Symphony 111

“This is not a trial.”

“Mr. Kemble, what is your profession?”

“I’m a walnut grower.”

“I suggest that if you are going to continue in public office, even so low a public office as this, that you obtain legal counsel. The purpose of this meeting is to determine my fitness to teach at your school. Right?”

Kemble was beginning to realize that he was way out of his depth. His face started to turn red, and he answered tersely, “Yes!”

“Then you are prepared to deprive me of my livelihood and my reputation, and you say that rules of evidence don’t apply here? Mr. Kemble, wake up!”

Neil leaned back and folded his arms.

Alan Burke picked up where he had left off, but it was clear that he had lost all momentum. He said, “This meeting was called in response to parents’ requests. I will not name the individuals at this time, but the petition they gave me is here. It specifies certain crimes that Mr. McCrae is supposed to have committed in Oregon before he came here.”

Neil held out his hand. Burke ground to a halt and shook his head. Neil said, “Must I read you the sixth amendment again? Weren’t you listening the first time?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “I will confront my accusers; their papers, their allegations, and their persons. Now give it to me.”

Burke handed the petition to him. It had been typed to less than professional standards, and there were eight signatures.  Neil read it silently, then read it again aloud.

“We have been informed by a source in Oregon that Mr. McCrae, a teacher at our school, was forced to resign from his last position because of sexual misconduct. We demand that (1) he be immediately removed from his position as a teacher of our children, (2) that a thorough investigation be made of how he came to be hired in the first place, and (3) that those responsible for hiring him be disciplined in some appropriate fashion. 

Signed:  Toni Boyd, Janice Hagstrom, Larry Whitlock, Sr., Karen Whitlock, Ramlal Kumar, George Kruger, Dana Michelson, and Maria Alvarez.

Neil looked up at the crowd. He saw Rosa’s mother there, looking grim and betrayed. Her sadness almost unmanned him, but he could not afford to be soft now. He handed the petition back to Burke and said, “Please make a photocopy for me. My lawyer will want to see it if this matter goes much further.”

“I don’t know if we can do that.”

“You’ll wish you had.” Neil’s voice had grown grim and bitter.

Burke had been interrupted twice, and twice he had lost ground. He was rapidly losing his taste for this whole matter, so he passed the buck neatly to Toni Boyd. “Mrs. Boyd,” he said, “you were the one who brought us the petition, so would you like to speak?”

Toni rose with quiet dignity and Neil’s heart went out to her. She was only trying to protect her child. The Constitution and of rules of evidence had no place in her thinking. It probably did not matter very much to her if Neil was guilty or not; the mere suspicion of guilt was enough reason to remove her child from danger. If Neil were unfairly hurt, that simply would not weigh up against the safety of her son.

Neil felt for her, but he hardened his heart against those feelings. He had understood the parents in Oregon, and had bowed to their fears. Because he had, his back was to the wall now and he had no choice but to fight as fiercely for himself as she would fight for Lee. more Monday


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