DPS busts parents lying for seats

Warning to Denver Public Schools parents: If you fudge your home address to get your child into a school by saying you live in the feeder area, watch out.

East High School remains one of the most coveted Denver schools. Only 65 percent of students who try to choice into East win a slot.

DPS officials confirmed this week they’re analyzing address anomalies to root out people misleading the district about their home addresses as a way to ensure placement of their children in coveted schools, such as East High School, the Denver Schools of Science and Technology, and Bromwell, Steck, Stapleton and Cory elementary schools.

“We’ve recommitted ourselves to making sure there is equity of access,” said Shannon Fitzgerald, head of the district’s choice and enrollment services office. “That’s a really big value for us.”

Fitzgerald said the district isn’t hiring more people to spy on DPS families. Rather, district staff are simply paying closer attention to data they already collect.

She said a recent data analysis found 15 to 20 families who changed their addresses to locations within East’s boundaries after their child was put on the school’s lengthy waiting list.

District staff have started referring to the group as “East address changers.” Parents can walk into any Denver school to fill out change-of-address forms. District staff also caught a handful of other address changers at other schools.

“It’s a simple report to run,” Fitzgerald said. “And just a few phone calls. We haven’t hired extra people and we’re not working extra hours. It’s just kind of following up on things we should have followed up on.”

District officials contacted the families, asking them to sign affidavits verifying their students actually lived at the addresses provided and to provide energy bills or copies of the lease. In a few cases, DPS security personnel went knocking on doors and, in some cases, found empty apartments.

In most cases, parents declined to sign the affidavit and acknowledged they didn’t actually live at the addresses provided. Most said they would send their children to private schools, Fitzgerald said.

However, in a few cases, parents expressed outrage that an apartment rented for $500 a month near East, even if unoccupied, would not secure a slot at the stately downtown high school, she said.

Fitzgerald said if a family is busted during the school year, the student is allowed to complete the year. But the student is then required to go through the next school choice process or attend his or her boundary school.

Choice staff are also being more vigilant on the front end of the choice process by trying to verify addresses in January at the district’s most popular schools.

Reminiscent of Bromwell in 2009

The situation is reminiscent of early 2009 when several parents were caught using false addresses to get their kids into the Cherry Creek neighborhood’s high-performing Bromwell Elementary.

Classrooms busting at the seams prompted parents to ask questions about who really belonged at the school. Thirty families were found to have outdated address information. Turns out the families were using the addresses of grandparents, friends, businesses and rental properties to secure their slice of quality education.

Fitzgerald said she believes most DPS families are “honest and forthright” about where they live.

“For the handful that aren’t, we’re really trying to make sure that activity is minimized,” she said, “so we can ensure equity for all kids, not just kids who can afford to rent a little apartment across from East.”

About 65 percent of students who name East as their top school in the choice process get into the school. Of the 591 new freshmen on the roster this year, 268 live in the neighborhood. The remaining 323 live outside of the school’s boundary. There are an additional 303 students on a waiting list.

East Principal Andy Mendelsberg said he didn’t think falsifying addresses to get into his school was a widespread problem.

“I don’t think it’s all that common,” he said. “I don’t know if I find it surprising. As our school grows to where we are at capacity and we are not able to take more kids, it might become a more common thing.”

That’s why it’s so important that Denver’s other high schools continue to improve academically.

“I think it’s one of those things where, as our other schools get stronger – and they will, this probably goes away a little bit,” he said. “Right now, the confidence is pretty high in East.”

Fitzgerald acknowledged there’s always more that can be done to ensure fairness in the choice process, but it’s a matter of balancing resources. The district has no plans to pursue criminal charges against a parent who falsely fills out an affidavit.

“We still don’t have an airtight process,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m sure there are kids going to school using false addresses and not hitting our radar screen.”

One DPS parent, who declined to be identified, said she used a secondary address instead of the family’s home address in an attempt to get her child into the school they wanted.

“I never falsified anything,” she said. “I turned in my work address.”

The parent said she understood why DPS was monitoring addresses, but said the district is going to lose more families to private schools or outlying suburban districts.

“They’re doing what they have to do. I get it,” she said. “But it makes it tough. You don’t know who’s going to get in and who’s not.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”