Symphony 21

There was a diffuse groan at the mention of Ulrich’s name. It sounded genuine, so Neil pretended that he did not hear it. Then Brandy Runyon yelled, “Stop that,” and slapped the boy beside her.

Neil snapped, “Brandy!”

“Well, he’s bothering me!” Brandy’s face was red with anger and humiliation, and her eyes were wild.

Neil kept his face calm, but he was cursing fluently inside. This was something he had not had to face in high school. By that time the students with real learning disabilities had been weeded out. Until Brandy was moved out of his classroom, he had to use the same discipline on her that he did on everyone else, yet she probably would not respond as they did. It was a no-win situation for both of them. He said, “What is he doing?”

“He’s making fun of me!”

The boy, Pedro Velasquez, spread his hands and said, “I didn’t say nothing.”

Neil had no idea who was telling the truth, so he said firmly, “Pedro, if you were making fun of her, or anyone else in my classroom, I want you to stop it right now. I won’t put up with it. And Brandy, you will learn to keep control of yourself.”

Brandy muttered something unintelligible under her breath and Pedro gave a wry shrug. Neil let it go, and got another surprise. The class had ignored the whole incident. They had not waited to see what would come of it, as they had with Tony’s boundary testing. They were used to Brandy’s interruptions, and took them in stride.

They neither approved nor disapproved; they simply accepted Brandy for what she was, because she was one of them. It was a lesson in the difference between a large and a small school.

Neil had lost the thread of his thought, but Linda Muir brought it back to him with a question. “Do you mean that we all be together all day?”

“That’s right.”

“Then we will never get a chance to be in the same class with any of our friends.”

Neil smiled. “Don’t you have friends in this class?”

Linda twisted her hands together and squirmed in her seat. All of the students were getting restless. “Sure, I have friends in here,” she said, “but my very best friend is in the other section. I won’t see her all year!”

Neil tried to look sympathetic, because it was clearly a tragedy for Linda. He explained that they  would have recess, breaks, noon time, and after school together. That didn’t help. Linda said, “But that’s just not the same!”

Privately, Neil agreed, but he wasn’t about to criticize the school’s schedule in front of his class. He was saved by the bell for the end of the first period.

# # #

The children left the room like water poured out of a bucket. The echoes of the bell had not died before Neil found himself alone, and he was thankful to be alone. He could have used an hour to collect himself. Instead he had five minutes to rush to the bathroom and back.

Next came the distasteful task of explaining the school’s discipline system. Most of the students had lived under that system for years, but there are always new students, and children forget. Since physical punishment had been outlawed, Kiernan, like most school, had gone to a step system. more tomorrow


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