Calvert County kicks out second-grader

Three weeks ago, Sierra Hammond was kicked out of Mount Harmony Elementary School in Calvert County.

It wasn’t her fault. She’s a good student.

Instead, Kristina Hammond contends that her 7-year-old daughter was caught in a bureaucratic nightmare as the Southern Maryland school system seeks to weed out students who officials say don’t live in the county. Calvert officials suspect that Sierra resides in neighboring Prince George’s County.

With scarce resources, Calvert officials say they have no choice but to go after those who commit residency fraud.

“We’ve always taken this extremely seriously,” said Gail Bennett, a schools spokeswoman. “We want students attending school, but we want them to attend in the district where they legally reside. We consider this our obligation to our local taxpayers who are funding our education system.”


Sierra Hammond, 7, a second grader in Calvert County who was kicked out of school because of questions about her residency. (Courtesy of Barbara Hammond )

The Calvert system, with about 16,000 students, is well-regarded in the Washington region. Its high performance on Maryland state tests could make Calvert a magnet for families with children in schools elsewhere that have lower scores.

Hammond said she is not against the effort to weed out nonresidents. But, she said, Sierra is not one of them.

“She’s not getting the education she should get,” Hammond said last week. “It’s just not fair.”

Sierra returned to school Monday after inquiries by The Washington Post about her situation and the school system’s residency policy. Her case is pending.

For the previous 15 school days, when Sierra should have been working on her fractions and learning to write in cursive in class, she instead was sitting at the roofing company her grandparents own in Forestville, watching television, occasionally writing and reading.

Barbara Hammond, Sierra’s grandmother, said Sierra was “bored to death” sitting at the roofing company all day.

“You can definitely tell it’s affecting her,” Kristina Hammond added. “She doesn’t get to do her normal routine.”

Kristina Hammond said the school system’s process is flawed.

She said she received a letter March 30, informing her that she had two weeks to withdraw her daughter from school because an investigation found that she lived outside of Calvert. The letter was delivered to a home Kristina Hammond owns and rents to a friend in Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s.

Kristina Hammond, 31, said she has lived in Owings with her mother since she was a teenager. Kristina Hammond said she was not told what type of evidence the school system had against her and was not given an opportunity to rebut the system’s claims.

Instead, she was just told that Sierra was out.

Bennett said said she could not comment on Sierra’s case because of privacy rules.

She said the school system investigates up to 15 tips each year about suspected residency fraud. Fewer than five of those investigations lead to a student being removed from school. The students typically come from neighboring Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, Bennett said.

Parents or guardians are required to show proof of residency to enroll in Calvert schools. A deed, mortgage coupon book, lease agreement or a multiple family disclosure form can be used as proof. The Hammonds say they provided the proper documents to enroll Sierra at Mount Harmony Elementary when she started there in kindergarten. Nonresidents are allowed to enroll if they pay $6,712 in annual tuition.

Brendan M. Callahan, an attorney for Hammond, wrote a letter April 25 to the executive director of administration, requesting that Sierra be re-enrolled.

In the letter, he said Sierra’s due process rights had been violated. “The Maryland State Board of Education made it clear that the proper procedure in residency disputes is to allow the student to remain enrolled in school until a decision on the merits is reached by the local board,” Callahan wrote. “The lack of appropriate notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to Sierra’s removal are dispositive defects in the decision to remove Sierra from school, and immediate action is required to remedy the situation.”

Kristina Hammond said she is pleased that Sierra is back in school.

“I just worry about the other kids that this may be happening to,” she said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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