THE DISTRICT’S Office of the State Superintendent of Education announced in May that it had uncovered widespread residency fraud at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The explosive claim that nearly 30 percent of the student body lived outside the city tarnished the acclaimed school’s reputation. Parents were sent scrambling, and fundraising dried up. It now turns out that those findings were wildly off base, and many families were falsely accused. How did the OSSE get it so wrong, and what does that say about its competency to oversee other aspects of public education?

A Nov. 9 report posted without fanfare to the office’s website serves as a gigantic correction to the agency’s high-profile claims of rampant abuse and deception. According to the report, 65 percent of the 219 students it had suspected of residency fraud — attending Duke Ellington without paying the tuition required of nonresidents — were cleared of wrong doing. An additional 20 percent of the cases are still pending.

“How does a Government agency accuse citizens of fraud, and get it wrong more than half the time?” was the apt question from Gregory S. Smith, a lawyer and Ellington parent who hadn’t been accused but led the fight against the accusations, in a letter to State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang. Ms. Kang did not return our phone call seeking comment, but the “interim update” report seemingly tries to blame the school and students for bad record keeping or missing paperwork.

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There may well have been issues with Ellington’s record keeping, and there were cases of residency fraud that need to be dealt with. That does not excuse the bungled investigation, which needlessly ensnared innocent families and potentially disrupted students’ education. Many families, for example, never knew they were under investigation until they were threatened with draconian penalties. That the city was chided in court — “someone is having trouble following the law,” one judge said — underscored its ham-handed approach. Most troubling is how the agency seemed oblivious to complexities in the lives of many children that can affect residency determinations.

“You owe Ellington, its students, teachers, administrators and funders — and the many families you falsely accuse — a public apology,” wrote Mr. Smith to Ms. Kang. We agree. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council also should take steps to ensure better handling of allegations of residency fraud.

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