In my last newspaper days column, titled Cinderella, I wrote about how small town politicians and bureaucrats always tried to avoid me because they knew I would ask questions they didn’t want to answer and print stories they didn’t want the public to read. I also mentioned that the school superintendent in our little Arizona mountain town refused to take my phone calls.
That’s right, in the seven years that he was school superintendent, not once did he accept a phone call from me. Several times I went to his office, and I could see him through the open door when I walked in, but he would quickly close it and the secretary would tell me he wasn’t there. I’d tell her I had seen him and I knew there was no back door, so he had to be there, and maybe she should check. The response was always the same. She would smile sweetly at me and say, “He’s not here.”
I don’t know what they were so afraid of, but they resisted having anything to do with the newspaper. And, of course, being the suspicious kind of guy I am, my immediate reaction was that if you don’t want to talk to me, there must be something you want to hide.
One year there had been a major remodeling project in the primary and middle schools during the summertime. When school started on the first day, the telephones in our office started ringing off the wall with phone calls from concerned parents asking if we knew what was going on at the school campus because there were a bunch of ambulances lined up there, some from towns as far as 30 miles away.
When nobody answered the telephone at the school district office or at any of the schools, I sent a reporter over to check it out. By the time she drove the two or three miles to the campus, they had pulled up several school buses and were loading kids and staff onto them and taking them to the hospital. When my reporter, a very sharp young woman named Tracy, asked what was happening, the school superintendent said. “Nothing. There’s nothing going on here.”
She asked him why there were so many ambulances and school buses there and where they were taking everybody on the first day of school. I swear to God that small town bureaucrat looked Tracy dead in the eye and asked, “What buses? What ambulances? Nothing’s happening. There’s nothing to see, so why don’t you just go away?” It was one of those “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” situations.
Getting nowhere with him, Tracy started talking to parents who had come to pick up their children, and they all reported symptoms that included burning eyes and throats, and some kind of minor respiratory distress in staff and students alike. Someone from the school told Tracy she had to stop talking to people and leave, and she told him that it was public property, and she was a news reporter covering the story. He threatened to call the police and she asked him to please do so, because she had her camera with her and she was sure she could get a parent to take a picture of her being escorted off school property.
We never did find out what was happening, even though I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any records. The school system said there were no records because there had not been a problem. The hospital told us that under HIPPA they could not give us any information. And the same parents who are were picking up their kids and telling us that there was a problem had all clammed up by the next day. A few would talk off the record, but insisted we not identify or quote them.
Unfortunately, sometimes that happens in small towns. People get intimidated because the folks who run the schools and the Town Council and things like that all own local businesses or have connections with people in the business community. And if you’re a working stiff, it’s never a good idea to make waves.
I guess I must be a surfer at heart because I love waves. We didn’t get much out of that story except a good picture of all of those ambulances and school buses on the front page, with the school superintendent standing in front of them with his arms outstretched like he could block Tracy’s view, and some incredible quotes of him denying that what was shown in the picture was actually there.
That didn’t stop us. We were back every time something happened at the school, and just like always, the school superintendent always told us that there was nothing happening. Nothing to see at all. I was glad that my kids went to school in the next town over. Because, just like what we are facing nationwide today with COVID-19 and insane talk about reopening schools, it seems that the welfare of children doesn’t really matter much when it comes to the big picture.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing, and we’ve got another great prize this week. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Dead Letter by Catherine Bender. The first book in the M. Falcon mystery series, it’s the tale of amateur detectives in their golden years with a treasure trove of unexpected skills and unconventional tactics, including a sweet wheelchair bound grandmother type who is a master computer hacker, a semi-retired actress who seizes the opportunity to live her dream of being a super spy, a homeless veteran, and other blue hairs who are not content to rock their lives away in boring retirement. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
For The Day – If lying was a job, some people would be billionaires.