Today was the hearing for Mahmoud, the kid who told Dean Jake he was going to wait for him outside and kill him, as well as a few other colorful phrases. And then, as he was leaving the building, he told a safety agent that he was going to get his gun, come back, and kill him too.
“You’re gonna be the first one to die this year!” he told him. “And then I’m gonna spray the whole school!”
When a kid makes a threat on that scale, or delivers a severe beating, or commits violent robbery or something, we request a special off-site suspension that can run well past the 5 day maximum for in-house suspensions. You might think he’d get kicked out of school altogether for something like that, but no. He’ll serve his suspension, probably not passing as many classes as he would have otherwise, and then he’ll be back with us when the suspension is done, only to have to make up all those classes he failed while at his alternative suspension site. So even though you get a brief respite from the person who expressed an intention to murder you, eventually and inevitably, he comes back. They all come back. And nothing ever changes.
Some people like going to a Super’s hearing, but I hate it. Beyond nerve-rattling complexity of the proceduralities of the investigation, and the pressure to win the case, there is the supreme unpleasantness of sitting directly across a table from the accused and his/her guardian as you read statements about how the kid spat food in a dean’s face, told him he was going to shoot him “dead in the head”, called him a “pussy-ass bitch nigga”, or maybe only demanded money from a student while stomping on his head like he was making wine. Whatever that particular case may be, it can get a little uncomfortable at the hearing table. You see, the other party wouldn’t be there unless they had decided to fight the charges, and I wouldn’t be there unless I had proof. So, the whole thing becomes this messy, gory joust between a rotten truth and a slimy lie. And even though the kid knows he’s lying, he has convinced himself and his guardian that I am the thieving bandit. The crooked cop. The enemy. And I’m making it all up just to get him, because that’s what the world does. So they glare at me from two feet away, and I can smell their breath. And it smells like hate.
But even though they are wrong and deserve punishment, no one (at least not I) really wants to be the executioner. The parent is desperate, angry and confused, and I hate to see that shocked and angry look on their face when I announce the school’s standard recommendation for a suspension of several months (not that we ever get that). The whole thing is just sad.
BUT! The good part about it – and my is it wonderful – is that the hearings don’t take as long as a normal work day, and I get to go straight home when I’m finished. So I get a shortened day! And I’d sell my own mother for a shortened day. So as soon as they excuse us from that terrifying room with that microphone in the middle of the table, and that lawyer for the city at the other end, I clap my hands, spin on my heels and high-step it out of there, confidential documents fluttering in my wake.
But even better than THAT, is when the suspect pleads “no contest”. Then, even though you still have to show up, the hearing never actually happens, you never have to see the whites of their eyes, and you get to go home even EARLIER! For a luxury like this, I would do unprintable things.
So we’re at the hearing office, waiting for the hearing to begin and Jake, Dave, the Safety Agent and I are all sitting around in the waiting room along with the other deans and their student victims and witnesses from various other schools in Queens that are also there for hearings. It’s a cold day. The room is gray. Like most Department of Education facilities, it’s never been mopped, it smells a little funky, and looks like it would smell REAL funky if it were just a few degrees hotter. There are a smattering of plastic chairs across the floor, pointing in random directions like they were literally just thrown in there. A TV from the 1980’s is bolted to one corner of the ceiling, like in a prison. The image on the screen is mostly static. There is no sound.
Jake and I go over our testimony one more time. Then the conversation veers towards car repairs, football, and whether or not Mahmoud is really capable of murder. Then I mention casually that I want to quit this job. The safety agent asks how long I’ve been at it. I tell him 6 years.
“Oh that’s why!” He says. “You a newly-wed! Shit, I shoulda been gone. But man, I don’t even see the kids anymore. I’m serious. Unless someone ask me somethin’, I don’t even see them. They invisible.”
I look at Dave. “Maybe we should try that,” I say. “Just not see the kids.”
Dave and I are always bouncing ideas off one another about how to survive the job psychologically. We’ve tried everything from complete denial, to selfish self-preservation, to transcendental meditation. Nothing works. But pretending everyone under twenty is invisible? Worth a shot.
The agent continued, “They could be yellin’ and screamin’ at me and I’m like, ‘Huh? I’m sorry I can’t see you.’ I’m tellin you, man. I don’t see nothin’!”
Apparently, none of it really bothers Jake either, who was laughing and joking two minutes after Mahmoud told him he was going to wait outside to murder him.
He chimed into the conversation, “Mehhh, it don’t phase me.”
An awkward silence followed.
Jake broke it, “Why are we tawkin’ about work anyway? I got a joke.”
His first joke was a Polack joke. There were lots of teachers, parents and children from other schools sitting in the room, and I glanced around uncomfortably for any Polacks. But then I figured that since we were a group of one Latino, one Jew, one African-American, and one redneck, we were safe from any charges of bigotry.
Jake noticed me squirm. “What? Ya wanna close the circle in?” I shrugged and pretended not to care. He feigned a whisper while continuing to talk just as loudly as before. He told another joke, and followed it with a jackhammer of a laugh. I forced a smile. He looked at me and his laugh died down.
“Didn’t like it, Pistol? Okay, well you’re gonna love this next one…
…So then the kid says, ‘Well if natural gas don’t have lumps in it, then I DEFINITELY just shit my pants!'” He started breaking up the concrete again with his laugh.
I was thinking about how different Jake and I were, and how maybe our different takes on the nature of this job all boiled down to our different senses of humor, when I heard my name being called and I looked up to see a lady in a suit, holding a file, standing at the front of the room.
I approached her. “Yes?”
Her tone of voice was serious and professional. “They’re pleading no contest.”
Without a word I tossed my papers in the air, did a double lutz, and high-kneed it toward the door, papers fluttering in the wind behind me. I was free.