Education and Informal Custody Arrangements

May 18, 2010

When a parent or legal guardian moves out of the school district where their child attends school, but wishes to keep the child in the same school, the parent may work out an informal arrangement for the child to live with a relative or family friend in the school district. However, this informal arrangement can cause problems.  Because the parent or legal guardian resides in another district, the child may still be considered a nonresident and be subjected to nonresident tuition fees, which can cost over $7,000 per year.
In Minnesota, the child’s parent or guardian must receive the approval of the school board from both the resident and the nonresident districts if they want their child to continue school in the district that is now the nonresident one. However, if the child is in 11th or 12th grade when the parent or guardian moves to another district, the child can continue enrollment in the nonresident district with only the approval of that district’s school board.
In other states, there have been instances where families had to fight to keep their children in the district tuition free.  Wisconsin addressed this issue way back in 1889 and adopted what is known as the “Thayer Rule,” holding that a child who lives in a district for reasons other than school attendance can be considered a resident of the district and would not have to pay tuition to attend the public school.
Because parents often wish their child remain in the same school district throughout their education, and parents do not want to pay a nonresident tuition fee, the best proactive step that a parent or guardian can take in Minnesota is to contact each district’s school board and secure permission for the child to continue in the original school district. If they place the child with a relative who does not have legal custody, they may have to argue that their child resides in the district for reasons other than attending the particular school district. It is appropriate to be aware of your state’s statutes regarding residency in a school district before moving the child in with someone who is not that child’s legal guardian. Doing so may prevent a legal headache down the road.