I was preparing lunch for myself in the kitchen when I heard the front door slowly open and slowly close. Then I heard the sound of teenaged feet running up the stairs. I checked the clock on the microwave and followed after them.
“Giago. Or Jake. Whichever one you are, get back down here now,” I bellowed up the stairs.
Giago appeared at the front of the stairs with a sheepish grin on his face.
“What are you doing home from school?”
“They sent me home.”
“Come down here.”
Giago took each step deliberately as if he were about to face a firing squad once he reached the bottom of the stairs.
I gently grabbed him by the shirt collar. “Why were you sent home from school?” I asked again.
“Because of this t-shirt.”
I stepped back to take a look. It was a black short-sleeve with “#blacklivesmatter” on the front in bold, white letters.
“Is that the shirt I told you not to wear to school?”
“Is that the shirt I told you not to wear to school because of the political nature of it?”
“Then why did you wear it to school?”
“Pops said I could.”
“Did you tell Pops that I had already told you 'no'?”
“So he blindly acquiesced to your request. Is that correct?”
“Go upstairs, take that shirt off, put another shirt on and bring this one back to me.”
As Giago grumbled his way back up the stairs to change, I called his school to speak to the Principal. At Giago’s elementary and junior high schools, I had developed quite a reputation amongst the administration, faculty and staff for my involvement (which they lovingly referred to as “harping”) in Giago’s schooling. This reputation was not lost on Giago. So as he entered high school last year, he all but demanded that I find a hobby other than his schooling and told me that he’d let me know if he needed me to come to the school for anything. I begrudgingly agreed as long as he stayed out of trouble. I held up my end of the bargain, but since Giago hadn’t as of today, he couldn’t argue my setting up a meeting at his school with all the parties involved – all the parties except for Bradley.
After much pleading, Bradley had assured Giago that he would handle all school matters until Giago went off college (I can’t say my feelings weren’t hurt by this). But if Bradley didn’t know about such matters (and Giago certainly wasn’t going to tell him about this particular matter given the circumstances), then I could handle the matter until I found a good time to tell Bradley about the matter--after it had already been handled.
I arrived to the school at 9am the next morning for a meeting with Giago’s guidance counselor, a Vice Principal that I assumed was in charge of discipline, the teacher who reported the t-shirt incident and Giago. We walked into the main office conference room where…Bradley was seated at the table. He gave me a wide, closed-mouth grin as he pulled the chair out next to him and invited me to sit down.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered.
“You had our phones synched up for all appointments related to Giago,” he whispered back.
“Why didn’t you ask me about this last night?”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this last night?”
He had me there.
“I hate technology,” I replied as I pulled my chair in toward the conference room table. Though Bradley’s face didn’t change, he gently grabbed my knee and lightly rubbed my thigh under the table as a means of saying “nice try” toward my attempt to force my way into this situation without his being the wiser.
Giago sat next to Bradley. The three of us sat on one side of the table, while Giago’s guidance counselor, the Vice Principal of Student Affairs (his official title) and the teacher who reported the incident sat on the other side. Part of me got a bit of a kick out of this unintentional “us versus the world” seating arrangement.
“Mr. Moss,” the Vice Principal began. “Since you called this meeting, would you like to start us off?”
“Thank you,” Bradley interjected before I could get a word in. “I am Bradley Hollinger, Giago’s father and this is Terrence Moss – also Giago’s father.”
The guidance counselor, the Vice Principal of Student Affairs and the teacher who reported the incident looked quizzically at each other before shrugging off their confusion.
“Both of us are here,” Bradley continued. “To address the matter of our son Giago being sent home from school yesterday on account of a t-shirt.”
“Which I have right here in this bag,” I added as I placed the bag on the table.
The Vice Principal of Student Affairs spoke up first. “Al Eckert here. I’m Vice President of Student Affairs. According to my report as told to me by Mr. Harrison, a social studies teacher, and reviewed with Giago, Mr. Harrison spotted Giago walking down the hall between second and third periods yesterday wearing the t-shirt in question. It was emblazoned with a hashtag that we considered inappropriate. Mr. Harrison pulled Giago aside, asked him about the t-shirt and suggested that Giago take it off.”
“Did Mr. Harrison explain to Giago why he should?” Bradley asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Harrison replied.
Bradley and I looked at Giago. “Is this correct?” Bradley asked.
Giago nodded his head.
“And then what happened?” Mr. Eckert asked Mr. Harrison.
“Giago refused – citing free speech,” Mr. Harrison added. “I told him that while I respect his right to free speech, I would still like him to change his shirt, cover it up or turn it inside out.”
Bradley and I looked at Giago. Giago nodded.
“After Giago refused, Mr. Harrison sent him to my office,” Mr. Eckert told us. “We discussed the situation and I asked him again to do as Mrs. Harrison asked. Giago once again refused.”
Bradley and I looked at Giago. Giago nodded again.
“What exactly was discussed?” Bradley asked.
“That such a statement, though timely and relevant, was also very controversial and could cause a disruption to the school day,” Mr. Eckert answered.
“How so?” Bradley pressed.
“Anything upwards to yelling, screaming, fighting and even rioting,” Mr. Eckert replied.
“Over a t-shirt?” Bradley pressed further.
“Over that t-shirt,” Mr. Eckert responded.
“Did you consider the possibility that it might only lead to questions, discussion and at worst, debate?” Bradley asked.
“We couldn’t take that chance,” Mr. Eckert stated.
“What kind of students do you think you have at this school?” Bradley asked.
Mr. Eckert thought about this and deferred to the guidance counselor. “Hello, Mr. Hollinger and Mr. Moss. I am Mrs. Kramer, Giago’s guidance counselor. I have been working with Giago since last year with selecting elective courses that will keep him on the college preparatory track that has been a focus of this school since its inception. And I will be working with Giago through senior year when he has to determine an educational track for college, apply to college, select a college and maintain his academic standing through graduation day.”
Bradley and I stared blankly at Mrs. Kramer. We knew what she was talking about, we just didn’t know why.
“Our students are passionate and impressionable,” she then added.
“So the best approach to channeling that into something productive is by sending them home when they exhibit said passion?” Bradley pressed further.
“That wasn’t why Giago was sent home; he was sent home for disobedience, insolence and insubordination,” Mr. Eckert clarified.
“Why didn’t you call myself or Mr. Hollinger about this yesterday?” I asked.
“School policy,” Mr. Eckert replied. “We send the student home and then follow it up with a note.”
“That’s a dumb policy,” Bradley responded.
“Did you have a change of shirt?” I asked Giago.
Giago nodded. “Yes. In my gym locker.”
“There you go. A dumb policy – especially when I was at home and could have handled this situation yesterday without Mr. Hollinger having to take time off from work to have to deal with this.”
Bradley shot me a “nice try” look.
“Mr. Moss and Mr. Hollinger, Giago refused to do what we asked so we had to send him home.”
“Why not send him to detention with a phone call into one or both of his parents?”
“The majority of our students have working parents, so in the interest of those parents, this was deemed the best standard operating procedure.”
“That’s right,” I whispered to Bradley. “I was at that PTA meeting when this was discussed, voted on and put into place despite the fact that I openly and abjectly hated the idea.”
“That makes no sense," Bradley challenged. "So in the case of OUR sons – Giago here and Jake Thomas, you need to call US. Bottom line.”
“And we would have had him change his shirt, cover it up or turn it inside out,” I told them.
Bradley looked at me in complete disagreement. “Or we would have backed him up because any students fighting or rioting over a damn t-shirt is your real problem.”
I leaned toward Bradley and turned my face into his shoulder. “Me thinks we should have discussed this first in order to get our stories straight,” I whispered.
“Which we could have done had you told me about this little meeting you were trying to orchestrate behind my back,” he whispered back.
“Which I wouldn’t have had to do if you hadn’t told Giago that you’d handle such matters as this without me once he entered high school.”
“Which we wouldn’t have had to do if you hadn’t been such a pain in the ass at his elementary school and middle school.”
“Which could have been addressed prior to his entering high school if you didn’t just let him have his way all the time – like wearing that t-shirt in the first place.”
“Because I thought you had already told him he could.”
“If you had asked me about it instead of blindly taking him at his word, I would have told you that I told him that he couldn’t.”
Bradley and I stopped and slowly turned our attention to Giago.
“You’re grounded until graduation,” I said.
Then we turned our attention to Mrs. Kramer, Mr. Eckert and Mr. Harrison.
“Going forward, I’m unleashing my husband upon your school,” Bradley stated as the two of us rose out of our chairs, grabbed Giago and headed toward the door. “So good luck with that.”