What Is Boundary Hopping?

In September of 2019, actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for her part in the college admissions scandal that rocked the nation. She was accused of mail fraud and honest services fraud for paying $15,000 to have a proctor change her daughter’s SAT answers, increasing her scoring, and giving her a better chance of getting into a good college. During Huffman’s sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen invoked the case of an Ohio woman who was convicted nearly a decade ago for also trying to get a better education for her daughters. He said that if a working mom from Akron had to serve time in jail for her actions, so too should a wealthy actress for carrying out a similar offense.

So what did the Akron mom do that landed her behind bars for 9 days? Her offense is what’s commonly referred to as boundary hopping, and it occurs when someone uses a false address to get their student into a school that’s not in their home district.

Residency and School District Assignments

For a child to be enrolled in a particular school, they must live within that district. Before registering the child, the parent/guardian must provide proof that they meet the residency requirements.

Original documents that must be presented as proof of residency could include:

  • Parent’s/guardian’s photo ID;
  • Lease, rental agreement, purchase agreement, mortgage, or deed;
  • Unpaid utility bill, credit card statement, bank statement, government proof of name and address; and
  • Custody or parent agreement paperwork

Unfortunately, schools in a person’s home district might not be in a safe area or have adequate facilities to provide a productive learning environment. In the Akron mom’s case, she stated that one of the schools her daughters were attending had water damage, mold, old books, overwhelmed staff, and disruptive classes. Her daughters were being picked on, and she didn’t feel they were getting the education they deserved. She wanted them enrolled in different schools.

District Transfers Through Open Enrollment

Typically, when a parent has an issue with the school their child is in, they can take the matter up with the school board. The directors decide on various issues, such as those concerning school safety, bullying, and rules of expected behavior. However, if the parent is unable to resolve the issue with the board, they may attempt to have their child enrolled in a school that’s out of their district through open enrollment. Every spring, school districts will review applications for transfers to determine whether or not to allow the student to be enrolled. Some schools accept applications from parents living in adjacent districts or any district within Ohio. However, other schools do not allow open enrollment at all.

Faced with open enrollment challenges, parents desperate to do what is best for their child might choose a common, although unlawful, method for transferring to a different school: boundary hopping. The exact numbers for this offense are unknown, but many do it and don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong.

This is how the Akron mom and her father felt when they used his address to get her daughters into schools in another district. The woman and her daughters had spent nearly equal amounts of time at his home and their own, so she thought it was no problem to say they were living at her dad’s place. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

Criminal Charges: Falsifying Documents

Both the woman and her father were accused of theft of public education and charged with records tampering. This occurs when a person knowingly falsifies information on a document. The woman’s father was acquitted, but she was convicted of two felony counts of this offense. The governor at the time later reduced the charges to misdemeanors.

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