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We arrived at school at precisely 3:00pm. My assigned counselor, Mr. Higgins, was waiting for us. He's a very difficult man to deal with; and he's always has been not too nice since I'd arrived. The main reason he's difficult is because he does nothing to stop the bullying that happens all too often in the hallways, the rest rooms, the cafeteria, and yes, even at times in the classrooms. I can take it or leave it. For me, personally, it's annoying at best but I do intercede when the smaller kids are being bullied. Usually, all I have to do is to get between the bully and the bullied’ kid, give them my intense look and tell them to knock it off.
I did have to get physical on one occasion when a big dude was picking on this much younger and smaller kid because the younger guy had worn a peach colored silk shirt. They were using references to vulgarities and homosexuality and racism. Granted, the boy, Harry is his name, is Hispanic, and he might ‘act’ a little like an incorrectly stereotyped ‘gay’ guy … but nevertheless, he was being brutally teased and his tormentors became physical in that they were shoving him around, bouncing him up against lockers, etc. The big guy then took Harry and began humping his ass like he was fucking it.
I manually separated them and put Harry behind me just as the big guy took a swing at me after calling me a fag hag, a nigger who had no business getting between them. The big guy ended up on the floor with my foot lightly lying on his neck. I had highly embarrassed him in front of his friends. When he'd quickly reached his hands up to take a hold of my leg, I pressed harder on his neck with the bottom of my shoe until he decided that I was not playing around, that I was dead serious.
Anyway, I'd been sent to the office for aggressive behavior by the big guy’s football coach. Mr. Higgins wouldn't listen to my side of the story. Instead, he assigned me to ISS (In School Suspension) for 3 days followed by 30 days of probation.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Hilyard. It is a pleasure to meet you again.” Mr. Higgins said with drool all over his voice. It made me sick.
“Excuse me, my name is Margaret Hilyard. Legally, I am Antoine’s foster mother with his adoption pending. My friends call me Peggy. You may call me Miss Hilyard, thank you.”
“Right. Very well. Miss Hilyard. Glad you could make it in today. Uhm, let’s see here. Right. Okay, I have Antoine’s records here. Academically, he is doing well.”
“Could you be more specific?”
“Right. Yeah. Okay. He has an A in math, an A in Humanities, an A in geography, oh my he has an A++ in World Affairs, an A+ in World History, and has a perfect score in the higher mathematics such as trig, algebra and calculus. Oh, let’s see here, he failed PE. How could you possibly FAIL PE, Mr. Garza?” He asked condescendingly.
Peggy’s eyes became narrowed slits. She had picked up on the snarky remark then said, “Excuse me? How could he have possibly failed physical education? I don’t understand it.”
Before Mr. Higgins had an opportunity to answer his own stupid question I said, “Mr. Laverty, one of the PE coaches does not like me one bit because when he was teaching a Martial art, he was teaching it totally wrong, and I said so then demonstrated the correct form.”
“You're here to learn, Mr. Garza. You don't make a fool of your instructors and get away with it. It was your attitude that got you into trouble.”
“Sir, I am a Master within my discipline. I attempted to speak with the coach after class one day. I humbly offered him my assistance. I demonstrated to him several techniques in different art forms. He verbally challenged me in front of the class the following day. I declined the invitation because I did not want to embarrass him, or myself. He was an honorable man so I did not wish to dishonor him. He insisted. His form was embarrassingly incorrect however I went along with his technique. I restrained myself even when he attempted a direct jab to my male organs. I walked away from him, showered, got dressed and then left the gym.”
“That's not what it says here, Mr. GARZA. Would you like me to read Coach Laverty’s report?”
“Yes, would you please?” Peggy asked interestedly.
“May 16, 2009 – Mr. Garza, at first refused to comply with tactics, methods and disciplines taught to other students by me. Moreover, he disrespected me by showing off something he knows nothing about. The final straw came when he removed his shoes, socks then assumed a fighters’ stance and went through various sloppy renditions of disciplines not known in America – then, to top that off he challenged me to a dual in front of my students. To give him benefit of the doubt and to quell his attitude, I accepted his challenge. Mr. Garza is extremely dangerous and should be classified as a lethal weapon. He is not only failed for this semester but for any other semester that he may be assigned to me. BBL (Bill Laverty).”
“There you have it. In addition that report, I have personally had some difficulties with your foster son in that he spent 3 days in ‘In School Suspension’ after an altercation on school grounds, during scheduled school time, about something that he had absolutely no business getting involved with in the first place.”
Peggy looked at me intently; she had fire in her eyes then she turned to Mr. Higgins and said, “I was unaware that my son was in ISS. I need an explanation as to why I was not notified. Antoine?”
“Mother, I was not given anything to take home for you to sign.” I replied factually.
“All ISS disciplinary actions have notifications sent home with the student. They require a signature. I will show you the paperwork – it's automatically generated by our computer …” Mr. Higgins trailed off while searching my folder for a form that I had never been given in the first place. Peggy looked at me. I shook my head slightly.
“The form is not here in the file. Let me pull up Mr. Garza’s records and I’ll print it out for you. This is irregular; the form requires a parents’ signature.”
When he looked up with a blank expression, Peggy jumped on him and said, “So, what you're telling me is that my son had an ISS, his parent was not notified, and in addition to that he was given 30 day probation without a chance for rebuttal? Is that what I am hearing?”
“The student has no say so. All decisions are final and rest with administration, specifically me as his counselor.” Mr. Higgins said haughtily.
“Mr. Higgins, excuse me while I refresh my memory. Okay, please pull out a student handbook, the one that contains the rules that a student must abide by.”
I squirmed in my seat knowing that shit was about to hit the fan.
“Okay, I have it. There is nothing in here addressing your concerns, Mrs. Garza, I mean Miss, uhm, Hilyard, and I apologize. Here you may look at it.” Mr. Higgins said casually.
I sat straight up in my chair then made eye contact with Mr. Hilyard and verbally let him know that I did not appreciate his disrespect and cavalier attitude toward my mother.
Peggy began looking through it then not finding anything regarding appeals or student rights I spoke up and said “Mother, please find section X in the table of contents. I believe the page number will be 28.” I said respectfully.
She looked. The table of contents did indeed have a section X but when she flipped through the book, the last page was page 23. She showed me then showed Mr. Higgins.
Mr. Higgins then said haltingly, “The appeal rights were removed from current year student handbooks. That table of contents page must have been overlooked.
“Mr. Higgins, the publication date in the front of the book indicates a 2009 thru 2010 school year. The publication date is August 17, 2009. Would you please call in the school’s principal so that we can get this straightened out because you're having a problem with producing adequate documentation of the allegations toward my son, and his and/or my rights to appeal.”
“We can settle this here. Mrs. Montgomery is very busy today.”
“That is not acceptable. We will make an appointment with her and get this straightened out then.”
As I was sitting there listening to Mr. Higgins disrespect my mother, I looked away for a brief moment, saw a current handbook lying on a table with the same cover as the one he was holding. I got up, retrieved it then opened it up. It had the appeal process section X that was missing from his copy.
“Mr. Higgins, I believe that this is a current copy of the student handbook. Mother, here it is.” I said casually then handed it to her. She was waiting for it.
Quickly, she verified the versions of the handbook were one and the same then opened the booklet to Section X. It read:
“All decisions by management are subject to parental notification, except for drugs, alcohol and violence which are handled by Hawaii State Patrol. In any other disciplinary action, all decisions are contingent upon administration and parental conference. The decision may be appealed by the parent within one school day following the action.”
“In all cases where In School Suspension (hereinafter referred to as ISS), the parent must be notified within one school day wherever possible. Additionally, to prevent an accidental or otherwise break in communication, a text message and email are electronically transmitted to the parent or guardian within 3 hours of the action.”
“Your school wishes for the student, the parent and the administration to have a safe, prosperous and educationally challenging environment free of harassment, retribution, unsafe and unwholesome, illicit drugs and alcohol.”
“Our educational curricula are designed to foster student and teacher and parent participation and cooperation.”
“Very well. Mr. Higgins, do you have proof that I was notified within 1 school day from the date of the infraction?”
“No, I do not, unfortunately. However, as it says, violence is not an appealable offense so that means that our policies and procedures were, in fact, intact.”
“Really? Was the Hawaii State Patrol called in to investigate?”
“No ma’am. It was not. The offense was a matter that could be dealt with in-house, and it was.”
“Antoine, tell me what happened. Mr. Higgins has his version. I would like to hear it from you.”
“I had to get physical with a very big guy. His name is Larry Johnson. He was calling a boy named Harry Winslow several disparaging names such as faggot, fudge packer, butt licker, fat ass, a mother – I will not repeat the last part. Larry got physical with Harry. Larry was attempting to fornicate into and through Harry’s pants. He was calling Harry racially disparaging names. Larry called me a racially charged name, the ‘N’ word specifically. He took a swing at me. He found himself on the floor. He was not injured in any way.”
“Look, Mr. Higgins, I am called nigger, wet back, faggot and every other word known to man. I largely ignore it when it is directed at me but I do and will respond when other people are the target AND; I repeat AND violence or threats of violence are involved. That is my civic duty. I will continue to do so unabatedly. To allow violence to be perpetrated on another human being is just wrong.”
“One last thing is that Harry is still being picked on. I have grave concerns for his safety. I cannot be everywhere all of the time. It is your duty to provide a safe learning environment, not me, but if I have to then I will. If he is hurt and if law enforcement is not called or if it is ineffectual then justice will prevail in one way or another.”
“Mr. Garza, is that a threat?”
“No, sir, it is a promise.”
“Mr. Higgins, I believe my son. I share my sons’ concerns regarding bullying and violence. I am giving very serious consideration to filing a federal discrimination lawsuit against the school and school board, perhaps even the city, county and State for permitting, perpetuating, condoning and encouraging racial hatred and bigotry toward protected classes of individuals and groups. As of this moment, I have withdrawn Antoine from this school system. You will hear from my attorneys. Good day to you Mr. Higgins. Antoine?” Peggy said without any trace of doubt in her voice.
“Miss Hilyard, may I offer a counter proposal? I acknowledge problems exist with racial hatred and bigotry here in this school. I was unaware of its true magnitude. On behalf of our fine school, our fine school system as a whole, Mr. Garza, I apologize for the treatment you have received here.”
“I accept your apology but apologies do not do anything whatsoever to stop the hate and bullying, sir.” I replied as a matter of fact. It’s true.
“What is your counter proposal Mr. Higgins? I am not inclined to accept any counter proposal because I did not give you a proposal to accept, reject or counter, in the first place. I am, instead, prepared to take this matter to court, and to the media. Antoine is not the only child attending this school who is not safe and protected.” Peggy said then after a moment of silence added, “What are you proposing as a solution?”
“Just a moment, let me call in Mrs. Montgomery. She is the authority to accept or reject what plan to propose.”
He got up immediately, headed for the door, opened it, left the room, closed the door then I said after Peggy looked at me, “I'm afraid of leaving this school with Harry and others still here. They would be all alone with nobody to stand up for or defend them, if standing up for or defending them would become absolutely necessary. I think we should sue them anyway, maybe for one dollar. If we won, and I believe we would, then the verdict, assuming it would go in our favor, would set a precedent that could be used nationwide to stop the behavior and punish it when it does happen. Think about it.”
“Let’s listen to what they have to say … but I like your idea. We have plans for the rest of the week and weekend. No shop talk, okay, promise?”
Immediately, I got up from my chair, reached over and kissed her on the cheek. She took hold of my face, kissed me gently on the lips then released me. I smiled. She smiled. We had a deal.
About 45 minutes later, Mrs. Montgomery and Mr. Higgins came in, and after greetings we all sat down.
“Mr. Higgins has told me what happened. First, let me apologize on behalf of the school for the comedy of mistakes that have been made. There are no excuses for them. I will be personally investigating the allegations. I will advise you, in writing, of what I find and what corrective measures are to be taken. Additionally, I will be reporting everything, in duplicate, to the board. My first order of business is to eliminate the problem through awareness and education.”
With that said Mrs. Montgomery picked up the telephone receiver then dialed zero. “Please have the security guard report to Mr. Higgins’ office ASAP, please.”
After a moment of silence, a knock on the door broke it. Mrs. Montgomery answered the door, beckoned the guard in then said, “Bill, would you please escort Mr. Higgins to his vehicle. His employment with the school system is terminated as of this moment. Mr. Higgins, your personal effects and your final paycheck will be delivered or mailed to your last known address.”
“Why, you can’t do that. I’m tenured.”
In slow motion, or so it seemed, my senses went on high alert. I tensed up. I felt that imminent danger existed in the room. Quickly, I surveyed every last detail of every last morsel of existence in the room, and found that first, the guard was unarmed, secondly, Mr. Higgins was reaching into his left breast pocket, and third he pulled his gun out. Before I could react fast enough he aimed it at Peggy, had his finger on the trigger, and made the first millimeter of motion to pull it. With lightning speed, I got my body between the barrel of the gun and her –then- with one single solitary motion in midair I removed the life forces from Mr. Higgins with a sickening sound of shattering bones as his spinal canal shattered into at least a million pieces. He died before his head hit the floor with a crash of splintered skull bones.
Immediately, after determining the threat was neutralized I looked to the floor... Peggy was lying on it, covered with blood and bone bits all over her face and chest. She was not moving, her eyes were closed... but she was shaking slightly, and she was breathing.
I hit the floor and pulled her into my arms, crying and wailing that I hadn't acted fast enough to protect her.
Someone, seemingly from far away, was shouting for help. At that point I didn't care what they were doing... it was too late.
She opened her eyes. She reached up and laid her hand on my forearm. She whispered, after seeing my emotional state, “I'm okay honey. I'm okay. Help me up.”
I sobbed with relief. The guard and Mrs. Montgomery crawled from beneath the desk. Mrs. Montgomery gasped at seeing Mr. Higgins' lifeless body lying crumpled not a foot from me and the woman adopting me as her son. The guard got on his walkie talkie and gave our location and said that the threat was over, and to send police and EMS to the scene ASAP.
Before first responders responded Mrs. Montgomery said, looking to mom, then to me, “You saved our lives. I'll see to it that you get into no trouble, I promise.”
Soon, the police entered the room with their weapons drawn and at the ready. One went to Mr. Higgins, one got down on the floor and checked mom for injuries, and one was talking with Mrs. Montgomery while I looked on, holding mom in my arms and remaining quiet.
The moment was temporarily broken when a young officer cuffed my wrists behind my back while they investigated what had happened. Much to my chagrin they led me into the waiting room where I was sat in a chair and asked a bunch of questions about what had happened, and what I'd done. I answered them truthfully.
One of the other officers, a detective I believe, said that the entire event had been captured on the school's internal surveillance system. They told me that the Watch Commander had been called and was on his way, and that he'd make the determination as to what further action to take against me.
No sooner had he spoken than mom was wheeled on a stretcher to where I sat. Against the cops' orders to remain seated, I got up and leaned over mom, kissed her on the cheek, and then nodded for them to take her to the hospital after they said she had a bump on her head, and that they needed to have her checked out according to protocol. They then took her away.
The Watch Commander arrived about 30 minutes later... and then, within another 30 minutes I was released into Mrs. Montgomery's custody. He said that any charges were unlikely as my actions were clearly defensive and that because of the gun Mr. Higgins had brandished, his death was justified, but that the final ruling would be made by the Prosecuting Attorney for the city.
Mrs. Montgomery offered to take me to the hospital... an offer that I readily accepted. My only thoughts were to get to mom... I just had to know that she was okay.
I remained quiet despite Mrs. Montgomery's attempts to get me to talking. When we arrived, I jumped out of her car and took off for the ER.
Their security guard immediately got up and walked to me. He was ready to intercept my advances but I easily sidestepped his approach and continued my trek, all the while looking in each of the examination rooms for my mom. Finally, at the end of the hallway, I found her. Doctors and nurses were busily doing what they do. The security guards arrived also but backed off when I turned to them and said with all the steel in my voice that I could muster, “Do not touch me!”
Just then the Watch Commander arrived and told the security folk to stand down, that I was her son, and that I'd been cleared of wrongdoing.
Later that evening, mom was released. Since we had no transportation, mom called for a cab and we were taken home at which time I called for takeout Chinese food.
She was scared out of her wits, jumping at each and every little noise that emanated from the house, and even with me walking through the house checking and rechecking did not dispel her fear and fright.
As a last resort, I closed up and locked up the house, turned on the central air conditioning, and assured her that I'd stay up all night to keep a watch even though I didn't think that would be necessary.
After we'd eaten, I escorted her to her bedroom, and then left when she announced her intentions on taking a shower. I told her that I'd be waiting on the hallway side of the closed door to her bedroom. That seemed to help her. She was much calmer when she emerged from her bedroom, and later, insisted that I go on to bed, that she'd be okay.
After making sure she was settled into the living room and watching TV, I took off for the bathroom where I took a hot shower, which I found relaxed me too. I padded to my room and put on a pair of underwear and running shorts then joined her. We watched TV until late and then headed off to bed. She insisted that she'd be okay so we turned in after I checked all doors and windows once again to make sure they were closed and locked.
From all that had happened that day, when I got into bed, I grasped my male appendage and brought myself to a successful conclusion, and then fell into a fitful slumber.
Sometime during the night, I was awoken by screams. Without regard for my state of dress, naked, I took off for her room at lightning speed and found her screaming in her sleep. I sat down on her bed and took her into my arms and held her tightly all the while whispering reassuring things, that she was okay, and that I'd protect her at all costs.
Once she settled down and fell back to sleep, I took off for my room, put on a pair of underwear, returned to her room, got into bed then spooned her into my chest and held her firmly and protectively.
She was a lot better and much less skittish the following morning though she was far from completely recovered from the ordeal.
I made breakfast. We decided to forgo any thoughts of leaving the island. She got on the computer and canceled the trip to Disneyland. She then called into work and said that she'd be unavailable until further notice, probably a week or two at the earliest.
That day, at her insistence, we took off and spent the entire time at the beach swimming, boogie boarding, and just sitting all the while looking at and listening to the power of the ocean waves crashing in and retreating to their origins.
By the time we left, after watching a magnificent sunset, for home we were much more relaxed and pretty much back to a relaxed state of being. The late news was devoid of any mention of the incident, which was good because we knew what had really happened, and why.
I returned to school the following Monday. Largely my return was uneventful though Larry Johnson did in fact, once again, bully Harry but I quickly put him in his place by offering to kick his ass into the next century. He didn't believe me yet he didn't challenge my words all at the same time.
Harry and I started hanging out during lunch periods. He was a good guy, warm, gentle, gullible, trusting and forgiving. Just to make sure he was safe, I started walking him home. He was easy to talk to and we became friends. Having him as a friend was really, really nice because I had no other friends, mainly because I didn't let people 'inside' of my sphere of existence. I just never knew how long I'd be in one particular place... so it was easier to just stay distant and aloof.
Slowly but intently and intelligently, Harry started breaking down my hard-nosed stance about getting close to people. Although he didn't really succeed at breaking me down I started thinking and feeling, and allowing him inside, somewhat.
Two weeks after returning to school, mom told me that Mrs. Montgomery and Ron Samuelson, the school board president, wanted to meet with us the following day, at home. She didn't know what they wanted to meet about, only that they did indeed want to meet with us with the assurance that everything would be okay.
The following day, Peggy picked me up. Harry was with me. I told mom that I'd been walking him home every day, and asked if we could take him home.
She readily agreed.
After we dropped off Harry at his house, we took off and had a quiet meal at a local restaurant and then headed home to meet with the school officials.
They were already there when we arrived home.
After inviting them in, we fixed drinks then sat down at the kitchen table to hear what they had to say.
Mrs. Montgomery opened the conversation by saying that Mr. Laverty's employment had been terminated, that his teaching certificate was revoked, and that if she had anything to do with it then he'd never be involved in any youth employment in the future.
Several other teachers had been severely censured and reprimanded because they were aware of but did nothing to act against bullying, a serious very infraction against the zero tolerance of the state's mandates to provide a safe learning environment for all its students.
About midway through the conversation, Mr. Samuelson pulled from his pocket an envelope and then handed it to mom.
She opened the letter up then showed its contents to me. It was a check in the amount of $250,000.00. They explained that the check was a gesture of good will but when mom questioned them they admitted that the check was contingent upon us not filing any kind of lawsuit against them or the district.
Mom looked at me. The look on her face was questioning. She said, “I think this is the right thing to do... given all the circumstances... it is a way to put this behind us.”
I replied, “I don't think so. The bullying continues...” I then explained the additional incidents at school where Harry and some other kids continued to be bullied, unmercifully at times.
Both Mrs. Montgomery and Mr. Samuelson looked at me questioningly, with concern. I related to them and to mom the incidents giving as much detailed information as possible.
In front of me, Mrs. Montgomery and Mr. Samuelson she tore the check into 6 pieces and then handed it back to them. She said, “I'm sorry but this money means nothing until the problem stops. I've retained counsel. We're going to go forward with the lawsuit so that the behavior stops, the public is made aware of the problem, and we will be relentless in our efforts.”
Mr. Samuelson said, “I can and understand your position. I have advised our board to expect legal action despite its tender offering.”
To me he added, “Mrs. McDonald would like to present an idea. This has nothing to do with the lawsuit, but it may very well address the problem more directly than any law or ordinance could ever provide.”
Mrs. Montgomery, taking Mr. Samuelson's lead, said, “Antoine, would you please speak at a series of school assemblies on the topics of bullying and school violence? The only way to get to students of your age is from students of your age. They listen to people their own age much better than they do us adults.”
“Sir, ma’am, while your settlement is generous and is in good faith it is not good enough in that it does not make the issue known. Surely, we are not the only ones with this problem. No amount of money is going to make the issue known on a broader picture. Antoine and Harry are not the only boys to be abused, bullies and made fun of because of their ethnicity and sexual orientations and other such things.” Peggy said eloquently.
She continued after a moments’ pause “Antoine I have not yet told you but we are going forward with the federal lawsuit we had only talked about. We are asking for damages in the amount of one dollar. We're going to take this to the media unless a gag order is placed on our case – of which I do not believe would be a wise idea. We will not settle out of court Mr. Samuelson, Mrs. Montgomery. Should we win or lose, the outcome will set a precedent to protect other boys and girls, or it will show the world just what school districts are all about.”
Concerned, mom turned to me, “Talking at an assembly is your choice. I think it would be a good idea.”
Before I could reply Mr. Donaldson said, “Mrs. Hilyard, I think your son speaking to the school while a lawsuit is pending would be a conflict of interest for all parties concerned.”
“Tough. Somebody has to do something. Think of it like this Mr. Samuelson … what price do we put on our children’s essences of life? Are you aware that children commit suicide, go into drugs and alcohol, join up gangs and get heavily into other destructive behaviors just to have a false sense of feeling safe? Why not start at home? Why not start in the schools where they spend a vast majority of their day-to-day, waking hours? I'm as serious as a heart attack, Mr. Samuelson, Mrs. Montgomery.” Peggy said seriously.
“We will do what we can. Our district vigorously defends any and all lawsuits that are filed against it, for any reason.” Mr. Samuelson said while squirming in his chair looking extremely uncomfortable in his own skin. Peggy had them by their nuts, and they knew it.
“Mr. Samuelson, I may be speaking out of turn here, but I believe we too could launch a media blitz. After all, our mission statement is all about fostering a collaborative effort between students, educators and parents. You and I and the student council president from years ago came up with the statement, the then school board unanimously adopted it. I believe it is meat and potatoes time.”
“Yes, we did. Miss Hilyard, please go forward with your lawsuit. I will speak with our legal team. I’m going to highly recommend to our legal team that we not vigorously defend your lawsuit.” Mr. Samuelson said.
“Okay, on those terms, I will speak at assemblies but I get to write my own script … one that is not edited, abridged or otherwise modified by the school district. Take it or leave it. This is my only offer.”
“No cussing. No sexual adventures.” Mr. Samuelson said. Peggy and Mrs. Montgomery nodded.
“I only curse very rarely. And, as far as the other thing... you need not worry.
*** To be continued
If you have comments about my story, please write me at Joe Writer Man. All my stories are located on my parent website Joe Writer Man Stories.