Symphony 81

“That carries us up to yesterday,” Bill said. “That was the day he got in trouble with every one of his teachers.”

“We’ll hear from them in a moment. First, I want to know why we weren’t called sooner. This kind of continual disruption simply cannot be tolerated.”

Neil had pity for Bill as he tried to answer. It was easy to see that the boy had to go — unless you knew him. Unless you stopped to think that expulsion would solve Bill’s problems and the teacher’s problems, but it would do nothing for Jesse.

The teachers told their stories next. They spoke without passion, but the extent of Jesse’s rampage came through all the more clearly for that. The board members were appalled.

Alan Burke looked at the other board members. Elaine Sanders mouthed, “Expell him,” and Dr. Hardy nodded. Their silent agreement was clear to everyone in the room.

Burke said, “OK, let’s take a formal vote.”

“No!” Mrs. Herrera shouted suddenly. “You can’t expel my Jesus. He’s just a boy.”

Burke was unmoved. “Mrs. Herrera, we have explained the seriousness of Jesus’ actions to you every time we have met. You promised to get professional help for Jesus and for yourself. You promised to go to family counseling to learn how to control his behavior. You have not done so. You leave us little choice, and Jesus leaves us no choice at all.”

“Please, I have gone to counseling.”

“You told Mr. Campbell that you hadn’t.”

“We have. We just started, but we have gone. I’m trying to help him, but if I have to drive him to some other school and still drive myself to work, I’ll have even less time for him.”

“That is precisely what we have been trying to tell you for two years,” Burke replied coldly. “You are a little late understanding it. When did you start going to counseling?”

“We went Saturday.”

Elaine Sanders cut in, “You waited until after you knew Jesus was going to be expelled to start counseling? Didn’t you think that was a little late?”

Tears were flowing down Mrs. Herrera’s face. She whispered, “It’s hard for me. I want to be a good mother. It’s hard to go to a stranger to have him tell me that I’m not.”

Neil’s heart knotted up at her pain, but Jesse’s face was stone.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Herrera,” Sanders continued, “but for me, that is just too little and too late.”

Neil said, “Wait.”

Burke looked surprised. “Yes, Mr. McCrae?”

Neil had no logical arguments to make; he simply had not been able to remain silent. Fumbling for the right words, he said, “I feel sure I know what your vote is going to be, and I can see, from your viewpoint, why you are willing to make that decision. But I would like to give Jesse a second chance.”

“This school gave Jesus Herrera a second chance in second grade and a third chance in third grade. You would be giving him a seventh or eighth chance.”

Neil stiffened his jaw against the words that threatened to tumble out. Still, some of the fire he felt inside showed in his tone of voice as he went on, “Nevertheless, I have not given him those chances. I, personally, would like to give him a second chance.”

“Mr. McCrae,” Burke continued patiently, “I realize that you may feel some responsibility for the boy because you are the one he yelled obscenities at. But believe me, after reviewing the case, I would vote for expulsion even if yesterday had never happened.” more tomorrow


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