“Elizabeth, tell Amanda I need to see her on her planning hour.”
Nancy Flanders’ assistant, Elizabeth Schneider, nodded her head, scribbled a note, and continued eating her bagel dripping with pineapple cream cheese and strawberry jam.
Flanders returned to her office and closed the door. She sat and snatched the receiver from he desk phone, pressed two numbers, then hung up. She glanced out the window toward the school’s playground then reached for the cell phone on her desk. She dialed a number.
“Hi, Max,” she says. “I need to talk to you . . . I won’t.”
Amanda Mateo rolled her eyes at the note taped to her first-hour classroom door.
Ms. Flanders will see you at your 2nd hour planning period.
Amanda thought, Great. That’s why they give us planning hours, so we can listen to Flanders’ lectures.
First hour was a confused blur. Events from the day before played over and over her in mind like a video on a loop. Last night’s bottle of wine and shots of Fireball did were haunting her, too. And now she’d lost her planning hour. She’d hoped to grade her fourth hour’s worksheets. At least, they’ll be happy, she thought.
When the bell rang to end first hour, she barely noticed the kids as they wished her a good weekend. She barely noticed the soft vibration of her cell phone as a text message arrived. She gathered up her purse, locked her door, and walked toward the office complex.
On her walk, she imagined what that little boy was thinking when she sent him on his journey the day before. I was just doing what I was told, she whispered to herself. Just following orders.
Amanda Mateo was as far from a political activist as you can get. She didn’t vote, not out of some form of protest, but because she didn’t think her opinion was informed. She paid little attention to political news because it mostly made her sad. She never wanted to teach social studies. She liked English and math and science. But mostly she liked kids. And her only political thought, if it was political at all, was that we don’t let kids be kids anymore. She became a teacher so kids could be kids.
“You can go on in. Ms. Flanders is waiting for you,” said Elizabeth between bites of an old fashioned donut.
Amanda stepped through the open door into Nancy Flanders’ office.
“Close the door, please.”
Amanda closed the door and looked back at her boss who sat upright like a soldier, hands folded on an empty desk–empty except for a single sheet of paper with words on it.
“You did the right thing yesterday, Amanda. I want you to know that you did the right thing and nothing bad will happen to you.”
Amanda looked down at her hands and realized they were fidgeting with her shirt tail. She stopped that. She felt her throat grow tight. “I’m not so sure,” she said.
Nancy blinked at her but said nothing.
“I don’t agree with the policy,” Amanda said. Once the words were out, they didn’t feel as terrifying.
Nancy stood and walked around her desk to hover over Amanda who sat in the small guest chair.
“It’s not your job to agree with policies, Ms. Mateo. It’s your job to follow them. You did. What happened to that boy was his fault. And his miscreant parents. Deplorable people. They should be arrested for child abuse for tolerating that white supremacist. You did the right thing.”
Amanda felt cold and weak. She had sent a boy off to a beating. She’d followed the standards and mandatory lesson plan sent out by the Santo Domingo School District in the wake of the election. She’d thought the whole mock election was stupid to begin with, but especially a week after the election itself. She’d tried to keep politics out of her fifth-grade classroom because politics and sex are for grown-ups, not for her ‘babies.’ And, to Amanda Mateo, fifth graders were still babies.
Amanda realized Flanders was right about one thing: she’d followed the policy to a T. Whoever wrote the policy perfectly predicted that at least one student in every class would say something favorable about the President-elect. When David Thompson said, “Trump’s not so bad,” Amanda simply read, verbatim, from the policy handbook, appendix four, “What to say when students defend Trump:”
Instructors faced with a student who defends Trump should read the grade-appropriate response verbatim . . . Fourth and Fifth Grades: ‘[Student’s Name], it is inappropriate, aggressive behavior to attack your fellow students by supporting racist views and racist politicians. The punishment for verbal assault of a fellow student is suspension. The punishment for hate-crimes against fellow students is expulsion.’ Instruct the student to leave the classroom and follow the building’s protocol for removal from the classroom.
That’s exactly what Amanda did. Thinking back to the incident, Amanda felt queasy and deeply sad.
Amanda remembered being a fifth grader. Eleven years old. The oldest kids in school. Ready to move onto middle school. It was 1999 and Amanda was pretty sure she didn’t even know who the president was at the time. She knew her Dad, a Los Angeles native, was excited about the St. Louis Rams. And she knew her friends were excited about a new cartoon about a sponge. She didn’t know about blue dresses and impeachments. And she wanted her students to be as happy as she’d been with her books and her friends and her bike. She wanted to spare them the moments she remembered of fear, awkwardness, and loneliness.
“One of my babies was beaten and put in the hospital, and no one did anything to stop it,” she said. “I was horrified.”
“Well, you stopped it,” Flanders said.
Amanda looked up at her principal. “What were you doing?”
Ms. Flanders’ lips curled into a smile like she was reliving a fond memory. “I’m going to take care of you now,” she said, returning to her chair on the opposite of the desk. “This is your statement. I need you to sign it, and everything will be fine.”
Flanders handed the single, typewritten sheet to Amanda.
Statement of Amanda Michelle Mateo, Teacher, Santo Domingo School District
On Thursday, November 17, 2016, David Thompson, a student in my first hour social studies class, stated ‘Donald Trump will send all you Spics back to Mexico where you belong.’ I told him his words were inappropriate, and he became violent. He left his chair and ran around the room punching Hispanic and African-American students. When I attempted to restrain him, he ran out of the room. He continued to strike students of color as he walked toward the office complex. He attempted to enter the principal’s office. He was yelling racial epithets and banging on the door. A group of students attempted to restrain him, but the boy continued to fight and kick. When I reached the office, I was able to apply an approved restraint technique. I held him until the police arrived.
Amanda looked up. Her mouth hung open. The paper shook in her hands.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It’s your statement, dear.”
“This is a lie. It’s a complete lie. None of this happened.”
“You know, dear, that your statement reflects what that boy really wants to do, don’t you? You know that without the district’s policy, the white privilege boys would do that to your people every day. They’d do worse. They’d grab you by the . . . you know what, and there’s nothing you could do because you’re a Latina. If we don’t stop these people, that’s what life will be like. So sign your statement, Amanda. Fight back.”
Amanda felt her body shaking in the small chair as if the temperature in the room had plunged ninety degrees. She folded her arms across her chest and tried to come to grips with what was happening.
“I have another statement,” Flanders said. “My statement. It says . . . well, it doesn’t matter what it says. You don’t want me to submit that statement, trust me. You want to be a team player, don’t you, Amanda?”
Amanda thought about David Thompson again. She had tried to call his parents last night, but there was no answer. She didn’t know if the boy was still in the hospital. She wanted to find out how David was doing. That seemed the most important thing all of a sudden.
“I have to go,” she told Flanders.
“Of course. As soon as you sign your statement.”
“I’ll take it with me,” Amanda said.
“I think it would be better if you signed it here. I need to get this to the central office today.”
Amanda rocked back and forth in her chair. It’s tiny size now seemed appropriate. She felt like a little girl again. Alone. Scared. Angry. Confused.
to be continued
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Also published on Medium.