Symphony 35


Sean Kelly, Duarte Zavala, and their parents had to meet with Bill Campbell before the boys were allowed back into school. Carmen was there because she had written them up for fighting, and Neil showed up because he had the boys more hours than anyone else. It was the first parent conference Neil had ever attended. In high school, misbehavior had usually been settled between the school and the student without reference to the parent.

Since Sean’s mother and Duarte’s temporary guardian were both on the staff, there was a certain unreality about the proceedings. Parent conferences exist primarily to let parents know that their child’s misbehavior is considered serious. Fiona and Delores already knew that, so it was mostly a matter of conveying the seriousness of fighting to the boys. And since Fiona and Delores had already made the boys painfully aware of its seriousness, the conference was short.

At the end, Carmen suggested that one of the boys should be moved to the opposite section. Neil disagreed. “They have to learn to live together sometime,” he said.

“The question is, do we have to be the ones to teach them?”  Bill Campbell replied. “It may be enough to teach them academics and let them work that out on their own time.”

“I have them most of the day,” Neil said. “I am the one who has to put up with them. Unless Ms. Kelly or Ms. Zavala objects, I would like to keep them together.”

Fiona and Delores agreed. Carmen said nothing, and the boys didn’t seem too happy with the decision.

# # #

Two weeks later Neil was at another parent conference, and this one was of a different nature. Once he had put Jesse Herrera up front, he had seen him constantly poking at his seatmates, or whispering things that angered and embarrassed them. Neil was not sure how much of this apparent change was because he was seeing better and how much was because Jesse had stopped trying to hide his actions, but the end result was that Jesse got two detentions in two days. Unlike Tony, it did nothing to curb his behavior. If anything, it made him worse. When Jesse got his third detention, he threw it to the floor and screamed, “You just give me those things because you hate me!”

Neil counted to ten slowly, then to a hundred, while the class watched in silence. When he had swallowed his anger enough to speak clearly, he sent Jesse to the office. Bill Campbell sent him home for two days.

After any suspension at Kiernan, one of the child’s parents had to come in for a conference before the child was let back into school. Jesse’s mother came in with him before school started the following Wednesday. They met with Neil and Bill Campbell in the superintendent’s office.

Jesse’s mother was a surprise; she was plain faced, but stylishly and expensively dressed. She was a legal secretary, thirty years old, and a widow. Jesse’s father had died of cancer five years earlier.

“I won’t call him Jesse,” she said. “His name is Jesus.” She pronounced it in the Spanish manner, Hey-soos. “I don’t approve of our children taking Anglo-sounding nicknames. They should be proud of who they are.”

“I’ve noticed that a lot of them do that,” Neil agreed. “I always try to call a student by the name he or she prefers. Jesse — Jesus — corrected me the first day of school and said he wanted to be called Jesse.”

“He does that. Has he been giving you a lot of trouble?”

“He has been giving me some trouble. He finally got himself suspended through defiance. But what I am most concerned about is the trouble he gives the other children.”

“He is kind of a scamp.” more Monday


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