School started for Derek Roll yesterday, and he had one word to describe his new classes.
"Fun," he said at the end of the day. "Much better than staying home and watching TV."
The 13-year-old returned to school seven weeks later than classmates and is eager to make up for lost time.
"He was all smiles when the principal met him at the door," said Dawn Roberts, Derek's aunt.
Donald Pyles, principal at Sykesville Middle School, said he wanted to welcome Derek with open arms.
"Whatever the reasons were for not being here, he had to be unhappy out of school," said Mr. Pyles. "I knew this was a child who really wanted to come to school."
Mr. Pyles met Derek this fall when Ms. Roberts tried to enroll him. Without a court-sanctioned legal guardianship, he was not a bona fide county resident, however, and officials followed policy for nonresidents and denied him entry.
Derek moved from Los Angeles to the Marriottsville home of relatives just before school started. His mother, unemployed and homeless, remained in California. She signed a notarized statement giving guardianship to family members in Maryland.
Derek had hoped to begin eighth grade with his cousin, Donald Roberts, but the school system would not allow him in until his aunt and uncle obtained legal guardianship through the courts, which the family could not afford.
When a Westminster attorney learned of Derek's plight, he offered his services for free. Late Monday, school officials learned that the guardianship petition was proceeding and issued a 90-day provisional enrollment.
Ms. Roberts drove him to school yesterday and found Mr. Pyles (( waiting at the door.
"I walked him right down the hall to his classroom," Mr. Pyles said. "Five seconds later he was doing classwork."
Derek said, "The teachers introduced me, and they all welcomed me."
He found a familiar face, his cousin Donald, in his classes. He hopes Donald will help ease him over any rough spots.
His teachers promised "to help catch me up without staying after school," he said.
And, what did he like best?
"Everything," he said.