Since the meeting was fifteen minutes before school normally starts, I wanted to be sure I got there early. Being time impaired, I did -- an hour.
I'd taken the truck in to get a bolt replaced on the brand new tail pipe. It was already hanging free. I decided to gas it up, too, at Casey's, and have a breakfast biscuit. The gal making them was one of the mothers I've known for years. She called me back as it cooked, telling me that her freshman daughter was very close to the girl, and that telling her was the hardest thing she'd ever done. She told me she was pretty sure all the kids already would know. She'd had twenty over at her house Sunday evening. We both kept walking away so we wouldn't start crying.
I really wasn't hungry, so I just took the biscuit up to my room and graded papers while I nibbled on it. Neither thing was going very well.
When I heard chairs being taken off desks next door, I went over so I wouldn't miss the meeting.
People arrived early at the staff meeting, but nobody talked. The principal was not there. The superintendent was standing at the front, opening unseen cellophane packages and putting them back in the shopping bag. He did not look up. He did not speak. He got through the entire meeting without once naming the student. You know you're in a small town when...
He had three pastors from the community, several counselors from the Area Education Association, the psychologist they employ, and another counselor on "stand-by" if needed from the next town over, Corydon.
Anyone with suggestions could voice them. He told us that he'd never had a situation like this come up before, so he'd called a few other superintendents who had more experience. The bottom line was to keep the routine as normal as possible. Students were to be allowed/encouraged to seek help if it was needed. The locations of the various extra people were decided, and a procedure was set up so we'd know where the students were.
He asked if anyone wanted a minister/counselor in their room. Having no idea what to expect, and being the room where she was first hour, I raised my hand right off. One other teacher also asked, after a long pause.
As we got ready to leave, he held out his plastic bag -- full of individual packages of tissues. I took one, and he handed me three more. I gave them away first hour, so the minister went for more.
We monitored the students in the hall. Those in tears got hugs (except one, who announced, "If I get hugged once more, I'm going to belt someone.")
The minister had two of his own congregation in there in my room first hour, and both were talked with calmly before the class started. One boy belligerently thrust out his jaw, went to her seat, pulled it out into the middle of the room and demanded, "Don't let anyone sit there today." Soon a paper memorial with her name and the notice not to sit there was in place. Nobody tried to.
When the janitor came in, she had not heard, so I filled her in. After school, when she came in to vacuum, she asked, "How long am I supposed to leave that chair there?" as she swept around it.
I have no clue. Until he doesn't need it there any longer? Until someone else takes it down? I don't know the rules for something like this.
Kids came and went all day. If they needed to, they went. They signed out in the office so no one location got overrun. Some buried themselves in their work. Some couldn't open a book. Some talked. Some rooms were so silent the proverbial pin could have become a clashing cymbal.
"Is it always this quite?" asked the minister first hour.
At noon, the ministers were still with us. After lunch, my group wanted to share, so we shared. One of the most upset freshmen had said only one thing in her class that morning, "She said she wanted to become the first woman president," which was a beautiful memory I was glad she shared.
Another class planned a memorial batch of flowers from the class to be at the funeral.
The day seemed never-ending.
After school, one of the elementary teachers came up to use the scanner, which is in my room. The computer was on strike, so I did some work on it and eventually, we got it to scan and operate properly. The elementary was not as affected as the high school and junior high, but again, upset students were allowed to get to help as needed. She was still there when I left.
Sunday, one of the AEA people had gone to the hospital with her mother, who was moved by ambulance from the care center. She was ready to leave, watching her mother sleep, when something told her to wait 9 minutes. Apprehensive, she did, expecting that her mother was going to die.
On her way home, she hit the bridge over the former town of Harvard, which raises above the surrounding countryside, and had a clear view of the road ahead, all clear.
"I must have looked away for a second. When I next looked, I could see the white top of the trailer in the ditch." She wasn't the first on the scene, but close enough.
I now know more than I ever wanted to about the details of the accident, none asked for. The girl, just turned 15, was driving with her father, going home from a practice. She'd stopped for the stop sign, but an out of state truck and trailer, evidently not realizing the road T'ed into another road, was going too fast to stop, rolling the car over on the way to the opposite ditch. She'd just started her turn when he hit them.
One student told me how he'd heard. One of his friends went flying by out of town, not stopping or even seeing him when he tried to flag him down, so he chased him -- at 80 mph. We don't have any roads in good enough shape that you can't hit a buckled bit of paving or a rough patch on it. They were going out to see the accident site. I asked him not to drive that fast as the road had uneven places that could flip a car into the ditch without even needing something else to hit it. Other classmates told how they were driving more slowly now.
I had noon duty, so the day just never let up. Some of the counselors said the first day was not the worst, as they were frequently numb. Great.