No exceptions: Gateway School Board says first-grader must leave district
When Gateway first-grader Kamdyn Biddle's father died in September, her mother wanted her to remain at Cleveland Steward Elementary School.
After all, Katy Biddle concluded, her daughter had made friends there and was meeting daily with a guidance counselor. The death of Kamdyn's father from a brain disease was traumatic enough for the girl; Biddle wanted to keep her daily school routine normal.
But Biddle went to stay with family in Murrysville, as it was difficult to remain in the Monroeville home where her husband died and she needed help caring for her 9-month-old twins.
The Gateway School Board, however, ruled last week that Kamdyn can no longer attend Steward.
“I'm devastated. It's upsetting, and I feel awful for (Kamdyn),” Biddle said. “I understand there's a policy, but I know they can make an exception. I can't fathom why it has to come to this.”
She said she initially spoke to Steward Principal Michael Jack about the situation and he said staying at Steward until the end of the school year was fine.
“Since I still owned our home (in Monroeville) and paid taxes, he told me it was no big deal to finish the year,” Biddle said.
Jack failed to return two telephone messages for comment.
But when Biddle attended a parent-teacher conference Jan. 26, the school's secretary handed her a letter from Gateway Superintendent William Short stating her daughter's last day of school would be Jan. 30.
Board member Chad Stubenbort said the board during an executive session following a committee meeting last week chose to uphold Short's decision.
Stubenbort said he strongly opposed the decision. Other board members refused to comment. Short said in an email that he could not comment on the Biddle case but said school policy and state code requires a student to live in the district.
The board also referenced a policy which states students must live within the district with a resident parent or legal guardian.
But Stubenbort said Katy Biddle passed the “litmus test” for someone to be considered a Gateway resident, because she provided a mortgage agreement, driver's license, and proof of taxes and utility bills paid from an address within the district.
“It was ignorant for (other board members) not to know their policy,” Stubenbort said.
Board member Stephanie Byrne, though, said the policy defines residency as “where you lay your head at night.” She said others have been turned away after attempting to keep their children in the schools after moving out of the district.
“Letting (Kamdyn) stay after we didn't let others is unfair and goes against policy. If you don't lay your head here, you're not a resident,” she said.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, “Acceptable documents to establish residency include a deed, a lease, utility bills, vehicle registration, driver's license or Dept. of Transportation identification card.”
And it adds: “The district should be flexible and reasonable as to what is required.”
Katy Biddle said she's being penalized for doing the right thing — telling the district administration about her situation.
“I wanted to be honest and upfront. I didn't want to game the system, and I didn't want this situation to happen,” she said.
Stubenbort added that he didn't think the mother's request for her daughter to finish the school year was asking for too much.
“Here's a parent that's obviously involved in parent-teacher conferences, pays taxes, still owns a home in the district, brings her daughter to school every day and there's no extra burden on taxpayers for (Kamdyn) to stay at the school. I just don't get it,” Stubenbort said.
Samson X Horne is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.