There’s a story here, a fragment of something. It involves the lives of people long ago, some who are now dead. This fragment of information I received: It was touching, sad. The story is elusive, but that makes it more haunting to me.
As some of you know my father was the superintendent of the Acalanes High School District, although before he became superintendent, in 1979, he was the district’s director of personnel. In that job, he had to deal with all the various personnel issues that came up with teachers in this top-ranked district. Back then, the district encompassed five high schools and an alternative high school. I heard mostly about him hiring teachers. But he also had to deal with their “issues”: their grievances and their requests for special consideration with regard to leave.
This story has to do with a teacher at one of the high schools asking for time off–or rather for a special schedule. This teacher claimed he had “medical reasons” to leave school after 6th period and to not have teach 7th period.
The backstory? This teacher, whom we’ll call Mr. G, wanted to leave work so he could go home and drink. He was an alcoholic. So was his wife, Mrs. G.
A colleague of Mr. G’s, who taught in the same department, recently sent me a letter, dated 1976, that my father, as assistant superintendent for personnel, sent to Mr. G, denying his request for the special schedule.
This colleague, whom we’ll call Mr. O, had this letter sitting around in a box somewhere. He was going through papers recently and came upon it. He thought I might be curious to see it, to get a picture of the sorts of things my father had to deal with in his day-to-day job as the school district’s personnel director.
Mr. O said that he and his wife became pretty good friends Mr. and Mrs. G. Mr. and Mrs. O knew about their drinking problems. Beyond his drinking, Mr. G apparently had a longtime affair with a female colleague, and he beat his wife. At one point, Mr. O and his wife took in Mrs. G and they became especially close to her.
I don’t know if my father, who died in 2003, was aware of this backstory. He probably was, but there is no mention in this 1976 letter he wrote to Mr. G in response to to Mr. G’s request for the special schedule.
“In response to the grievance you filed on May 24 and after my conference with you on May 28, I have come to the following conclusion. The first decision that will have to be made is whether or not you will be authorized to be absent from your duties 7th period during the coming year. Only the governing board of the school district can grant this authorization… in as much as the grievance is based on your contention that you should be excused for medical reasons, this is a decision that is not a principal’s to make. … Such a request should include a specific statement as to the length and amount of time off, together with supporting evidence.”
Mr. O, who is now retired, found the letter as he was passing in the hall. His classroom was in the same wing as Mr. G’s. “It had been raining and I thought I’d chuck [the letter] in a barrel,” Mr. O told me. “Until I saw what it was. … I’m sure [Mr. G] just threw it on the ground.”
For some reason, Mr. O kept it all these years. A souvenir of sorts, from his teaching days. The letter is also a reminder of someone who was once Mr. O’s friend, a man who “was a good teacher and a nice guy” but who also damaged his own life and the lives of people around him.