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Decision Number
James Montgomery
Cindy Johnson
N.E. Hamilton Community School District
Full Text

The problem giving rise to this appeal resulted when the Johnsons moved to their current location in October 1994. At that time, Ms. Johnson was unsure whether they were still part of the Webster City Community School District or whether their move had placed them in the N. E. Hamilton Community School Dis-trict. When she approached the Webster City District elementary princi-pal about the issue, she was asked whether she and her husband would be transporting the children to school. She answered in the affirmative since she and her husband both work in Webster City. The principal then told her there would be nothing to worry about because the children were entitled to continue their education in Webster City. She was not advised to file any papers or to contact the N.E. Hamilton administration.

Superintendent Schnellert testified that he received open enrollment papers from Appellants on September 18th, the same day as the Board meeting, seeking open enrollment for the 1995-96 school year for James Montgomery. That evening, the Board unanimously denied the open enroll-ment request for the 1995-96 school year. As a result, the issue on appeal is James Mont-gomery's open enrollment status during his fifth grade year (the 1995-96 school year).

The problem is, State Board precedent has always held that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." (See, e.g., In re Matthew Lars Egesdal, 13 D.o.E. App. Dec. 189 (1996); In re Candy Sue Crane, 8 D.o.E. App. Dec. 198 (1990). Usually that admonition is intend-ed for those parents who are uninformed about the open enrollment deadlines, and but have not sought guidance before failing to act. In this case, however, Ms. Johnson sought guidance and was told by a school administrator that she didn't have to worry about filing any papers. In the present case, it would seem unfair to enforce a deadline against the parent who did seek information from the school administration, but who was incorrectly informed. There is also the fact that the Johnsons fulfilled the spirit, if not the letter, of the "continuation" open enrollment law by filing their application prior to the third Thursday in September following their move. 281--IAC 17.8(7).

Although the State Board has not exercised its subsection (20) power in many cases, it has done so to prevent a result contrary to the best interests of the student and his or her family. See, e.g., In re Bryan Swift, 12 D.o.E. App. Dec. 24 (1994); In re Ann and Patrick Taylor, 10 D.o.E. App. 285 (1993); In re Christopher Forristall, 10 D.o.E. App. Dec. 262 (1993). The present situation presents an appropriate occasion for the use of the subsection (20) power. It is under this broad grant of authority to act in the best interest of the child that the decision of the N.E. Hamilton Community School District, denying the open enrollment applica-tion for James Montgomery to attend Webster City Community School District for the 1995-96 school year is hereby recommended for reversal.

That the decision of the N.E. Hamilton Community School District's Board of Directors made on September 18, 1995, denying Appellant's untimely open enrollment request for her son, James Montgomery, to attend the Webster City Community School District for the 1995-96 school year was reversed.