Derek Roll spends his days watching television, playing video games or helping his aunt care for his younger cousins.
The 13-year-old would rather be in school.
"I miss school," he said. "I really like math and English."
Derek, a quiet, well-mannered teen, is caught in a legal morass that is barring him from the eighth grade at Sykesville Middle School.
"I don't really understand why no one will let me go to school," he said. "I promise I will make up all my work."
Derek moved from Los Angeles to the Marriottsville home of Dawn and Michael Roberts, his aunt and uncle, just before school started. His mother, Trish Roberts, unemployed and homeless, stayed behind in California.
"She is living on the street and doesn't want her son to," Dawn Roberts said. "Derek is a good kid. He is nice and he's smart. His mother sent him here to us."
Derek said, "My mom would rather I stayed here. She knows here I have a bed to sleep in every night."
Trish Roberts, a single mother, asked her family to care for her son, until she can get back on her feet. She has written and had notarized a statement that gives the family full responsibility for Derek.
"I don't want to go back to L. A.," Derek said. "There are too many gangs. We were having too much trouble there and we couldn't find a house."
In the letter, Ms. Roberts "assigns all parental rights and responsibilities" to her family members.
The letter is not equivalent to legal guardianship in Maryland, said Edmund O'Meally, attorney to the Carroll County Board of Education. Until the Roberts have established legal guardianship through a court order, Derek cannot attend a Carroll school.
"By law, the Carroll County public schools are only for students with bona fide residence, those who reside in the county with parents or legal guardians," Mr. O'Meally said. "The county has no legal responsibility to nonresidents."
hTC Dawn Roberts said school officials recognize the document she has from her sister-in-law, but they insist it must be presented to a judge. The school system will not accept Mr. and Mrs. Roberts as Derek's legal guardians without the process, which would cost about $800 in attorney and court fees, Mrs. Roberts said.
"I can't afford to hire a lawyer, and I don't qualify for legal aid," said Mrs. Roberts, who has been on maternity leave from her job at Giant Food Inc.
Derek's mother calls him several times a week. Mr. and Mrs. Roberts have invited her to move here, too, but she has refused.
Derek finished the seventh grade last spring at Mulholland Middle School in Los Angeles.
"I had bad grades because I missed a lot of school, but I passed," he said.
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, who have lived in Carroll County for five years with their three children, expect Derek will be here at least a year. They had hoped he would be able to attend eighth grade with their son and his cousin, Donald.
"Donald wants me to go to school with him," Derek said. "I don't let him tell me about it because I am afraid I am missing too much. I am afraid they won't let me go to high school next year."
So, Derek remains at home in front of the television instead of school books.
"If I was deliberately keeping him from school, I would be in jail," Mrs. Roberts said. "What gives them the right to tell me Derek doesn't have the right to go to school here? We are residents. We pay taxes."
Edwin Davis, director of pupil services for county schools, would not discuss any specific situation. He deals with many requests to waive the guidelines for admission to county schools. Since Aug. 1, the county has considered about 50 such requests for children who don't have legal residency.
"At $6,000 apiece, it builds up," Mr. Davis said. "Our legal obligation is to serve the bona fide members of our community."
If the court appoints legal guardianship or if there is an indication that the family is moving in that direction, the board could issue temporary permission and allow a child in school, Mr. Davis said.
"We have a legal responsibility to see that children are educated," he said. "If a child is living in our county and not attending school, we have an obligation to see that child is afforded an education."
Mrs. Roberts located an attorney yesterday, who agreed to handle Derek's case on a pro bono basis. With the proper documentation, she hoped he would be in school before week's end.