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Districts Required to Adopt New Policies to Protect Students from Certain Residency Investigation Techniques

When Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (District 14) read a news article regarding investigatory tactics used by a private investigator hired by the Orinda Unified School District to investigate the residency of Vivian, a 7 year old girl who was thereafter “disenrolled” from the District, she was prompted to action (See Vivan’s full story). When promoting the bill she subsequently authored, SB 1101, Assemblymember Bonilla stated: “Schools should have tools available to investigate residency issues, but we need to ensure safeguards are in place to protect those students being investigated especially elementary school-aged children.”

SB 1101 was signed into law on August 11, 2015 by Governor Jerry Brown and goes into effect January 1, 2016. If a school district elects to undertake investigations pertaining to a pupil’s residency, the new law requires that the district’s governing board must adopt a policy which, among other things, identifies the circumstances upon which the district may initiate an investigation and describes the methods that may be used before investigating any pupils. At minimum, the policy must require a school district employee to be able to identify
“specific, articulable facts supporting the belief that the parent or legal guardian of the pupil has provided false or unreliable evidence of residency” before initiating an investigation and the policy must require the school district to undertake reasonable efforts to determine whether a student resides in the district’s jurisdiction before hiring a private investigator. Significantly, the policy must make clear that any investigators working for the school district must identify themselves truthfully during the course of any residency investigation and that investigators are prohibited from surreptitiously photographing or video-recording pupils being investigated. In the Orinda USD investigation that prompted the new legislation, the private investigator hired by the district is alleged to have identified himself as a car insurance reviewer.

There are no school districts in California whose current policies meet all of the requirements of the new law. By requiring that the new residency investigation procedures to be adopted at public school board meetings, the bill’s author clearly hopes to promote transparency as well as public awareness of and public input into local school districts’ residency investigation procedures.

For any questions about this story or any issues pertaining to school district policy, contact Mary Hernández.