The call came in and the secretary at the front desk immediately routed it to the Personnel Secretary who immediately routed it to me when the principal said, “I’ve got a hot police issue.”
“What’s up Ned?” I asked when I picked up the receiver.
“Well, Fritz, our head janitor got himself into a bit of a pickle with a high school kid. The kid was hasseling him so he kind of bumped him against a gate. The thing was, the kid’s dad is a Sherriff’s Deputy and he is known for having a hot temper at some of our inter-school basketball games. The high school kid’s younger brother, plays on the 5th grade team. Also, turns out the kid’s dad, actually his stepdad, is a Hispanic guy and a Sherriff’s Deputy. So I thought since those guys are kind of hot tempered, that I’d better call you.”
I turned away from the phone and took a deep breath so I would be calm.
“Sounds like a good idea, Ned, “ I responded. “And since we’re on the phone now, it would be a good idea not to ever mention anything about the step dad’s ethnicity or any kind of personality qualities you think are associated with it.”
“OK, Bill,” said Ned. I was just trying to give you a heads up.”
“Right, but from now on, if anyone asks you about this situation, just say the four words I’ve been talking about at Administrative meetings, ‘It’s a personnel matter.’ Now, is Fritz there?”
Yes, Bill, he’s right here. You know I trust him with anything, Bill.”
“I’d like to talk with him and hear what he says happened.”
Fritz got on the phone and told me his story. The kid had trespassed, skated in his beautiful amphitheater, insulted him and wouldn’t go away. The nasty kid felt safe, to do or say anything he wanted as long as he was standing behind the bars of the gate, der junger Schwein. Finally, Fritz said he lost control of his temper, reached through the bars of the gate and grabbed the kid. Fritz said he didn’t really want to hurt the kid, just teach him a lesson. So it felt good to smack him against the bars of the gate and then just drop him on the ground.”
“Ok, Fritz,” I said hoping I sounded calm. “The first fact is, I trust you and expect you are telling me the truth. So the next step is that I am assigning you to home, to your own house, for the next week until we can get everything calmed down. I hate to tell you this, but this also sounds like you assaulted the high-school kid. This means I’m going to have to call the city police department and give them your contact information.”
“What!” yelled Fritz. “If you trust me so much, why can’t you support me now? Ned is supporting me!”
“Fritz,” I said calmly. Get off campus in the next 5 minutes before the stepfather shows up. He might not be so calm about the fact that you grabbed his stepson. He might take the law into his own hands. I’m directing you to leave now and go home and stay there, inside.”
Fritz got hold of himself and said, “Yes, sir. I’ll do as you say.”
I asked to speak with Ned again and told him to call Child Protective Services and report suspected child abuse since the skater was obviously a minor. Ned really didn’t want to do this to his old pal, but I reminded him that he was a mandated reporter and could lose his credential if he did not report.
“Oh,” he said. “I guess I knew that.” I let Ned know that I would take care of calling the police.
Not five minutes after Fritz left the school, Raymond’s step dad wheeled into the parking lot, emergency lights lit up. He had turned them on when Raymond’s mother called him sobbing that Raymond had been beat up by a school janitor. The Deputy turned off the lights, parked the car and stepped out. He didn’t just stomp into the office, however. He calmly looked around the outside of the school, scanning the situation. Then he walked deliberately across the parking lot, opened the office door and strode in.
“I’m Deputy Ramirez,” he said to the secretary. “Is the principal here?”
Old Ned had seen the Deputy arrive out his window and stepped from his office into the main reception area in time to greet him.
“Hello Deputy,” Ned said. “Please come in.”
Once inside Ned’s office, both men sat down. The Deputy began, “My wife called me pretty damned upset. She said one of your janitors beat up our son.”
Ned interjected, “ Well Deputy, I’d like to help you but I don’t have much information. The janitor talked to our Personnel Director and got sent home…for a week. All I can say is this is a personnel matter.”
“Who is this personnel director?” asked the Deputy.
“Oh, that’s Bill. He’s a good guy and I know he can help you with the information you are looking for. Do you want to talk to him?”
“I sure do,” said Deputy Ramirez.
“Let’s call him now,” said Ned.
When I picked up the call from Silver Stream Elementary, I expected it might be the Deputy. “This is Deputy Ramirez,” he said. My wife called me pretty damned upset. She said one of your janitors beat up our son.”
“Hello Deputy,” I said. “This is Bill, personnel director. I understand there was some kind of altercation between your son and a janitor after school today. Is your son ok?”
“I haven’t seen him yet,” said the Deputy, “but I wanted to stop by the school here and find out some facts. I’m on my way home to check on him.”
“Well,” I said. “I’m trying to piece the story together myself. At this point, I understand that Raymond was on the school grounds, he and the janitor exchanged words, and the janitor laid hands on him. So the action I’ve taken is to place the janitor on Administrative Leave until I can gather more facts. I also want you to know that I called the city police department since this incident falls within their jurisdiction. I was just about to call your home to find out how Raymond is doing when you called here. If you are on your way home, I sure would appreciate a call letting me know how he is feeling.”
“I’ll do that,” said Deputy Ramirez. “Thanks for the information.”
With that he hung up and I contacted the superintendent and let him know what was going on and the decisions I had already made. He agreed and asked me to continue managing the situation and keep him and the board informed. Following this conversation I sent an email to the school board members to let them know I was dealing with a potential employee discipline situation. I shared that I couldn’t fill them in on any of the facts because it was likely that they would eventually hear some part of the case or an appeal of the case. Next, I called the attorney for the school district to make certain I was following the correct procedures. Procedures count for everything in these kinds of situations because they make up the basis of ‘due process,’ a constitutional right. If you do something that violates any of the procedures including timelines for various notifications, then the case for the district is over. I also wanted to talk over the best strategy for this case.
Fritz sat at home for a week until Raymond and his parents had been contacted by the city PD and had calmed down a bit. Deputy Ramirez called me to assure me that Raymond would not show up at the elementary school again and I let him know how much I appreciated his measured response to the entire situation. We both knew that a lot more time would pass before the disciplinary results and any fallout would take place.
For his part, Ned was happy to share with all his staff what a great guy Fritz was and how the district was not really supporting him. Here was a great opportunity to build unity and staff loyalty to one another by sharing a common enemy: the district office. The teachers and support staff loved old Ned and Fritz and thought it was wrong to punish Fritz for defending their school against a little hoodlum. They were hoping that this would all just go away.