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School ‘district jumpers’ want Lower Moreland charges dropped

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were humiliated by their arrest and say they have been stressed ever since.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were humiliated by their arrest and say they have been stressed ever since.

Their crime? Allowing their daughter to remain in the Lower Moreland School District while the girl was living in Philadelphia. They are charged with theft of services and conspiracy to commit theft of services.

Now they want those charges to go away.

"We never had any intention to deceive anyone," Hamlet Garcia said Thursday at a news conference also attended by education-reform activists who questioned why the Garcias - or any accused "district jumpers" - should be prosecuted.

State Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.), who convened the news conference, said he would push for legislation that would make it easier for pupils to attend schools outside the districts where they live.

The Garcias want their records cleared. According to their account, during the 2011-12 school year, the couple's then-5-year-old daughter, Fiorella, was attending Pine Road Elementary School because she lived with her grandfather, Grigori Sofitchouk, in Huntingdon Valley.

At the time, her parents were separated, but after they reconciled, Fiorella went to live with them in Philadelphia with two months left in the school year. She continued to attend Pine Road.

"How do you take a child out with two months left in school?" said Thomas Kenny, the Garcias' attorney.

According to the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, however, the Garcias had lived in Philadelphia since 2004, and "at no time did the Garcias or their child reside in Lower Moreland."

In August, the Garcias were arrested. They said that they were willing to pay tuition costs but that school officials refused to meet with them.

School board representatives would not comment.

At a hearing last month, Montgomery County prosecutors recommended that the defendants be allowed to enter an accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) program and repay tuition. If they complete the program successfully, their records would be expunged.

But Kenny said entering the program would mean the Garcias would be placed on probation.

"I want to have them completely vindicated," he said.

At the news conference, Kelley Williams-Bolar, a mother who traveled from Ohio, said she had spent nine days in jail after sending her child to school in a district where she did not live.

"Hundreds of parents are district jumpers," she said, adding that many parents send children to schools outside their district simply because educational opportunities vary from district to district. "This is not a crime."

While it is not unusual for suburban school districts, especially those bordering Philadelphia, to go to great lengths to keep parents from sending their children to their districts, it is rare for the parents to be charged criminally.

For now, the Garcias have been sending their daughter to private school.

"My biggest frustration is to see our stress going to my daughter," Hamlet Garcia said.