Drawing The Line

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The most exclusive school districts in Texas usually go all out to find parents who really don’t live within the boundaries of the school district. You know – folks who try cheating the system!

So why is Highland Park in Dallas now trying to hide the race of families they investigate? Watch as we catch them playing favorites in our DRAWING THE LINE investigation.

It’s a little after six in the morning, our investigator is in the Preston Hollow neighborhood, where the wealthiest of Dallas’s wealthy live.

“It’s a very affluent high-end neighborhood with several million-dollar mansions within the neighborhood,” a private investigator said.

“The assignment was to document where a student was living and see their residential location,” the investigator added.

We watch this mom get into the car with her daughter.

Nine minutes later, she’s dropping her off at Highland Park High School.

Mom goes back to the same address she came from.

That house is showcased as a “New Mediterranean Mansion in Old Preston Hollow.”

The registered owners are David and Jennifer Lancashire.

He’s a mega-rich entrepreneur and CEO of a tech firm.

Here’s the problem: that house, it’s not zoned to exclusive Highland Park ISD.

Instead, it’s zoned to the Dallas School District.

And the folks who pay taxes in Highland Park ISD take this residency stuff very seriously.

We know the school district has been getting complaints about this family for two years, like this one from a real estate agent: “I cannot stress how important it is for the community and home price valuations that HPISD follows their stated residency policies.”

“The district does obviously investigate residency allegations and makes determinations,” said Meghan McCaig, HPISD attorney.

That’s Meghan McCaig, the school district’s lawyer.

She’s the only one that would talk to us.

“This is not something that the district is trying to engage in,” McCaig said.

But they’ve known for months we’ve been examining the way the school district investigates these allegations.

We first heard about this problem while looking at multiple family court cases allegedly mishandled by Judge Andrea Plumlee, and it blossomed into a whole separate investigation.

Including whether white students, who are accused of cheating, get the same treatment Asian students do.

We must have hit a nerve because when we started our investigation, Highland Park was reporting the ethnicity of students they investigate.

But not anymore.

The school district has suddenly removed the federal race code from their reports to the public detailing residency investigations.

But, why?

“[We’re] not under any obligation to identify the race. That that information is being attempted to be weaponized against the district, it is no longer going to keep that information,” McCaig said.

We think federal civil rights law requires school districts to identify the race of the kids who enroll, especially when they face various actions by the school district.

That’s why last month, we filed a formal complaint with the United States Department of Education, claiming this wealthy school district is shirking its responsibility.

“What responsibility is that?” McCaig asked.

 “A responsibility to the public taxpayers on what they’re doing about people who are trying to cheat the system,” Andrea Palacio answered.

“How are people in Highland Park, who pay taxes in Highland Park, supposed to know whether or not Highland Park is actually trying to investigate people who are trying to cheat the system, or are targeting people who are trying to cheat the system, if they can’t find this information through public disclosure?” Palacio asked in an interview.

They won’t like this: we found evidence of selective enforcement of residency requirements going back to 2021.

“When you think about Highland Park ISD, you think about tradition. You think about excellence,” said in a Highland Park advertisement.

Highland Park ISD is ranked as the ninth-best school district in Texas. The Dallas ISD next door, well not so good: ranked 537th.

So, it’s not surprising some families will try to cheat, claiming they live in Highland Park’s boundaries when they really don’t.

“Until recently, there actually was a way to tell who got kicked out of the school district. It was a race code that was right here on the document,” Palacio told us.

The numbers on the screen—In the 2021-2022 school year, the documents provided by Highland Park show 6 students were investigated.

Three eventually kicked out for residency violations.

In the 2022-2023 school year, 11 students were investigated and 3 students were kicked out.

In two years, 5 of 6 students kicked out were Asian, more than 83%.

Here is the school district’s policy about residency: “A person’s residence is the fixed, permanent, and principal place of habitation that is the center of the person’s domestic, social, and civic life.”

And there’s plenty of evidence Highland Park Police sometimes spend a lot of time trying to prove it.

In this case, police placed a piece of paper in this door frame of the suspect’s apartment, several days of observation, scoured social media for hints of cheating.

In January of 2023, it was an investigation of a fourth and eighth grader we noticed, the piece of paper trick again, seven different trips to the same address.

But the most complained-about alleged residency cheating in Highland Park appears to involve the same family, the Lancashires in Preston Hollow.

Including this written complaint from July 7th in 2021: the woman saying her niece was in tears because she was denied a spot on the high school’s coveted Belle’s Dance Team.

She felt like a spot was “unfairly taken” after it was given to a Preston Hollow resident.

“The idea that allowing a wealthy white girl to get around the residency requirements while keeping out low income minority students would be a PR disaster for our schools,” the complaint said.

“We know from the district’s documents that there were at least eight different complaints about the Lancashire family in 2022, but none of the documents said anything about any investigation in 2022,” Palacio said.

Until a 9th complaint about the Preston Hollow family buying a condo inside the Highland Park district and pretending to live there.

The mom responded, “I have not had a change of residency. It is unfortunate that the district is being bothered with anonymous emails.”

So, we sent our investigator to Preston Hollow to see for ourselves.

“Their comings and goings are from the residence in the Preston Hollow neighborhood. It’s pretty much undeniable that’s where they live,” the private investigator said.

After we sent our private investigator’s report to Highland Park, the district finally initiated a police investigation.

We know from emails the school knew the parents currently claim the out-of-district residence as their homestead exemption for tax purposes.

The police observed the student leaving for school from the out-of-district address, just like we did.

That’s the house in Preston Hollow, the family owns this condo inside the district.

But here’s where it gets curious: there is no evidence of an extended police investigation, no paper in the door of the condo.

The district scheduled a meeting with the family at the in-district address.

The mansion owners convinced the assistant principal that their condo really is the center of their life.

And that big mansion? Well, they just go there sometimes.

“I’m actually a little taken back by that. Just because, during the multiple surveillance, not one time was there another address other than the Preston Hollow address that they came to and from,” the private investigator said.

We’ve reached out to the Lancashire family a number of times: letters, phone calls.

No response.

“I do think it’s selectively enforced,” said Dallas mother, Suzy Featherston.

Suzy Featherston says the Highland Park school district harassed her in 2021 when her daughter was a senior at Highland Park High.

She had moved out of the district, but made arrangements for her daughter to stay with her sister who lived inside the district.

She says she even documented it with Highland Park.

“So, my sister and I went and met with them, gave them the deed to her house. My daughter stayed over there a couple of weeks just to kind of get everything cleared, and then about a month later, I got that police report that she’d been followed,” Featherston told us.

Her daughter was followed for at least three days.

“It’s real creepy. And it’s a violation. And she was a little bit scared,” Featherston said.

Featherston’s daughter had been a Highland Park student since kindergarten, but the district brought the hammer down halfway through her daughter’s senior year, threatening fines until she established a permanent residency inside the district.

“They were they were awful. I mean, you know, just very demanding in the emails. And basically said she could be expelled, and I would be fined $60 a day for the school year,” Featherston added.

But there’s no evidence Highland Park threatened fines in other cases.

“I cannot share with you any student, any specific student information,” McCaig told us.

But McCaig knew which investigation we were focused on.

“There is a student who had been found not to reside in the district, who now does reside in the district and is going to the school,” McCaig said.

That phone call was in November, two months after Highland Park declared there was nothing to see here.

But, we did surveillance again in December, and the surveillance captured the same story from that Preston Hollow address.

The district charged us $9,600 to get emails in this case.

Some of the pages are totally redacted.

Only a few even mention the investigation.

The Highland Park police never called us to help.

The district eventually refunded only half our money.

In one email, we can see the assistant principal even wishing this family a happy early birthday as the mom scheduled their investigative visit.

This month, we took out a full-page ad in the Park Cities newspaper, asking the public for information on residency issues at the school district.

And we are hearing from them.

Stay tuned.

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