By Joan Richardson
Yvonne’s 11-year-old son, Anthony, was suspended from school for sassing a teacher. He did not have a stellar behavior record, and his backtalk was the proverbial last straw. His teacher sent him to the office, and the principal sent him home with a note that said Anthony could not return to school until a parent or guardian came to school in person and talked with the principal.
Yvonne had a new job as a phlebotomist at one of the city’s major hospitals. Her pay was OK, but most importantly, she had a fulltime job with benefits. She believed that she and her son might finally be on the road to something good after years of struggle and loss. She left her apartment at 5:30 a.m. each day and took two buses in order to arrive at work by 7:30 a.m. Anthony was on his own to get up and off to school and, with the help of an alarm clock and a telephone call from his mother each morning, he was rarely tardy.
At the end of her workday, Yvonne repeated her two-hour bus trip, arriving home 12 hours after she left each weekday morning.
When she got home and learned that Anthony had been put out of school, she was frantic. She did not have good family support. No kindly aunt or grandmother could step in and help her. When Anthony arrived home, he was on his own once again until Yvonne got there.
Yvonne called the school as soon as she read the note. Nobody answered, and there was no answering machine at school. She had no home telephone numbers for Anthony’s teacher or the principal.
She called school the next morning in the minutes before she started work. Nobody answered. Her boss frowned on personal calls during work so she waited until her lunch break to call again.
When she reached the principal, he told her she needed to come to his office to talk about Anthony. He worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. She explained where she worked, her schedule, and transportation issues. Could she meet him at the school at 5:30 p.m. or later? No, he said, he could not do that. What about on the weekend? No, he said.
Yvonne talked to her boss, explaining that she needed to leave work early in order to get to her son’s school before the principal’s workday ended. Yvonne’s boss said she could leave early, but he would need two weeks’ notice in order to find someone to replace her.
Yvonne wondered aloud why that was necessary. If she called in sick, he would find a substitute so why did he need two weeks’ notice for her to leave early? Yvonne’s boss didn’t like her attitude and said that if she planned to call in sick over this, he would fire her.
Yvonne called the principal again and pleaded with him to either let Anthony return to school or to be flexible about when he could meet with her. He refused.
Yvonne worked for a hospital that had signed on to an initiative in which businesses pledged to support the public schools by providing some school supplies and giving employees released time to tutor students. The businesses said nothing about supporting employees who were parents of these same students.
What had been a relatively simple case of a kid talking back to a teacher spiraled into a situation in which an 11-year-old was left at home on his own for two weeks until his mother could manage to visit the school.
How does this end?
I’ll let readers write the ending of this story. Do you imagine that Anthony used his time at home alone to good advantage, perhaps reading the classics and watching educational programs on public television? Did older boys in his neighborhood help him fill his hours with something more productive, perhaps introducing him to their home-grown form of capitalism? Did Yvonne quit her job in order to get her son back in school and keep him safe after school?
I can imagine a very different ending to this story, one in which a principal and an employer saw some value if ensuring that one boy got back into class. But that kind of action requires a belief that all adults in a community are responsible in some way for all of the children in their community. At least where I live, we’re not there yet.