Symphony 80

Normally, Neil loved the morning, and this one was brisk, bright, and lovely. Thinking back to the cold gray December skies of Oregon, Neil realized for the first time how sunny and beautiful the Central Valley of California was. Yet for all that, Neil’s life had the flat, stale taste of defeat. He kept thinking of Alice, now quite lost, and of Jesse whom he was losing.

# # #

Even though it was only two days before Christmas, three of the five members of the board of education were able to come in an hour before school started on Friday morning to consider Jesse Herrera’s case. They met in Donna Clementi’s room because there was not enough room in Bill Campbell’s office.

The board members, Alan Burke, Dr. James Hardy, and Elaine Sanders, sat behind a table with Bill Campbell off at one side. Mrs. Herrera and Jesse sat at the other end of the table and all five of the teachers who dealt with sixth graders were there. Mrs. Herrera looked strained but composed and Jesse’s face held no expression at all.

Alan Burke opened the meeting. “We are here to act on a request from Mr. Campbell that Jesus Herrera be expelled from our school. Mrs. Herrera, were you told what this meeting was about?”

“Yes.” Her voice was small and pained. You could see that she had been crying.

“Expulsion is serious business, especially for a child as young as Jesus. It means that he can’t attend this school any more. You can petition to have him readmitted next year, but we are not obligated to readmit him. If he is expelled today, you will have to show proof that his behavior has changed before we will consider readmitting him. Do you understand all this?”

“Yes.”

“If he is expelled, that does not mean he doesn’t have to go to school. You are obligated to see that your son is in school. State law requires it, so you will have to find another school for him to attend. No other school has to take him in; only the district where you live has that obligation. If he is expelled today, you will have to convince another district to admit him for the rest of this year. Do you understand?”

A tear escaped as she said, “Yes,” very softly.

Parent and child, Neil thought. Just like Alice and her father. You can’t separate them. Mrs. Herrera is on trial as much as Jesse. And it’s no fun to face a school board. I ought to know.

Next, Burke turned his attention to Jesse. “Jesus, do you know why you are here?”

Jesse nodded.

“No one wants to punish you, Jesus, but you have to conform to the school’s code of discipline. You can’t disrupt classes because when you do, your teachers can’t teach and your classmates can’t learn. Do you understand that?”

Jesse shrugged and gave them all a black look.

Doesn’t this mean anything to him? Neil asked himself.

Burke looked disgusted with Jesse. He said, “Jesus, this isn’t the first time we have seen you. We won’t be patient forever.”

Still the boy made no response.

“Mr. Campbell, give us a summary of how Jesus’ year has gone so far.”

Bill had a pile of detentions slips in front of him. He read them off quickly: talking in class, punching another student, disrupting, accusing a teacher of hating him when that teacher stopped him from bothering his classmates, stealing another students pencil and keeping the class from working while the teacher figured out who had stolen what from whom, disrupting, fighting on the playground, disrupting class, disrupting class, destroying another student’s lunch. It made a sadly impressive total. more tomorrow

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