Frankie and his mom entered the school hearing room and it was not anything like what Frankie imagined. Instead of a huge courtroom it was a regular size conference room, with a long table surrounded by cushioned chairs. Instead of dark wood paneled walls, the room was painted white with a large bay window at one end. Half the chairs around the table were occupied by adults all wearing business suits. One lady had a small keyboard in front of her and appeared to be some type of note-taker or court reporter. Frankie did a quick intake of breath and he could feel his nerves starting up.
Frankie's mom hesitated as it was not immediately obvious where they were supposed to sit. An older woman, who appeared to be in charge, sat at the opposite end of the table. She stood and greeted them and then indicated two chairs for them to sit in. As Frankie sat down, he saw Principal Geisling sitting across the table from him but she did not look his way, instead keeping her gaze on several papers in front of her. The woman in charge resumed her seat and surveyed the group, who were all looking her way.
"My name is Mrs. Waters and I am the chairwoman for the school board's discipline committee. The committee is composed of four other members of the school board," and she indicated the three men and one woman closest to her, "and we are the ones who will be voting on the outcome today." Frankie swallowed hard again. "In addition we have a stenographer and legal counsel to provide assistance and advice."
Mrs. Waters looked down at a piece of paper in front of her. "Franklin?" At this, Frankie stood up. Mrs. Waters looked up and smiled, "Oh! You can stay seated, dear!" And Frankie sat back down feeling awkward. Frankie's mom reached underneath the table and held his hand.
Mrs. Waters continued, "Franklin, you have been cited by school administration for fighting with a fellow student and disrupting school operations. Principal Geisling will explain to us why you were cited, then you and your mother will have an opportunity to tell us your side. After that, the members of the committee may ask questions. Then we will ask everyone to leave the room while we deliberate. Any questions about what is going to happen?" Frankie shook his head.
Mrs. Waters turned to Geisling and nodded. Principal Geisling cleared her throat and put on some reading glasses. Then she began to speak.
"On the day in question, Franklin was observed by me holding another student down on the floor of the school hallway and assaulting him. Specifically the other student lay face-down on the floor while Franklin used his foot to kick this student in the head. The other student was injured and would eventually require medical treatment. All the while Franklin was assaulting this student, he was shouting for other students to engage in fighting as well. I observed two other pair of students beginning to engage in just such activity and they were only prevented from doing so by my arrival and the arrival of other school staff. Franklin was completely out of control and had to be physically restrained by school staff. There were several hundred students in the hallway at that time and who were all agitated because of the altercation. A student riot was only prevented by my timely arrival and intervention."
Frankie's mouth literally fell open as he listened to Geisling's account. His mom squeezed his hand tighter underneath the table. Geisling shuffled the papers in front of her and continued.
"I gathered statements from all those involved and from several witnesses. Not surprisingly the accounts all varied widely and were contradictory. While it is clear that there has been some type of ongoing hostility between these two students, I was unable to gather anything definitive or conclusive from the statements. But based on my own observation, it is clear to me that Franklin was the aggressor, was actively assaulting another student, was calling on other students to fight, and caused a near riot amongst the wider student population. Based on all that, I recommend that Franklin be expelled from Holland Road High School, or at a minimum be suspended for the maximum amount of time allowed."
There was a silence in the room as Geisling finished. She took her reading glasses off and placed them on the papers in front of her. She then looked over at Frankie and his mother with a smug look on her face. Frankie was both stunned and angry. He was shocked that someone in a position of authority like a school principal could lie so easily. He was further shocked that she could also be so petty and vindictive. She wants to get back at me because mom appealed my punishment. Frankie was able to calm his nerves only because he knew what was coming.
Mrs. Waters then turned to Frankie and his mom, "These are very serious citations. How do you respond to what Principal Geisling has presented?"
Frankie's mom gave him a quick squeeze on his hand and then removed her own hand. She then nodded to Frankie. They had agreed beforehand that Frankie would do all the talking. Frankie visibly swallowed and then turned to look at Mrs. Waters.
"Yes ma'am. If I may, I would like to play a video before I say anything."
Geisling leaned forward, "You're not allowed to do that!"
Mrs. Waters cleared her throat in a polite manner, and Geisling reluctantly leaned back in her chair.
Mrs. Waters asked, "What is on this video, Franklin?"
"Ummm, it's a video of the fight itself. Someone took it with their cell phone or something," Frankie answered.
Geisling leaned forward again and was about to say something when Mrs. Waters held up her hand while never taking her eyes off Frankie. "Interesting ….. go ahead and play it, young man."
Frankie placed a tablet on the table and propped it up on a stand so everyone at the table could view it. The other school board members leaned in to get a good look as Frankie touched the screen to begin the video. Frankie had watched it so many times since Spikey had given it to him, he knew it almost frame by frame. So he snuck a quick peek at Geisling and saw she was watching the video with rapt attention and an ever whitening coloring in her face. The only noise in the conference room came from the video playing on the tablet. Once the video finished, there was silence in the room.
Then Geisling spoke quickly, "He can't use that video in this hearing! Students are not allowed to use cell phones inside the school … clearly whoever was filming in the hallway was violating school rules!" Frankie noticed the tiniest bit of spittle appear on Geisling's lips.
Frankie's mom spoke up, "This is Frankie's time to talk! She had her turn!"
Mrs. Waters nodded and turned to Frankie, "Dear, I see you in the video. So I assume you were not the one doing the recording?"
Frankie responded, "Ummmm, no ma'am."
Mrs. Waters nodded again and asked, "And how did you come by this video?"
Frankie answered, "Someone gave it to me during lunch period just the other day. But I've been told, that … ummmm, it's all over the internet now anyway."
Mrs. Waters nodded and raised an eyebrow. She seem to ponder for a moment and then said, "It is clear that Franklin had nothing to do with the video being made, so he is not the one violating the school's no cell phone rule. I see no reason that this hearing cannot consider it." The other school board members were also nodding as she spoke. Geisling's mouth started to fall open.
Mrs. Waters returned her gaze to Frankie and said, "You still have the floor, Franklin. What would you like to say?"
Frankie swallowed again and spoke, "Well, the video kinda speaks for itself. But I guess I wanna say this; I have never wanted to fight …. and I don't really think I did any fighting. Bear … I mean the other student … attacked me and all I did was stop him from hurting me. I didn't hit him. I didn't strike back at all. I … just … stopped … him!"
Frankie paused as he looked at all the committee members. Then he said, "I guess that's it."
Mrs. Waters nodded and turned to her colleagues, "Any questions?" One member raised his hand and Mrs. Waters gestured for him to speak.
He cleared his throat and said, "I don't have any questions for Franklin. But Principal Geisling; it clearly looks like the other student provoked the incident. I did not see Franklin kicking anyone's head. I also did not see him yelling for other students to engage in fighting. Can you explain how your account could vary so widely from what we saw on this video?"
There was a long uncomfortable silence in the room as Geisling shuffled the papers in front of her. Then she began to mumble, "It happened all so quick …. I was so sure …. there were so many students ….." and her voice began to trail off. There was another awkward silence.
The school board member continued, "So you don't deny that the incident transpired exactly as we saw on the video?"
Geisling barely got out, "I do not remember exactly ….. I mean I do not recall ….."
The school board member looked squarely at Geisling.
"Really? That's your best answer?" he said.
Geisling visibly blanched and said nothing.
Mrs. Waters then spoke up, "Anyone else have any questions?" and scanned the faces of her colleagues. They all shook their heads. Mrs. Waters looked at Frankie and his mom, "You both are welcome to wait in the lobby as we make our decision. Someone will come out and get you."
Frankie's mom patted him on the back and they both stood and exited the room. The conference room door closed behind them as they found a couple of chairs in the waiting area and sat down. Frankie tried to strain his ears to hear what was being said on the other side of the wall but he could make out nothing. Then Frankie wondered how many other teens like him had sat in this exact spot, waiting to hear their fate and doing exactly what Frankie was trying to do now. The walls must be sound proofed or something, he thought.
Frankie's mom said, "I think that went pretty well."
Frankie nodded and replied, "Same here. I wonder how long ……"
Before he could finish his sentence, the hearing room door opened suddenly and Geisling shot out of it. She was walking so fast as to almost be jogging and Frankie thought he spied some wetness around her eyes. But she was past them so fast that Frankie could not be sure.
Before the door could swing completely closed, another hand stopped it and pushed it back open. Mrs. Waters stuck her face out and said, "Please come back in folks!" Frankie and his mom stood and reentered the hearing room. Mrs. Waters returned to her place at the head of the table. As soon as they found their seats, Mrs. Waters began speaking.
"The discipline committee has decided to deny the principal's recommendation for expulsion and deny her concurrent recommendation for suspension in this case." Frankie gave an audible sigh. "But before I conclude this hearing, I would like to do something."
Mrs. Waters then stood up and walked down the length of the table to where Frankie and his mom sat. Instinctively, Frankie stood up as Mrs. Waters approached him and then she extended her hand to Frankie. Frankie looked down momentarily and then took her hand in his own. Mrs. Waters shook his hand and looked him in the eye.
She said, "Franklin, on behalf of the entire school board …. I deeply apologize for what you have gone through."
Frankie was momentarily caught off guard but quickly responded, "Thank you, ma'am."
Mrs. Waters then smiled and said, "Now go back to school and be a good student!" Frankie smiled back and said, "Yes ma'am!" Frankie turned around and hugged his mom.
As Frankie and his mom left the school administrative building and walked to their car, he almost could feel his feet floating an inch above the ground. It's over …. It's finally over! He felt relief, exaltation and little bit giddy, all at once. The air seemed sweeter, the birds singing seemed happier and the sunshine seemed brighter.
As they neared their car, Frankie's mom put her hand on his back.
"Sometimes Frankie, the good guys actually win one!"