.

UPDATE: School District Investigating Mt. Hebron Asst. Principal

Here's the policy as it pertains to an allegation claiming that Samantha Morra enrolled her kids in Montclair schools using an address that's part of Little Falls.

 

School district officials confirmed last week that the Central Office is investigating Samantha Morra, assistant principal at Mount Hebron Middle School, to determine whether she enrolled her children in Montclair schools using a Montclair mailing address that is actually part of the Little Falls school district.

"I can't say anything. It's a personnel matter," School Board President Robin Kulwin told Montclair Patch previously. "But an allegation has been made. Any time there's an allegation, then the Central Office investigates."

On Friday, Kulwin gave the following update on the investigation, emphasizing that a legal process must be followed:

"There is no official word from Central Office yet for the following reason: As an employee of the Montclair Public Schools and as a member of the Montclair Principals Association, Ms. Morra has the right to a hearing before the Superintendent of Schools or his designee to respond to the allegations that have been made against her," Kulwin said. "That hearing will take place very shortly in accordance with the timelines set forth in the union contract."

Interim Schools Superintendent Clarence Hoover told Baristanet last week that he received information alleging that Morra had used an Upper Mountain Avenue address in Montclair to enroll her kids in Montclair schools even though the address is listed under the Little Falls school district and tax rolls.

If the allegation turns out to be true, it would prove embarrassing for the Montclair school district, which is requiring all incoming freshmen at Montclair High School to re-register this summer.

This re-registration requires all parents or guardians to provide proof of residency, part of an effort to make certain students attending Montclair schools actually live in Montclair.

Meanwhile, Mount Hebron is currently without a permanent principal following the transfer of Guy Whitlock to the Central Office this summer.

HERE IS THE MONTCLAIR POLICY ON THIS ISSUE BELOW:

Only children domiciled in the district, or authorized to attend by the superintendent, are eligible to attend Montclair schools.

The Montclair Board of Education reserves the right to verify the domicile of any pupil and validity of any affidavit of guardianship.

Domicile Verification

At any time, the Board reserves the right to verify, through investigation and in accordance with the proofs of eligibility specified in policy 5111:

1. the domicile of any applicant for enrollment in the public schools of the district,

2. the domicile of any student suspected of being a non-resident, and

3. the domicile of students moving from grade eight into grade 9 at Montclair High School.

If the district cannot verify the domicile of an applicant based on information provided at the time of the initial application for permitting enrollment, the district reserves the right to require additional information at any time as a condition for permitting tuition-free enrollment.

Failure to Establish Domicile

If, in the judgment of the district, the documentation and other evidence submitted by a pupil seeking enrollment in the district's schools does not support the parent/guardian's claim that the pupil is domiciled within the district, the superintendent of schools may deny admission to the pupil.  The district will follow the procedures described in the statue and code including the provision of written notice to the parent/guardian of the district's decision and the parent/guardian's right to appeal the decision to the Commissioner of Education within 21 days of the date of the decision.

The Montclair Board of Education will  take  legal  action against non-resident  parents/guardians  and  those  individuals who assist them in  the illegal  enrollment of  pupils in  the public school system.

Former Residents

A pupil whose family moves out of Montclair within during his/her final semester in grade 12 may be permitted to attend the high school for the remainder of his/her senior year without payment of tuition.  Failure to graduate at the end of that year will terminate nonresident unpaid enrollment.

Children of Military Personnel

Pupils whose parents/guardians are military personnel retaining ownership of a home in Montclair may be permitted, at the discretion of the superintendent, to remain in school without payment of tuition.

When a child must either relocate to or from this district because his/her parent/guardian is a member of the New Jersey National Guard or a member of the reserve component of the armed forces of the United States and has been ordered into active service, the child shall be eligible to attend the schools of this district without paying tuition.  The district shall not be responsible for transporting the child.

Affidavit Pupils

Pupils who are on affidavit with Montclair residents may be permitted, upon approval of the superintendent, to attend the Montclair Schools without tuition payment.

Foreign Exchange Pupils

The board may admit foreign exchange pupils into district schools in order to promote cultural awareness and understanding among pupils.

The board may accept exchange pupils on a J-1 visa who reside within the district as participants in group-sponsored exchange programs approved by the board.  Tuition may be waived for pupils on a J-1 visa.

The board may accept privately sponsored exchange pupils on an F-1 visa for attendance only in secondary schools upon payment of tuition at the established district rate.  Tuition cannot be waived for pupils on an F-1 visa, and attendance in district schools shall not exceed 12 months. Pupils attending the schools of this district on an F-1 visa may not participate in any adult-education programs sponsored by the board under any circumstances.

All potential organizations or individuals applying for admission shall forward the request to the superintendent by July 1 preceding the school year of attendance.  Foreign exchange pupils shall comply with all immunization requirements for pupils of this district.  The superintendent shall be responsible for determining the visa status and eligibility of foreign exchange pupils applying for admission.

Homeless Pupils

The district will determine the educational placement of homeless pupils in each child’s best interest and respond to appeals concerning them made by parents/guardians or other parties in accordance with New Jersey statutes and administrative code, as well as pertinent federal law.

Children under the Guardianship of the Division of Youth and Family Services

A pupil may be enrolled in the school district if he/she is under the guardianship of the Division of Youth and Family Services in the Department of Human Services, and is placed in the district by said division.   The board of education will require annual applications for such pupils and annual proof of the division's guardianship and placement.

In the case of adopted children, the board has the right to require additional information if there is any question concerning the completion of an adoption or the procedure followed.

Children Placed in the District by Court Order

A pupil may be enrolled in the school district if he/she is placed in the home of another person, who is a resident in the district, by order of a court of competent jurisdiction of New Jersey or by any society, agency, or institution incorporated or located in New Jersey having for its object the care and welfare of indigent, neglected or abandoned children, or children in danger of becoming delinquent, or any person who is a resident in any institution operated by any such society, agency or corporation, on a non-profit basis, whether or not such other person, society, agency or institution is compensated for keeping such person.   The board of education will require annual applications for such pupils and annual proof of legal placement with a resident of the district.

Non-Resident Classified Pupils

Non-resident classified pupils may, if space is available in an appropriate program, and with the advance approval of the superintendent and the board, be enrolled as tuition pupils in special district programs.   The placement must also be approved by the child study team.   The tuition charged the sending district will be the per pupil cost of the program in which the pupil is to be placed.

Other Non–Domiciled Pupils

Other non-domiciled pupils may be admitted to this district on payment of tuition and availability of space after inspection of the pupil’s records and acceptance by the superintendent.

Non-resident parents  or guardians who wish their child to attend the Montclair Public Schools and are willing to pay tuition costs must file  an application  for admission at the central  office.  The superintendent shall develop procedures for the enrollment of non-domiciled children that:

•  Allow admission of such children only on the proper application of parent/guardian;

•  Verify claims of domicile and submission of affidavits of guardianship;

•  Deny admission where the educational program maintained for the children of this district is inadequate to meet the needs of the applicant;

•  Provide for acceptance and school assignment on the basis of space availability and racial balance;

•  Do not exclude any child, otherwise eligible, on the basis of such child's race, color, creed, national origin, affectional or sexual orientation, atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual or ancestry; and

•  Make continued enrollment of any non-domiciled pupil contingent upon timely payment of tuition and the maintenance by the pupil of good standards of citizenship and discipline.

Transportation

Each year, the district will provide to the person in charge of trans-portation a list of children who are permitted to ride the buses because they are residents.

Transportation for the seniors who are former residents and all tuition pupils shall be a parental responsibility.

Transportation for non-resident classified pupils will be the responsibility of the sending district.

The Montclair School District will not be obligated to transport any non-domiciled pupils nor will it incur any expense incidental to such transportation.

The board shall annually determine tuition rates for non-domiciled pupils.

The Montclair Board of Education reserves the right to refuse admission and/or continuation of any non-domiciled pupil in the Montclair Schools.

Legal References: 

N.J.S.A.  18A:7F-3 Definitions

N.J.S.A.  18A:11-1 General mandatory powers and duties

N.J.S.A.  18A:36B-1 et seq.  Interdistrict Public School Choice Program Act of 1999

N.J.S.A.  18A:38-1 et seq.  Attendance at school free of charge 

See particularly:   

N.J.S.A.  38-238-338-8,  38-9

N.J.S.A.  18A:46-20  Receiving pupils from outside district; establishment of facilities

N.J.S.A.  18A:54-20  Powers of board (county vocational schools) 

N.J.A.C.  6A:12-1.3 et seq.  Interdistrict Public School Choice

N.J.A.C.  16A:17-1.1 et seq.  Pupils at Risk of Not Receiving a Public Education

N.J.A.C.  6A:23-3.1  Method of determining tuition rates for regular public schools

N.J.A.C.  6A:23-5.2  Method of determining the district of residence

N.J.A.C.  6A:23-5.3  Address submission for determining the district of residence

N.J.A.C.  6A:28-2.1 et seq.  Entitlement to Attend School Based on Domicile or

See particularly:    Residency in District

N.J.A.C.  6A:28-2.3-2.4-2.5

Illegal Immigrant and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1997, 8 U.S.C. § 1101

Board of Education of the Borough of Englewood Cliffs v. Board of Education of the City of Englewood, 132 NJ 327; cert. denied, 510 U.S. 991 (1993); subsequent listing 333 N.J.Super. (App. Div. 2000)

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. 107-110, 20 U.S.C.A. 6301 et seq.

Cross References:    

  3240  Tuition income

*5111  Admission

*5114  Suspension and expulsion

  6142.5  Travel and exchange programs

*6151  Class size

*Indicates policy is included in the Critical Policy Reference Manual.

Key Words: Nonresidents, Tuition Pupil, Affidavit Pupil, Foreign Exchange Pupils

Approved:  May 1981, April 23, 2007, February 27, 2012

Revised:  June 6, 1988, October 4, 1988, November 16, 1992, September 7, 1993, November 16, 1998, April 2007, February 2012


MhMom70 July 12, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Also troubling me (full disclosure, I have kids at MH and know Mrs. Morra) is the lack of a denial from her. Ugh! And, yes....she is waaay to smart for this to have been an accident.
MontTaxpayer July 13, 2012 at 01:53 PM
If this story broke on Monday, I would think the BoE would have any answer by now. There are only a few questions that need to be asked/answered: 1. Where did the Morra family live this year? 2. Is that address in Montclair or Little Falls? 3. What are the consequences, if any, for Mrs. Morra? I would hope we have an answer before the end of business today. That is certainly not asking too much
MH Parent July 13, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I fail to understand why there has been no further information provided to the tax payers of Montclair and school community of Mt. Hebron. This is a clear cut issue, not one that requires further deliberation. The school needs to get up and running, a poor time for the BOE to drag its feet. Anything other than a speedy reply on the current state of affairs regarding Mrs. Morra, and a replacement VP, reflects very poorly on the decision makers at the district level. Enough is enough!
MC July 13, 2012 at 03:18 PM
In addition to asking for answers from our BoE, which we all have to recognize is an all-volunteer board, I believe questions should be directed to and expected from our professional educational senior leaders at Central Office. In this case, a direct statement from the district's long-standing head of Personnel, Dr. Jim Patterson, would seem appropriate..... especially since our current Superintendent is an Interim given Dr. Alvarez' recent departure. PATCH -- if you have requested comments/updates/more info from our paid, professional educational leaders in the District's Central Office, it may help your readers to note that request in your pieces so we are aware of the reporting you continue to do on this and other topics.
A. Cathy Hawley July 13, 2012 at 03:52 PM
After reading the postings I did a little searching. I found effective December 17, 2001, the New Jersey Dept. of Education adopted regulations governing residency requirements for admitting students to public schools. If a student’s home is physically located within two or more local school districts, the municipality that receives the majority of the property tax paid by the resident or the owner is the district of domicile. This rule also applies to a dwelling that bears a mailing address that does not reflect its physical location within a municipality. This is State regulation and I do not believe a municipality can override a State regulation. To my knowledge several years ago the BOE did away with allowing staff who live out of district to enroll their children in the Montclair school system. I also called the Tax office in Montclair to ascertain if the Morra’s are paying taxes and was told NO. I did further checking and found the Morra’s property is not on the border but clearly it is in Little Falls. Allowing someone to submit a deed or a mortgage statement, does not prove you live at the property they only show you own the property. Montclair BOE as well as other districts in NJ needs to come up with a more concrete way of verifying residency. It seems clear the tax payers of Montclair has been defrauded and full restitution should be called for. Check out the Education Law Center for complete regulations and/or Google the subject of student residency.
Louis Fontana July 14, 2012 at 10:53 AM
When I googled her address on Upper Mountain, it comes up as xxx Upper Mountain Avenue, Upper Montclair (not Little Falls). This, and $2.25, gets you on the subway. If she and her family pay taxes in Little Falls (presumably at a lower rate than Montclair), she can't turn around and claim that she "thought she lives in Montclair" for purposes of sending her children to school there. This isn't very complicated.
profwilliams July 14, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Unfortunately, Ms. Morra failed to do the easiest thing here-- tell the truth quickly, and fully. Had she said (whether true or not) that she was a Montclair Resident with a Montclair address, always considered herself a Montclair resident, but like others living on the borders with other communities, she paid taxes or got services from other municipalities, and (here's the important statement), SHE NOW REALIZES SHE WAS WRONG. And has been for a number of years. So she will begin paying back all money owed to rectify this... Then (just to throw everyone off), she should say that she'll CONTINUE sending her kids to Montclair schools because they've established a routine with school and friends; and pay for it. Instead, she stayed quiet and let this fester and turn into something bigger that perhaps, it needs to be. I'm always surprised when folks don't realize the easiest thing to do most of the time is to simply tell the truth (with a little spin ;0)
MC July 14, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Thank you to Robin Kulwin for the additional information, context and estimated timing.... and for the District making a public announcement about the allegation in the 1st place. In the news age we live in, we demand information as quickly as we can refresh our screens or hit enter . Which can be more than a little unrealistic (I plead guilty on this story). After taking time to read local coverage more closely, this is clearly a personnel issue that is governed -- whether you agree or not -- by a contracted process of review. While individuals may see this as very straightforward, there are enough HR managers and employment lawyers among us to recognize that review and resolution may take more than the 4 or 5 business days since the allegation was proactively made public by the School District. PATCH -- Since the District is limited legally what it can say, perhaps a expert opinion from such a HR/employment attorney who's not involved with this case or with District business could provide a 3rd party perspective and added context for Montclair public school parents, residents, taxpayers. After a story breaks, the community is obviously hungry for more detailed and updated information and/or context on a number of issues facing Montclair. We rely, in very large part, on your and other news outlets' journalism to inform us. Tx.
Paine July 14, 2012 at 04:30 PM
According to public tax records: This appears to be the property in question: Block: 238 Lot: 5 Street: 639 Upper Mountain Ave City State: Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 Prop Loc: 639 Long Hill RD District: 1605 Little Falls Class: 2 Land: 50x154 Bldg Desc: 1.5F2G Acreage: 0.1768 Taxes: 5793.65 Sale Date: 07/28/94 165000 Grantee Morra, Matthew Year: 2012 Owner: Morra, Matthew & Samantha Assessed: 270100
A. Cathy Hawley July 14, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Yes when you Google her address it comes up Montclair. However try going on the NJACTB (NJ Assoc. of County Tax Boards) and you will learn that her house is assessed as XXX Long Hill Road Passaic Co., Little Falls with a mailing address of XXX Upper Mountain Avenue. According to the PO you can have whatever address you want. When she purchased the house she had to be told which municipality she would be living in. Not only that , she knows that she DOES NOT pay taxes to Montclair. Interesting that she choose to have the house number be the same.. Her house isn’t even on the border of both towns. Every 3 months taxes are paid to a municipality what is the mystery of where you live. You get tax statements from Little Falls so what is so hard to figure out. By the way where does she vote? Year after year you pay taxes to Little Falls, get students put out of the Montclair Schools because they don’t live here, so I guess this is a case of Do as I say not as I do. Whatever it cost to educate her children in our system, she should be made to pay back every penny.
Stu's Wife July 14, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Ms. Morra did not fabricate her mailing address. Every single home in the 600 block of Long Hill Rd in Little Falls has the same number Upper Mountain Avenue mailing address. She did not invent that out of whole cloth. Based on Ms. Kulwin's statement, it is clear that the district is not simply treating Ms. Morra as a parent who illegally enrolled her children in the district, but also as an employee disciplinary action. It's possible that she will lose her job over this, so let's all put our pitchforks away until after the hearing. And I agree that this is an extremely serious matter. If she does in fact have one child currently in middle school who was illegally enrolled for all of these years plus a child in elementary school, full restitution to the district can easily be in the neighborhood of $100k. Not to mention that if the allegation is proven, she illegally took spots in Northeast - one of the most highly requested schools in the Elementary School lottery thereby denying a Montclair resident a place to send their kid there. Also let's not forget that the district is making a very big effort to identify and expel poor,minority non resident children from the district, so it would be unconscionable to allow a highly paid administrator to avoid the full consequences of the same actions.
Val July 14, 2012 at 05:49 PM
This is very sad and unfortunate for Ms. Morra's children. They now face the humiliation and consequences of their parents' deceit. Very sad indeed.
A. Cathy Hawley July 14, 2012 at 06:19 PM
According to the Tax Assessor’s office the last house in Montclair is 611. Being there are many other houses (not all in the 600 block) on Long Hil Road that are using an Upper Mountan street address, it would seems as though the Montclair BOE would check for illegally enrolled children that are using an address above 611 Upper Mountan as their addess and have these students (if there are any) also removed from the district. Rest assure there are others within the school system that DO NOT live in Montclair. To all non-Montclair residents, if you want your children to benefit from our schools then by all means, please move to Montclair and pay the high taxes or high rents. We should not have to subsidize your children’s educatiion. For me, what makes this so bad is Mrs. Morra is an Asst. Principal and responsiible for removing non-resident students thus she is not ignorrant of the law.
Lisa July 14, 2012 at 07:59 PM
With Glen Ridge and Verona accepting tuition (and being good school systems), it seems like it would be beneficial for Montclair to do the same. Wouldn't it help with the problem of non-residents using Montclair addresses?
Montclairparent July 14, 2012 at 08:04 PM
First of all, Ms Morra's children did not attend Northeast. Secondly, because the situation is under investigation, it would be wrong for her to make a public statement at this juncture. Lastly, she is a very kind and committed educator. Could we please leave her and her family in peace until more facts have come to light? Its summer people! The BoE members have jobs, ffamilies and vacations to think of, too, not to mention that we have a newly appointed interim superintendent. Patience and courtesy to all parties involved must be exercised.
Had enough July 14, 2012 at 08:17 PM
It really doesn't matter which school her children attended, if they don't qualify for Montclair school! The district doesn't accept tuition students...whether or not they do in the future is irrelevant to this matter. Mrs mora has excluded students from MH on the basis of residence and all the while cheated. Did anyone see the tax bill on her property??? Omg. Who in town is paying that little? This was orchestrated and deliberate and I want the students out of Montclair schools, the back tuition paid and the staff member fired. Anything less smells of a cover up
A. Gideon July 14, 2012 at 09:16 PM
While you're looking for more information, please don't forget about http://montclair.patch.com/articles/election-over-but-accusations-aren-t#comment_3265295 - more information was supposed to be forthcoming there as well.
A. Gideon July 14, 2012 at 09:47 PM
"the district is making a very big effort to identify and expel poor,minority non resident children from the district" I wasn't aware that the district was using these criteria. ...Andrew
Paine July 15, 2012 at 12:12 AM
The district could also be somewhat negligent in the matter. If she gave the address of 639 Upper Mountain Ave, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043, the central office should have some responsibility to point out that the address is not in Montclair. Since the district has been in business for over 100 years, you would think they have a list of the tricky addresses on all the borders. It also took us only two seconds to check the address from home.
Tea Party July 15, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Paine - it sounds like the enrollment office was definitely negligent or incompetent. It does not change the fact that a BoE Administrator LIED and DEFRAUDED her employer. I think if she was African American, we would not be having this conversation.
Stu's Wife July 15, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Glen Ridge only accepts tuition students on a space available basis. I know of people who tried to tuition their way into GR the year my son was in K and they were turned down because both Forest and Linden Schools were at capacity. Also, GR and Verona both have neighborhood schools. Accepting tuition students in Montclair would be more complicateIf Montclair were to accept tuition students from out-of-district, would they get the same preference as Montclair students in the elementary school lottery? Do we think we could get as many tuition paying students if their only elementary school options were Nishuane or Bullock?
Stu's Wife July 15, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Andrew - I am not implying that the district is targeting these kids because they are poor or minority. The fact is that many of the non-residents that are sending their kids to school in Montclair are doing so because they are desperate to get their kids out of failing urban schools in the area. While one may sympathize with their plight, the district is still right to have them removed.
Parent July 15, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Agreed, Tea Party. There is validity to the question of why the BOE is using such forbearance and discretion in Mrs. Marra’s case. African American administrators have had swift action taken against them in the face of pending allegations. In addition, this is an AP whose performance was questionable all year. There is a broader spectrum of issues that needs to be addressed here.
Mountie94 July 16, 2012 at 11:01 AM
I completely agree Tea Party and Parent. Several people often try to dismiss the fact that there is a bias when it comes to dealing with African Americans in this district (let's be honest here and recognize the truth). Ms. Morra has not demonstrated that she is capable of being an effective leader and this residency situation is the icing on the cake. There is NO EXCUSE for her behavior and the obvious should happen. Stu's wife- what children do you think are being targeted? White children living in Upper Montclair are certainly not on the check list. Let's not assume that only poor students from urban areas wish to attend this school system. I am sure there are other non black students attending when they shouldn't, but are simply overlooked for reasons you can figure out. Overall, there is definitely a broader spectrum of issues in regards to Ms. Morra that should be addressed and not overlooked. Patch?
PatchFan July 16, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Any update? Patch, is the Superintendent returning your calls?
Shelley Emling (Editor) July 16, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Ms. Morra has the right to have a hearing before the superintendent (who is an interim right now) and no one will comment until that hearing is complete. The hearing is due to be held "soon."
4th Ward Parent July 19, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Still no hearing? What gives? Maybe DHerron should inquire?
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dherron July 28, 2012 at 11:49 AM
The Montclair BOE has been too quiet on this one. That suggest, at least to me that something is up. An interim super leading the district, not wanting to be part of any scandal, and a new super coming on board, well, that is the last thing they would want to face. I would image, everyone has lawyered up, and the dealmakers are busy. So we need to turn the heat up. Taxpayers should be demanding an answer and resolution to this mess, and sooner rather than later. School starts in 6 weeks.
I'd-Rather-Be-at-63 January 07, 2013 at 11:41 PM
So what did the BOE finally decide with regard to Mrs. Marra and her children's enrollment in Montclair schools?

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