Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Gossip/Rumors (either or both) (10/28/10)
TITLE: Small Town Scapegoat
By Beth Muehlhausen
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“Psssst … hey Jean!”
Anne’s voice was barely audible amidst the locker room din. “C’mere.”
“What?” Jean’s head looked over her adjacent locker door.
“Got an idea.”
“Ssssssh …. not so loud.” Anne glanced around suspiciously to make sure no one else was listening. “I know how we can get rid of her.”
“Who?” Jean frowned, knowing her friend was prone to mischief.
“Miss Andrews. I know how to get her fired.”
“The gym teacher? What for?”
Anne scowled. “I thought you’d be on my side.”
“Oh, COME ON.” Anne expected compliance from her peers. “About the fact I can’t stand her. She’s odd and creepy.” Anne grimaced, suggesting Jean dare not differ in opinion. “Don’t you think? I mean, really?”
“What’s your big idea?”
Anne seized the opening of opportunity. “Well, uh, I, uh, heard something recently. Something juicy.”
“Sure you did.” Jean’s skepticism showed.
“Would the captain of the cheerleading squad chance spreading rumors about a teacher? And get canned? I DON’T THINK SO. I’m talking about cold, hard facts.”
“If you’ve got something against Miss Andrews you need to talk to your counselor about it – not me.” Jean ducked behind the locker door and resumed dressing.
Undaunted by Jean’s apparent disinterest, Anne leaned into her friend’s dressing area and stuck her face in her nose. “Miss Andrews was inappropriate with one of her student aides.” She ducked away quickly.
Jean flung her sport shorts over the locker door. “You’re crazy.”
“I am not.” Anne’s face reappeared around the door. “No teacher should be able to get away with sexual harassment.”
“Of course, if it’s true. What’s your source?”
Anne again disappeared behind the locker door, luring Jean’s curiosity. Jean pulled on her t-shirt, slammed the door, and confronted Anne. “Well, what is it?”
Without answering, Anne dashed off toward the door leading to the soccer field. The seed had been planted.
Later that night, Jean stewed in her bedroom while replaying the conversation. Ann was known to exaggerate. But on the other hand, Miss Andrews WAS very strange: large and mannish in appearance, socially inept and physically clumsy. How did she get to be a gym teacher in the first place? Colleagues and students both shunned her. Jean’s father, the superintendent of the School Corporation, had received repeated parental complaints about Miss Andrews. What if there was even a shred of truth in Anne’s comment?
Jean decided it was better to err on the side of responsibility and went downstairs to seek out her father. He was poring over some important-looking documents spread out on the desktop.
“What’s up?” He dropped his pen and leaned back in his office chair.
“Well, there’s probably nothing to this. But at school today I heard Miss Andrews was taking advantage of at least one of her aides.”
“The gym teacher?”
Darkness crossed her father’s face. “It figures.”
“She’s already in a hot spot. People don’t like her.”
“I know. Do you think there’s any truth to this?”
“I don’t know, but it’s my job to find out. I’ll bring it up at the board meeting.” He dismissed her with a playful flick of his hand. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll handle it.”
Jean skipped back to her room feeling much lighter.
At the board meeting a few days later, Jean’s father addressed the accusation. “Evidently the girls at school have reason to believe Miss Andrews is making personal advances toward female students. I would like to appoint someone to pursue this.”
Rochelle Peterson stepped forward. “You can count on me. I never trusted that woman. I’m sure there’s at least some truth involved.”
After the meeting Rochelle returned home and told her husband, “That crazy gym teacher is molesting girls at school. It’s time to get rid of her, once and for all.”
The following morning, Rochelle’s husband went to work at the local small-town newspaper office. Every day daunting white spaces begged to be filled with SOMETHING, and this day was no different. During a coffee break, he shared the seeming late-breaking news. “According to Rochelle, the school board meeting last night was pretty discouraging. That kooky gym teacher, Miss Andrews, is messing around with the girls in the locker room.”
In that evening’s edition of the paper, a small announcement appeared. “Alleged lesbian, Miss Carol Andrews, is to be investigated by the local School Board.”
Miss Andrews was fired the following week.
Author’s note: This is based on a true story. In the 1960’s, a dedicated high school physical education teacher faced searing, but untrue, student accusations. Colleagues and parents also ridiculed the teacher’s deficiencies and overlooked her strengths, fanning the fire of condemnation. Eventually rampant rumors led to her termination. Many years later the truth emerged when this caring-but-challenged ex-teacher (fired three times from different schools because of odd personality quirks) was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, or higher level autism. She was not worthless, as she came to believe in the wake of rampant rejection, just unique.
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