The Way We Were – 1967-70

Part Thirty-six by Warren Thomas

The “Ruby” issue of wearing the forbidden culottes in Forestburg High School had simmered and disappeared, I thought, but not really. It might be more accurate to say that the “tempest in a teapot” just went underground. It surfaced at the next school board meeting in the old gym. All five board members were present as were the superintendent and I. The administrator was Walter Brugger, the third of the three superintendents during my three years there.
Nothing was out of the ordinary as the meeting began. I had an “uh oh” moment when I saw “Ralph” and “Roseann” seat themselves off to one side. They were parents of the freshman girl who had recently defied a school dress code ruling but who had more recently capitulated in seemingly cooperative manner. There had to be a connection. Ralph was typically blunt and not at all bashful about expressing his opinions, and was obviously on the hunt. Roseann, as I knew her, was quiet and soft-spoken. Although a near neighbor as a girl, she was somewhat younger than I, and I do not recall that we had ever had a conversation. We simply traveled in different circles.
So, with Ruby’s set-to just a few days past, I quickly put two and two together to surmise that the fat would be in the fire. The superintendent knew nothing about my go-round with Ruby because I was in the habit of “skinning my own skunks” and had not informed him. I doubted that any school board member knew about the brewing broadside to be presented when visitors’ comments might be discussed. So, it was that Chairman Ray Judy turned to “Ralph” when board business was done and questioned, “Ralph, what can we do for you?”
The floodgates were open. Quickly moving to the attack, the obviously irate father lambasted an idiotic, expletive, expletive rule, which would prevent his daughter from wearing a decent, appropriate piece of clothing called a culotte. Of all the stupid rules the school board had approved! Ralph continued for a time, growing louder and more red-faced as he vented. When he finished letting the board know how he felt, he said he wanted the culotte rule changed—and changed right now! I have a clear memory that Ralph did not attack me personally, apparently realizing that I was just the enforcer, not the creator, of the offending rule.
Momentary silence reigned. I don’t recall whether Chairman Ray asked the other board members if they had any comments or whether they offered a response, but one member was in a particularly difficult spot. That member was in watermelon business with Ralph and he could see possible economic, even personal, trouble ahead. Mr. Brugger was, for all practical purposes, a bystander in the fracas. He was a new administrator, possibly not even realizing culottes existed in rulebook discussion and, as stated, not a participant in the Thomas/Ruby squabble. But Supt. Brugger had the presence of mind to suggest to the chairman that they had best discuss this sudden dust-up in executive session. Agreeing, the five board members, the superintendent and I adjourned to an upstairs classroom.
Chairman Ray turned to me for an explanation. I informed them that hidden in the written rules governing school activities was a probably undiscovered rule (to them) against girls wearing the verboten garment called a culotte. I said that at some unremembered time in the past, they or their predecessors had adopted such a rule. Whether it was a good rule or a bad rule, I had no opinion, and I had nothing to do with its coming into existence. What I did know was that they had hired me to enforce their rules when necessary, and one of those times had just recently occurred. They went back and forth about the merits of such a ruling and whether maybe they ought to change it. The melon-business partner was especially nervous, knowing well the volatile nature of his friend. The school board was wavering, recalling the heated indignation of their patron and neighbor.
Being a relative bystander to most of the discussion, but seeing its tenuous nature, I realized the likelihood of the board capitulating in order to keep the peace. But I could also see the far-reaching effect of yielding at a point of pressure, especially over a very small issue. I spoke to the board in this vein, “I don’t care whether that rule is in the dress code or not. Culottes are ok with me, but because you say in your approved rules that they are out, they are out with me. I’m here to enforce your rules. If you yield to any angry parent and change in the middle of the year a regulation you have already approved, there is no telling who the next angry parent will be demanding a concession from you. If you don’t back me up when I enforce our rules, then tomorrow morning, get another principal. I’m out of here. If you want to change the culotte rule before next school year, fine, but not just because any angry parent demands it in the middle of the year.”
Seeing the logic of my contention, the board agreed to maintain the dress code for the present time and when back in session, the chairman reported its position to Ralph and Roseann. Meeting adjourned. Roseann had not spoken. I have occasionally wondered what the interaction at home had been preceding the scene in the boardroom. But perhaps now for the parents, the matter was closed. I thought so, at least until a day or two later.
To be concluded.

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