As students pack their book-bags and return to school, it’s important to keep in mind the law governing their entrance through your doors.  In order to accommodate the registration process, schools much comply with the legal requirements of Ohio Revised Code 3313.64.

Ohio law requires that districts allow school age children to attend their district of residence free of charge.  In general, residence for school purposes is determined using the residence of the child’s parent.  Parent can mean either natural or adoptive parents, unless the parents are separated, divorced, or their marriage has been dissolved or annulled.  Due to the complex nature of the family structure, there are several general guidelines to use when determining whether a child’s parent resides in the district.

Determining Residency when parents are separated and living in difference school districts:

  • When parents are divorced, the term parent means either the parent who is the residential parent or the parent awarded custody in the action for divorce.
  • In the case of shared parenting, unless a court specifically orders otherwise, both parents are considered parents for residential purposes; therefore, the child can attend either school district tuition free.
  • If a child’s parents were never married, there is conflicting law, but it is generally best to consider the natural mother the parent for residency purposes.

Determining Residency when a child lives with persons other than the child’s parents:

  • Under the Grandparent Caretaker law, grandparents may also acquire the legal status of parent for residency purposes when the child’s parents cannot be located or have lost parental rights and the grandparent provides a power of attorney signed by a parent, or a caretaker authorization affidavit (in such cases where parents cannot be located).
  • When a child is in the legal custody of a governmental agency, the term parent means the parent who has residual parental rights or who has been divested of residual parental rights.

Determining Residency with Property Issues:

  • If a child resides on property that straddles two school districts along a boundary line, residency is determined based on the location of the house of residence.
  • The Superintendent of Public Instruction serves as the decision maker in any case of dispute and is given the task of analyzing the following: (1) where the parent sleeps the majority of the time, (2) where mail is received, (3) where meals are eaten, (4) the address of voter registration, (5) the address for bills or credit card statements, (6) the address of lease agreements, and (7) information in affidavits from the landlord, neighbors, or parent (to prove fraud).

Mandatory Exceptions to Residency Requirements, which allows a student to attend school in a district other than where the student’s parent resides:

  • Student is between age 18-22, lives in the district apart from his parents, supports himself by his own labor, and has not successfully completed high school or the IEP developed for him.
  • Student is under 18, married, and resides in the district.
  • Student has been placed with a resident of the district for adoption and his parents reside outside Ohio.
  • Student has a medical condition which may require emergency medical treatment and one of his parents is employed at a location within the school district.
  • Student is residing in the district with a person other than his parent while his parent is serving in the armed forces outside of Ohio—Limited to a 12-month period.
  • Student’s parent is having a “new” house built in the district—Limited to 90 days.
  • Student’s parent is purchasing a house in the district—Limited to 90 days.
  • Student is living in the district with a parent and is under the care of a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
  • A power of attorney has been properly executed by a parent, guardian or other legal custodian under the provisions of the Grandparent Caretaker Law, the child resides within the district, and hardship is established. (discussed above)
  • Child’s parent is a member of National Guard or reserve unit of armed forces and has been called to active duty or the child’s parent is a member of the armed forces and has been ordered to a temporary duty assignment outside the district.
  • Child is living with a person who has been appointed to be the child’s caretaker under a military power of attorney or other comparable document in conformity with federal law while the parent is on active duty or a duty assignment outside the district.
  • The district has adopted an inter-district open enrollment policy.

Residency decisions can be difficult because every situation is slightly different.  To help resolve ambiguity, the law requires any parent awarded custody in an action for divorce, annulment, or dissolution to notify the child’s school of the custody arrangements by providing the school with a certified copy of the custody order at the time of enrollment or upon issuance of an arrangement.  Thus, schools do not have a duty to investigate the details of court orders concerning parental rights.

When concerns about residency occur, a school district can use an SRO (or any other employee) to investigate residency or confirm residence.  When completing an investigation into residency, school districts should be able to show that they have conducted a reasonable investigation to justify their decision.  However, be careful with how this interacts with homelessness rules — you don’t want to appear to be intimidating the homeless from exercising their rights.

The mandatory exceptions to residency requirements listed above may allow the district to request documentation or limit duration.  In addition to these mandatory exceptions, the law permits certain optional exceptions to residency requirements.  For more information about a specific residency requirement or exception, please contact your attorney.