(WWBT) - A family accused of violating Hanover's "out of county" school attendance policy has been given tuition bills totaling $61,000, and their three children have been removed from school.
The family says they are not tuition thieves. Instead, they say Hanover will not accept any residency documentation they provide.
The Urena family says they're being treated like criminals. They claim, out of the blue, Hanover Schools sent them a letter stating the parents don't live at the home where their children are staying.
Both parents say that's untrue.
The family has asked for leniency and say Hanover denied them due process and the opportunity to thoroughly tell their story and defend themselves from charges of tuition theft.
"This house is mine," Cristiane Urena, the children's mother, said. "It's mine and my husband and for my kids. I have another property, and the deeds aren't enough to prove residency for them."
In the Urena's case, it's not your typical case of using someone else's address to enroll their kids in an out-of-district school. Hanover claims the parents live in New York and the children must attend school where their parents live, according to policy.
"We're not criminals," Andrew Wallingford, the couple's oldest son, said. "We never hid out situation from anybody."
Wallingford has taken care of the children, making sure they get to school. Joseph, who has autism, attends Oak Knoll Middle School. Jason and Nissa have speech difficulties and attend Pole Green Elementary.
The Urenas say they were transparent, and Hanover knew that Cristiane was attending school in New York and set to graduate in June.
Wallingford says he was always home, and when Cristiane was away, father Jose was there. The Urenas say they are working to provide a better life for their children.
"I am physically here. I'm paying my taxes. I'm paying everything," Cristiane Urena said. "I have to pay. I work so hard. They're asking full time. I have to take the kids where I am. I think that's unfair."
Hanover said, in part, it must investigate whenever it receives a report, and the school district works with the family to enroll the student in the right school district.
Wallingford said it's not that simple, and believes they are being dismissed. Not only do they live in the home they own, he says, his mother drove a Hanover school bus for one of the years they are being charged tuition.
"It's not like we hid anything from anybody," Wallingford said. "The school, when they needed to talk to me mom, they called my mom in New York. They never gave us a hint."
The family's children left for New York on Monday to enroll in school there. The parents said they were afraid Child Protective Services would be called because they were not attending school.
In the meantime, they're looking for legal help fighting what they see as an unjust $61,000 tuition bill.
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