Continued from: With Drawn: Part 1 — Once Upon a Time
Jacob Grist and Joanne Walsh now sat in Principal Michael Cooper’s office. Principal Cooper was the principal of the Wellbrook Middle School. Principal Cooper was a squirrely looking man. Which was to say, he looked a lot like a squirrel. He was thin and slightly bent over, and although he was almost completely bald, he somehow seemed very bushy. Principal Cooper sat at his desk. He was viewing the picture of Tommy Rogers being decapitated by a rabid gorilla. The principal regarded the drawing that was in Jacob’s sketchpad as if it was a puzzle in need of a solution.
Joanne sat quietly. She was waiting for the principal to say something. Jacob sat quietly beside her. He didn’t really care if the principal said something or not. Jacob twirled a pencil in his fingers. He liked the way the pencil felt skimming across his fingers, and he liked the way it looked cutting through space, leaving trails of itself behind.
Principal Cooper finally broke his silence, the principal saying, “Ms. Walsh, I’m not sure if you realize just how serious this is.” The principal lowered his eyebrows, his large forehead creasing, and he stared into Joanne’s eyes. This was an attempt to show Joanne just how serious he really thought this was. The principal then waved the sketchpad in the air and he said, “This drawing could be construed as a threat.”
Joanne shifted in her seat and she said, “I understand your concern, Principal Cooper. But it’s just Jacob’s way of dealing with stress. He’s very imaginative, and when things are overwhelming for him, he tends to retreat into that imagination.”
Principal Cooper arched an eyebrow to show Joanne that he did not agree with her assessment of the situation and that he thought she was placating her son.
The arch of his eyebrow was similar to if the principal had actually voiced to Joanne that he thought she was being a fool. But he couldn’t actually say that he thought she was a fool because that would be rude. So the arched eyebrow would have to suffice.
What the principal did voice was something more diplomatic. He said, “That very well may be, Ms. Walsh, but that’s not an excuse for what Jacob has done.” Principal Cooper held up the drawing again, the principal saying, “I don’t know if you realize just how serious this is.”
“Yeah, you’ve already said that,” Joanne said. She then said, “Look, Principal Cooper, this boy, Tommy Rogers, has been bullying Jacob for some time now.”
Principal Cooper said, “That may have been the case in the past. But we’ve spoken to Tommy about that behavior, and the teachers have shown due diligence in making sure that the bullying has ended.”
Joanne rolled her eyes.
Rolling one’s eyes is a more blatant way than an eyebrow arch to tell someone that he or she was a fool. Rolling one’s eyes is more like telling someone that he or she is completely full of shit. And, like the eyebrow arch, rolling the eyes was far more polite than Joanne actually telling the principal that he was full of shit.
The term, “full of shit,” does not mean that Principal Cooper’s body had gone septic. It means that he was such a phony that his dishonesty was like fecal matter that seemed to be seeping out of him.
The principal shifted his gaze to Jacob, and the principal said, “Am I correct in saying that, Jacob? The bullying has stopped. Is that right?”
Jacob did not answer the principal with words. Jacob was too busy watching his pencil cut through space to look at the principal, or even to voice a response, so Jacob answered the principal’s question with a shrug.
Jacob’s shrug was supposed to convey to the principal: Sure, the blatant bullying that the teachers would notice has stopped. But Tommy still makes my school days unbearable with more subtle taunting.
The shrug, however, did not properly convey all this information to the principal, and the principal was still expecting an actual verbal response from Jacob. So the principal intended to ask the same question again. But before he asked this question again, the principal made this request: “Jacob, can you please look at me?” He said this in a very earnest manner.
The principal made this request because, generally, people look at another person to let that person know that they are listening to that person.
Joanne wanted to roll her eyes again. She knew that even with the principal’s earnest tone, he was still being full of shit.
Jacob looked quickly at the principal, as the principal had requested, but then Jacob returned his gaze to the pencil darting through his fingers.
Principal Cooper said to Jacob, “Jacob, can you put the pencil down and look at me, please?” The principal’s voice was beginning to lose its earnestness.
The principal asked Jacob to put the pencil down because Principal Cooper thought that the twirling pencil was distracting Jacob. The principal thought that this was the reason that Jacob would not look at him. But the truth was, Jacob did not look at the principal because Jacob had already shrugged in response to the principal, and his response of a shrug should have sufficed. So Jacob continued to watch the pencil twirling through his fingers.
Principal Cooper sighed. He said, “Jacob, I need you to look me in the eye and put down the pencil so that you can understand how important this is.”
Jacob continued to watch the pencil twirl through his fingers, allowing the pencils dipping and climbing motion to soothe him. He did not understand why the principal kept asking him to respond, when his previous response should have been enough.
Principal Cooper looked at Joanne in a pleading manner. It was as if the principal had thrown up his hands to show that he had surrendered. But he did not throw up his hands, instead, he pursed his lips and made his eyes look tired. This look was supposed to illustrate to Joanne that Jacob was simply too difficult a person to be dealt with in a reasonable manner.
Joanne crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair.
The principal made his voice sterner. It was as if he was yelling without raising his voice, and he said, “Jacob, I said for you to look at me, and you need to do that right now.”
Jacob stopped twirling the pencil. He looked up from the pencil and glared at the principal.
Principal Cooper said to Jacob, “Jacob, what you did is very serious. The drawing of Tommy that you drew could be considered a threat.”
Jacob glared at the principal.
The principal glared back at Jacob.
Joanne, still sitting back in her chair with her arms folded, considered the principal and her son’s standoff for a moment, and then she said to Jacob, “Jacob, why don’t you wait for me out in the main office for a few minutes. I need to speak with Principal Cooper alone.”
Jacob regarded his mother. His expression was unsure.
Joanne said to her son, “It’s okay, kiddo. Go on out to the main office, please. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Jacob looked at his mother. Then he looked at Principal Cooper. Jacob was unsure of this turn of events. Jacob had done something wrong in school, and the principal seemed to be mad at him. But Jacob’s mother seemed to be mad at the principal. Jacob stood from the chair and walked out of the principal’s office to sit on the bench in the main office.
Out in the main office, sitting on the bench, Jacob began twirling the pencil again in his fingers. He wished that he had his sketchpad to draw in, but it was still on Principal Cooper’s desk. He was a little worried that he might not get the sketchpad back.
Back in the principal’s office, Joanne now leaned forward in her chair and she leveled her eyes onto Principal Cooper. Joanne said, “Principal Cooper, with all due respect, do you really believe that Jacob is going to come to school with a giant gorilla to set loose on his classmates?”
Principal Cooper said, “No, Ms. Walsh, I don’t think your son is going to bring a giant gorilla to school. And I do understand your son’s diagnosis. But I have to treat him like any other student in this school. It is the nature of the drawing that I find disturbing, and Jacob’s desire to harm another student. I have to suspend him for this.”
Joanne leaned back in her chair again. She said to the principal, “No, Principal Cooper, you do not have to suspend him. And no, you do not have to treat Jacob like any other student, because Jacob is not like any other student.”
The principal interrupted Joanne by raising his hand like a traffic cop and saying, “Ms. Walsh, I assure you, I understand…”
Joanne disregarded the principal’s interruption and she said, “No, I don’t think you do understand, Principal Cooper. Because if you did understand, you’d know that Jacob’s not looking at you a moment ago is because he has difficulty understanding what people are saying to him while trying to decipher what expressions their faces are making. And the twirling of his pencil is a self-stimulatory behavior that helps him stay focused and that soothes him.”
“Ms. Walsh, really, I think…”
“And when you become stern with him, as you just did, he’ll shut down and won’t listen to anything you want him to hear, because he’ll be too busy perseverating over the fact that you raised your voice at him. And you should know all of this because we sat in this very office a month ago with Ms. Dell in response to these very problems happening in her class.”
“Ms. Walsh, you need to realize…”
“How serious this is? Yes, I think we’ve established that, Principal Cooper. But I don’t think that you realize how serious it will be if I go to the Department of Education over your inability, or outright unwillingness, to service my son’s IEP. I just sat through an IEP meeting, in which your staff made me somehow feel guilty about why my son is underperforming. But the reason he is underperforming is very apparent at this moment. Because the pencil twirling, the looking away, the shutting down, and, yes, even the drawings are all behaviors associated with his disability, and you are refusing to take that into consideration.” Joanne stood from her seat and she gathered her coat and purse, saying to the principal, “So unless you want to schedule a Manifestation Determination meeting to dispute that these behaviors are the result of his disability, then Jacob will be in school tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Because the last thing you want is for the D.O.E., or even the town’s newspaper, getting wind that an autistic child in your school is having his civil rights violated.”
Principal Cooper regarded Joanne for what seemed a long moment. He didn’t say a word. Neither did Joanne. The principal studied the drawing of Tommy Rogers’s gorilla induced decapitation. The principal finally said, “Okay. Very well. You’re right. But there has to be some kind of consequence. If for no other reason than to tell Tommy’s mother that some type of disciplinary action has been followed through with.”
“Frankly, Principal Cooper, I don’t give a damn about Tommy or his mother.”
Principal Cooper said, “It was my understanding that the Rogers family are friends of yours.”
“The Rogers family are friends of my husband. But, fine, what is an appropriate consequence in your eyes?”
Principal Cooper said, “Detention.”
Joanne said, “Fine.” She then held out her hand toward the principal. The principal thought that she wanted to shake his hand, so he stood up and extended his hand toward Joanne. But Joanne pulled her hand out of the reach of the principal, and she pointed at the sketchpad in the principal’s other hand.
The principal looked a moment at Joanne’s pointed finger and then at the sketchpad. He then reluctantly relinquished the pad to Joanne, and Joanne walked out of the office.
Continued in: With Drawn: Part 3 — Connect Away