Unified School District parents about the new residency verification process decreased from “several” inquiries to just one over the course of the year.

“Each district struggles with (these) out of districts requests,” said Leyva-Cutler in a statement. “In talking with other board members in other cities, every school district like Berkeley wants to keep and educate their students.”

Contact Justin Sidhu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @dc_justinsidhu.