Monroe County is known for zero tolerance of non-county residents attending our schools.

The school system has for years sent family services coordinator Gwen Byrd out to inspect the homes of students if it questions their Monroe County residency.

“Where’s his tooth brush?” “Where does he sleep?” “Where does he keep his clothes?”

Those are some questions Byrd may ask as she tries to determine whether students are honest-to-God Monroe County residents. Sometimes Byrd even has to take a deputy with her, just to be on the safe side.

Perhaps such tactics are necessary. It’s true that lots of Middle Georgia families want their children to attend our highly-acclaimed schools, and Monroe County housing is more expensive than our neighbors. The story on page 3A of this week’s edition is yet another example of how our test scores lead the region.

Some counties simply charge a fee to non-local families who want to attend their schools. Perhaps those counties don’t have the demand that Monroe County schools have.

But last week, the school board decided that while we subject area families to a veritable proctology exam if we suspect a student doesn’t really live in the county, we will at the same time roll out the red carpet for non-Americans who want to attend our schools.

The board voted 4-3 to adopt a head-in-the-sand policy whereby we will not check the immigration status of any student. The policy was recommended by the Georgia School Board Association (GSBA).

This is the same Atlanta-based lobby group that persuaded our school board recently to just claim every exemption possible when it closes meetings to the public. Georgia law allows local governments to kick the public out of meetings only for three reasons: to discuss litigation, personnel or the sale of real estate. The law says the board must identify which of these reasons they’re locking the public out. Members must also sign an affidavit swearing that it was the reason. But the GSBA convinced our school board recently that they could just cite all three exemptions as a giant, sweeping CYA, even if it doesn’t discuss two of the three options. The move violated the letter and the spirit of the open meetings law. Thankfully our board recently reversed itself and halted that practice.

On the subject of immigration, the GSBA may be right that enforcement is supposed to be a federal or state responsibility. 

But as school board member Greg Head argued, it’s clear that’s not happening.

“Somebody has to start doing something,” said Head.

Board member Stuart Pippin pointed out that the school system on one hand is requiring citizen parents to provide gobs of forms proving residency and vaccines, yet on the other hand won’t even bother checking a student’s immigration status. 

Kudos to Head, Pippin and board member Eva Bilderback for opposing the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

And kudos to them for having the courage to at least start a debate in the school board chamber. This is what has been lacking for so many years. School board meetings, not just here but around the state, have often devolved into dog and pony shows empty of any meaningful discussion. School leaders go to great lengths to avoid anything controversial or interesting. Only with great resistance did the board recently begin allowing taxpayers to address them publicly without days of advance notice. Self-government is necessarily messy and involves debate. That’s healthy and it’s how our school board should be run.

Thankfully, Monroe County voters have made enough changes in the board that we now have debates. But we still have work to do. We apparently need at least one more new BOE member to get positive results, at least on this issue. If we vote well, perhaps we’ll get a school board that operates at the pleasure of the taxpayers of Monroe County, rather than the big shots at the Georgia School Board Association.