Publication Date



The state grants residents who live within a school district’s border an ownership interest in that district’s schools. This interest includes the power to exclude nonresidents. To attend school in a school district, a child must prove that she lives at an in-district address and is a bona fide resident. But in highly-sought-after districts and schools, establishing a child’s bona fide residence may be highly contested.

In this Essay, I show that education law, policies, and practices fail to recognize a child’s residence when the child’s family and living situation do not comport with a particular ideal of family life. This ideal is rooted in the archetype of the White, middle-class nuclear family headed and controlled by two parents and living in a single dwelling around which all family life revolves—a “home.” While this idea may be normatively familiar, it is elusive for many families. For many families, especially the race–class–gender subordinated, “family” looks and functions differently from the archetype. Parents are rarely the only or primary caregivers for children in these families, and home-making is likely to occur across multiple sites, not just one “home.” By valorizing the nuclear family and its accouterments—and refusing to consider other family forms as sufficient to establish residency—residency requirements not only impede access to educational resources for those who are most in need, but also entrench a race–class–gender-specific ideal of the family and ignore the reality of how many families actually function.