Glen Beard

The Choctaw County School Board put up a wall to a foreign student on Friday.

The board voted unanimously to stick with its original decision to deny an international exchange student a place in its schools this year.

The board’s decision appears to conflict with the State Board of Education’s guidelines for residency verification for school districts.

In Choctaw County’s residency verification policy, it appears the district simply removed the foreign exchange student requirement from the model State Board of Education policy that provides guidelines to all school districts.

It was unclear Friday if the Mississippi Department of Education would address the discrepency.

The board met Friday morning and told Weir resident and potential host family member Christy King they would not change a policy that says the school district does not accept international exchange students.

Superintendent Glen Beard said the local coordinator for the company involved in bringing the student from Brazil presented inaccurate information to the board. He also said the board was not given enough time to research the company and was met with the request right as the school year was starting.

“She told us that if the student had not been placed by Aug. 31, the family would lose their deposit of $30,000,” Beard explained.

He said he then spoke with an employee of the company, CCI Greenheart, who said that was not true.

The company’s local coordinator Stephanie Outlaw declined to comment, saying only that she was “disappointed” by the board’s decision.

CCI Greenheart has placed other students in Mississippi, particularly along the Gulf Coast, in the Jackson metro area and in north Mississippi. The company helped place one student currently in Saucier.

The school board adopted its policy to not accept international exchange students years ago after a negative experience with another company that facilitates placement of these students in high schools. Beard said one of the program employees was stealing from a student who attended Choctaw County, and the board changed its policy to protect itself from liability going forward.

The State Board of Education’s residency verification policy outlines several exceptions for students living with adults other than parents or guardians to be able to qualify as a resident in the school district. As long as the adult can provide documentation proving their residency and an affidavit stating his or her relationship to the student, “students enrolled in recognized exchange programs residing with host families” should be recognized to establish residency, the document states.

According to the same policy, school districts must receive approval from the State Board of Education if they adopt a policy that deviates from theirs.

When asked whether that approval was granted, Beard said he was unable to answer because it preceded his time at the district. Calls and emails to school board attorney Kevin Null were not returned.

But Beard said he is not concerned the district is violating any rules since the student still lives in Brazil.

“The State Board of Education policy … has to deal with establishing residency,” he said. “The student in this case is still a resident of Brazil.”

Beard said the board’s decision does not mean the district isn’t open to international exchange students or does not see the benefits of such a program.

“The board did say they would be more than willing to entertain the idea of an exchange program given that one of the local coordinators provides the information needed way before school starts … so we can build a partnership with the company that would be sponsoring the program, which I think is completely understandable,” he said.

Carole Arbush, the regional manager for CCI Greenheart, said the company is now working to place the student elsewhere this year.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.