Viva Voce

Bates went up the side stairs and held the stairwell door for the Girl Scout troop that had marched up the stairs behind him. He followed the gaggle of nine- and ten-year-olds into the meeting room, where knots of grumbling parents and nervous children were already gathered. A low, unhappy drone met his ears as he chose a seat at the back of the room, in a row already populated by a group of four gangly, shaggy high school boys. Fours pairs of eyes studied him, a bit blankly, as Bates settled into his seat, tucked his briefcase under his chair, and calmly folded his hands in his lap. He gave the boys one sympathetic look and then fixes his gaze on the conference table at the front of the room.

Bates, there to support the defendants, was outnumbered by the hoards of well-meaning, ill-informed parents and students who thought the eight girls who were being kept away from the meeting room, were all involved in some kind of illegal activity. His niece, Sara, was among the accused, and the school board would, tonight, decide whether the girls would be expelled from their middle school.

A few minutes before seven, a couple of security guards came in and told everyone to take their seats before the meeting began. It took several minutes for the crowd to calm and dissipate enough to occupy the rows of folding chairs facing the conference table. The volume of the muttering rose as the seven school board members filed into the room through a heavy door at the front, and the security guards issued several forceful reminders about the right to peaceable assembly. The meeting was short, and the board members didn’t even shuffle to their respective seats around the table.  Instead, they huddled together behind the board president, who stood at microphone furnished for such an occasion, and unfolded a single sheet of paper. The president reported that the board had voted viva voce (albeit behind closed doors) and had come to a decision: the girls were cleared from all wrongdoing and were no longer in any danger of expulsion.

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