BRIDGEWATER — Family members say they were blindsided to learn they'll be on the hook for $38,000 in tuition after state authorities ruled their child doesn't actually live in Bridgewater.

The case involves investigation by the district into the residency of a child only identified as M.K. in a state commissioner of education decision. The child was a second-grader attending school in the district at the time of the investigation, which started after an anonymous email was received claiming the student actually lived in South Bound Brook, the decision states.

John Knight, the child's uncle, told New Jersey 101.5 the child's parents live in Bridgewater with family — despite assertions from the district that the mother lives with her own mother in South Bound Brook. Because state authorities have sided with the district, it's billing the family for $38,329.20 in out-of-district tuition.

The child's mother had testified she sometimes stays with the child's grandmother because the grandmother is ill — but that the child lives in Bridgewater with her in-laws, according to the commissioner's decision.

The family said there were times that boy would suffer separation anxiety in the middle of the night, and his mother would bring him to South Bound Brook at 3 or 4 a.m. before bringing him back to Bridgewater for school in the morning.

But an administrative law judge, and eventually the commissioner, found that the family's story had holes and wasn't credible – in part because family members couldn't agree about how often those trips from one town to another happened.

Knight said the child has a learning disability that South Bound Brook does not have a program to properly work with. Another complicating factor, according to the family, is that the child's father had a history of drug problems and had been treated in a rehab facility as well. The commissioner's office said the drug problems were happening during the time of the investigation, which limited the father's ability to care for the child.

Despite the investigation happening during the 2015-16 school year, Knight said he believed the child was still planning on attending Milltown Primary School in Bridgewater.

Knight said the family is seeing a considerable amount of backlash on social media — and that's how the family found out about the decision in the first place.

"They couldn't believe it when they saw it reported," he said. "People on social media are cruel, saying they're cheating the system. They're not. They've lived (in Bridgewater) all their lives and they still do."

A phone call to Pasquale Marago, the attorney representing the family in the matter, has not yet been returned.

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