DRACUT -- Thomas and Nelly Martin, parents of two daughters attending Brookside Elementary School, are breathing a sigh of relief after the school's principal, Dawn Smith, rescinded her order last month that the girls transfer immediately to the Campbell School district, where the Martins recently bought a second home.
Smith's decision to allow the two children to continue attending Brookside through June resolved a monthlong dispute that began after the Martins' second-grade daughter informed her teacher on Friday, Dec.
The following Monday, Dec. 23, Nelly Martin was contacted by the Brookside School office and informed that by order of the principal her children must be transferred immediately to the Campbell School district, closer to the family's new address.
His daughter's disclosure about the second home purchase also caused a "very unfriendly" school district official to visit the Merrimack Terrace property to check on whether his family had moved in, Thomas Martin said.
"Principal Smith heard that we purchased a new home, and for some reason began trying to kick our children out of Brookside," Nelly Martin said. "I replied that I'm not going to because it's the middle of the (school) year, and not in the best interest of the kids."
When Nelly Martin phoned Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone's office to plead her case that the family still lived on Lafond Lane in the Brookside district and did not plan to move to Merrimack Terrace until summer, "the person I spoke with assured me it was up to the principal to act on any possible address changes," Martin said.
Upon calling the Brookside School back, Nelly Martin was told by Smith that "it would be a good time for the kids to switch schools," said Martin, quoting the principal. "When we said that we still live in her district, and we don't want to change schools, she said it wasn't up to us."
After pondering the principal's order through the extended Christmas school vacation, the Martins sent their daughters back to Brookside on Monday, Jan. 6. "I basically ignored (Smith's order), figuring nobody in their right mind would make me," Nelly Martin said.
On the morning of Friday, Jan. 10, a man unknown to the Martins paid a surprise visit to the Merrimack Terrace property.
"He was an incredibly rude older man.
Because the unidentified man spotted children's footprints in the snow outside the house, he concluded the family did live there, and told Martin he must obey the Brookside principal's order to transfer his daughters to Campbell School right away, Martin said.
"I offered to show him my license, showing I'm still living at Lafond Lane. He said it didn't matter, and that we had to move," Martin said.
After again asking the man's name and being refused, Thomas Martin said he ordered the man to "leave my property, and never come back, or I'll call the police."
As a parting comment, "the man said that he'd see me in court," Thomas Martin said.
Only days later did Thomas and Nelly Martin learn that the man was referring to truancy court -- not criminal or civil court, the couple said.
Seeking to gain the School Committee's support in the dispute, Nelly Martin addressed the board during the public-input segment of the committee's Jan. 13 meeting, requesting their assurance that her children not be forced to transfer to the Campbell School until September. Committee Chairman Michael McNamara told Martin that meeting rules did not permit the board to respond to questions from speakers during public input.
After the meeting, Stone said it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the specifics of the Martin case, and indicated that a confidential dialogue between the district and parents was ongoing.
When asked about Thomas Martin's claim that a school official had stepped on his property while declining to identify himself, Stone said, "We acted in a professional manner at all times, and that's as much as I'm going to say about it."
In a meeting arranged by Stone on Jan. 14, Nelly Martin sat with Stone, Smith and Dracut's elementary school truancy officer, Harry Curtis, who Martin learned is the man who spoke with her husband on Jan. 10 at the Merrimack Terrace house.
Contrary to her husband's account, Curtis reported in the meeting that he had given his name and showed an ID to Thomas Martin when asked.
As a result of the discussion, Smith told Martin her daughters may finish the school year at Brookside, as she wished, "provided my kids are never late again," a reference to her daughters' admitted record of repeated lateness, Nelly Martin said. "So it is a conditional approval. They put a caveat in there."
The action the district took in ordering an immediate transfer of her children was not illegal, but not the right thing to do, nor in the best interests of their children, the Martins told The Sun.
"In the end, it's a gain for my kids. But it's a loss for T.J. and me, in that we have now upset the administration," Nelly Martin said,
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