School district purging out-of-boundary students from Boca High

BOCA RATON — The Palm Beach County School District is verifying the address of every student enrolled at Boca Raton High School to “weed out” those who aren’t zoned for the crowded school, Superintendent Donald Fennoy said.

When school resumes in three weeks, Boca High expects about 760 more students than it was built to hold, according to school district data. With 3,688 students, it will have the highest enrollment of all county public schools.

At the request of city officials — who say they heard anecdotal reports of students from other cities and Broward County just south of Boca Raton enrolling in Boca Raton High — the school district is scouring its student roster, Fennoy told the City Council Tuesday.

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The task, one the district has undertaken at various schools throughout the years, is never easy.

“Let me just say this, people are really creative,” Fennoy said.

Boundary jumping, as it’s called, often involves families adopting a false addresses within a desired school’s boundaries in order to enroll. District staff culls the rolls of certain schools every other year, most recently such a focus was trained on Calusa Elementary and, to the north, Sunset Palms.

The district’s boundary expert, Jason Link, said he expects such a review to weed out 1-5 percent of the schools students, or about 35 to 200. Already 60 names have been forwarded to school administrators for further verification.

The district runs addresses through a third-party verification system to identify “suspicious addresses,” then takes the extra step to individually check the addresses, Link said. The school then offers parents a chance to prove they live within the boundaries.

Not all addresses on the list end up purged from the system, Link said.

“There are hardships and circumstances we have to be sensitive to,” Link said, offering homelessness and divorced parents as examples.

Most of the county’s schools offer specialized “choice” programs that allow students to enroll from outside the boundaries. Boca Raton High offers only one: Navy Junior ROTC. Thirteen other county high schools also offer ROTC program.

City officials have said that they suspect parents are using false addresses to enroll students at Boca Raton High because of its “A” rating.

“You guys are a victim of your own success,” Fennoy said.

All high schools in Boca and its suburbs — Boca Raton, Spanish River, Olympic Heights and West Boca high schools — are A-rated, according to a recent report.

Boca Raton has long struggled with crowding at many of its schools. Nearly all of them enroll more students than they’re meant to hold, according to the school district. The city has lobbied for solutions, and even donated land near Don Estridge High Tech Middle School on Military Trail and Spanish River Boulevard for a new elementary school. The county is awaiting state approval for the new school. 

Crowded schools

The top five Palm Beach County high schools over capacity:

1. Forest Hill High 134 percent capacity (built for 1,837 with enrollment last school year of 2,468)

2. Boca Raton High 122 percent capacity

3. A. W. Dreyfoos High 114 percent capacity

4. Jupiter High 113 percent

5. John I Leonard 112 percent

SOURCE: Palm Beach County School District

Follow Boca Raton reporter Lulu Ramadan on Twitter at @luluramadan.

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