Latin’s Crossing Guard

On the trail of Boston Latin’s residency fraud investigator.

Illustration by Raymond Biesinger

Illustration by Raymond Biesinger

HUBERT TAN was not alone. On four different days last fall, the high school senior stepped out the door of his Malden home and made his way to Boston Latin, one of the country’s best public schools. But Tan never saw Stephen Hickey, an investigator for Boston Public Schools. BPS records show that Hickey arrived each of the four mornings at 6 a.m. and parked discreetly on Tan’s street. According to Tan, he snapped surveillance pictures. When Tan got a ride, Hickey ran the car’s plate and found it was registered to a Malden address. “It was supposed to be some sort of covert operation,” Tan says today. “I had absolutely no clue.”

Although Tan didn’t know it, he was one of about 100 students Hickey investigated for residency fraud last year. Only Boston residents are allowed to attend the city’s three exam schools, and Hickey now had proof that Tan actually lived in Malden. So he got the boot, as did 17 other Boston exam school students in 2009.

To be fair, Tan’s case was unfortunate: His parents’ divorce had forced him to move out of the city before his sixth year at Boston Latin. But the school, which runs from grades 7 to 12, is so highly ranked that certain suburban parents will do almost anything to sneak their kids in. Some have even leased apartments just to establish city addresses. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that rent is often cheaper than private school tuition.) Hickey’s job is to make sure no one trying to cheat the system gets away with it.

This year, the city is giving him a little help. Parents once had until February to prove – or fake – their Boston bona fides, but now the deadline has been pushed up to November 5. The extra three months will give Hickey the time he needs to set up his stings. As for what those consist of, well, that’s top secret. “We try to limit when he speaks to reporters,” says a BPS spokesperson. “We don’t want to tip his hand.”

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  • Eileen

    As a Boston tax payer, I am pleased to see the city is doing something to secure the sits in the BPS for those of us who decided to stay and help improve the schools.

  • E Brian

    I hope the student that obtained that seat appreciates it as much as the non-resident did. The impact of divorce on children is real and must be taken into account when a decission like leaving such a great school and where to live after the divorce are going to have impacts on the child. Maybe the custodial parent should have decided to live in Boston two more years.

  • Hubert

    As the student that was interviewed in this article, I can assure readers that there is nothing “top secret” about Hickley’s operations. According to his statements, he uses resources that are easily and openly accessible. If you are careful, it’s easy to slip by: from personal knowledge, for every graduating class at Boston Latin, there are always a few cases of the same scenario. There are also students who move out of the city when their tenure at BLS is over. But while they are there, they are passionate about their school, often spending endless hours committing themselves to community service when they aren’t bogged down by schoolwork. Parents strive to open such opportunities for their children. Why should people who work hard and pay their dues be labeled as criminals and frauds? If Boston wants more of their students to get access to the prestigious exam schools, they should start by improving the education system. After all, there is a test. Pass it with better marks and you get a seat. Don’t shift the blame to people who don’t reside in the city. Just because they aren’t from Boston, it doesn’t mean they are bad students or bad people.