The newly elected mayor is sure to have a significant influence on public education in Chicago. Prior to the casting of a single vote, however, the election for Chicago’s mayor has already impacted residency issues for school districts outside Chicago’s boundaries.

As the media has heavily reported, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that Rahm Emanuel met the one year residency requirement to be a candidate for mayor of the City of Chicago and his name must be included on the ballot. While the Court’s decision served to end the current political ballot drama in Chicago, it will likely have a lasting impact on residency issues for school districts.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court made two significant statements that will impact future residency determinations. First, the Court stated that the term “residency” carries with it the same meaning wherever it is used in Illinois statutes. Thus, even though the Emanuel case involved the meaning of “residency” in the Illinois Municipal Code, the Supreme Court’s decision reaches all Illinois statutes that utilize the term “residency.” As Justices Burke and Freeman wrote in a concurrence, beyond candidacy issues, the breadth of the Court’s decision will impact in-state tuition determinations, residency requirements for police officers and fire fighters, and school district residency determinations. Of course, it will also have a direct effect on residency issues for board of education candidates and current board members.

Second, the Court’s clarification of the process for determining “residency” is significant. The Court emphasized that there are four principle factors for determining if an individual is a current resident of a locale. Those principles include:

  • The individual must establish (1) physical presence and (2) an intent to remain in that place as a permanent home. These factors establish residency.
  • Once residency is initially established, an individual remains a resident unless facts establish that the individual has abandoned his or her residency.  
  • Both the establishment and the abandonment of a residence is principally a question of intent. The Court emphasized that even if an individual no longer lives in a locale where he or she had established residency, if facts show that their intention is to return, the individual remains a resident.  
  • Finally, once residence is established, the presumption is that it continues, and the burden is on the contesting party to show that it has been abandoned.  

The essence of the Court’s decision appears to be that once residency is established it will be difficult for an individual to lose that status as a resident of a particular locale unless clear facts establish abandonment. Each fact pattern will create unique interpretations and as the saying goes, the devil will be in the details.

In the student residency context, however, the implications of this decision may prove to be positive for school districts that must grapple with the questionable residency claims of students. For example, many times parents will retain ownership of a home in one school district, while renting a home in another school district, in an attempt to have their child attend the school where the rental home is located. Under the Emanuel case, such facts would greatly assist a school district in establishing that those parents remain residents of the area where they own a home because they have never abandoned it. Of course, the fact pattern could be reversed. A family, who originally established residency in one school district, but now lives outside the school district, could claim that, despite their current living arrangement, they have never abandoned their status as residents. Therefore, their children could attend the school district where they established residency, despite currently living within the boundaries of another school district. In our practice, the first example is more prevalent then the second example. Thus, the ruling should prove more positive for school districts. In any event, the facts of each case need to be carefully considered in light of the ruling in the Emanuel case whenever the residency of a student’s parents is in question.