Today, for the first time in the history of Columbus High, the Student Disciplinary Committee got its day in court. I was so proud. I had advised Luke to give as few details as possible but to show how deeply he regretted his actions—which were admittedly wrong, wrong, wrong. Then he left the room, and it was time for the committee to negotiate with the administration.
Dr. Adams stood up first and, like the disreputable despot that he is, made his (totally biased) case against Luke. His claim was, plain and simple, that the charter of the Bartholomew County School Corporation stipulates that being caught either in possession of an open alcoholic beverage or intoxicated on school property is grounds for immediate dismissal. And from the sworn testimony of the member of the cleaning crew, Mr. Jameson, there was incontrovertible evidence of possession and inebriation.
That’s when I stepped up to the plate, eager to share the ace I had up my sleeve.
“First of all, let me say that I don’t think anyone on the committee here condones the behavior of Luke Barton. We agree that underage drinking, which is, of course, illegal, should also be forbidden on school property. What Luke did was stupid and reckless—although, as he pointed out, it should be considered that he did not intend to drive while under the influence.”
“A fact which cannot be proven either way,” Dr. Adams interjected.
“Granted,” I said. Ha! I just said “granted.” I felt like such an adult. “But isn’t it also difficult to prove that Luke was even drunk? Mr. Jameson never called the police. He just reported what he saw directly to you. So there was never a test performed to ascertain the amount of alcohol in Luke’s system, if any.”
There was a low murmur in the room, and Dr. Adams actually started to look concerned. Wow, had I won this thing already?
“We understand that Mr. Barton is not subject to legal action,” Dr. Adams said. “But that does not mean we cannot undertake our own action here at Columbus High. We have a rule that anyone caught with alcohol on school property will be expelled, and we are taking Mr. Jameson’s report very seriously.”
Okay, just as well things hadn’t ended there. Because now I got to deliver my final oratorical flourish. “Can you show me that rule, Dr. Adams?” I asked, smiling innocently at him. “I’d like to see you point it out, in front of everyone present.”
“Certainly, Ms. Casterelli.” Dr. Adams reached over to the desk behind him, rifled through some papers and pulled out the county’s staff handbook. He flipped through, then stopped at a page in the middle and held it up. “As you can see right here, the school system expressly prohibits drugs and alcohol on school property, with a punishment of expulsion.”
“Hmm, interesting,” I said. “And who has access to that handbook, Dr. Adams? Do students?”
He frowned, looking more confused than upset. He still hadn’t gotten it. “No, they don’t,” he said. “But the students have their own handbook from which to glean the rules.”
“Right, I’m getting to that,” I said. I whipped a copy of the student handbook out of my backpack, which was lying on the desk next to me. “Exhibit A for the defense,” I announced.
“Francesca, this is not a trial.”
I blushed. I’d just been so excited to say that, like they did on “Law and Order.” “Feel free to read through here,” I told Dr. Adams. “Every sentence, every page. And you’ll see that there’s nothing in here about the policy on alcohol on school grounds. Sure, we know it’s wrong, and stupid. But we, as students, would have no way of knowing that it’s cause for automatic dismissal.”
“Ignorance of the law—”
“Is no defense, I know. But it is when there’s no reasonable way for us to know the law, don’t you think? How can we be expected to follow a rule we aren’t even allowed to read?”
Silence. Thick silence. I’d nailed them with the linchpin. A little research goes a long way. I’d had the idea after Luke made a reference to Dr. Adams showing him the rule in the faculty handbook. It had occurred to me that it was strange that he wouldn’t have showed him the passage in the student handbook, the one we all read and had to sign a form saying we accepted at the beginning of the year.
There were a few moments of discussion, but my points were too strong. Luke was called back in, where he was informed that he would receive a brief suspension and no expulsion. Meanwhile, we all agreed that the student handbook was to be immediately revised to incorporate the rules about drugs and alcohol, because, yes, this wasn’t something that should happen at Columbus High.
I just couldn’t believe I’d done it—I’d saved Luke!
As I walked proudly out of the school, I was almost flattened by my jubilant client, Luke, who ran up and practically attacked me.
“How’d you do that?” he asked. “What did you say in there? Man, you really saved my butt.”
“Oh, so now you believe in the Student Disciplinary Committee, huh?”
“I do,” Luke said, looking appropriately humbled for once. “And I apologize for lampooning your campaign.”
“Oh, and Francesca . . .”
“There’s something I’ve wanted to say. For a while.”
My heart started to beat faster, but I kept calm. After everything Luke and I had been through this year, I wasn’t about to let this be easy for him.
“Well, I’ve been thinking . . . and, maybe you and I should, you know.”
“No, I don’t know,” I said.
Luke groaned. “I was thinking maybe we could, like, go out or something,” he mumbled.
“You were thinking maybe? What makes you so sure I want to go out with you, anyway?”
“Valid point,” Luke said. “Hey, I’ve got an idea. We should get our SAT scores back in a few days. How about, whoever gets the higher score on the verbal section gets to choose our fate?”
I laughed. “Like a roll of the dice?” I said. “Okay. It’s a deal.”