Jackson yawned and leaned forward, trying to get more comfortable sitting on the cafeteria floor. Up on the stage the woman at the podium seemed about finished with her presentation at last.
“And now I’m going to ask all of you to make a pledge to join the Anti-Bullying League. Remember, we respect everyone, speak up for ourselves and others, and tell an adult!”
Jackson chanted half-heartedly along with the rest of the students in the cafeteria. Sure, he guessed some bullying went on at this school, but not to him or to any of his friends that he knew about.
His stomach grumbled. It was almost lunch time. When was this lady going to stop talking?
His mind wandered until at last there was a cheer and a loud round of applause. The vice principal got up and started to dismiss the classes by grades. Jackson waited until his class was called, then filed over to the big plastic bin where all the lunch sacks were waiting.
When the floor cleared, the janitor started rolling lunch tables out into the empty space. Jackson looked in the bin for the black zippered lunch bag that was his. It wasn’t there.
“I left my lunch in my classroom,” Jackson told one of the lunchroom monitors. The woman nodded and pointed to the cafeteria door.
“Come back quick,” she said.
As Jackson got close to his classroom he heard voices inside. The door had a narrow window in it, just over the handle, and through it he could see his teacher sitting behind her desk. It was hard for him to read the look on her face, but she sure wasn’t happy. In front of the desk stood Principal Meyers in her orangy-pink business jacket. Jackson put his hand on the door handle, but didn’t open it. He wasn’t sure if he should interrupt.
“If I don’t see significant improvement in this classroom, I will have you transferred,” Principal Meyers said in a stern voice. “We can’t meet the state standards unless you put the kind of effort in that these kids deserve.”
Jackson got out of the way as Principal Meyers came through the door.
“Where are you supposed to be, young man?” She still had that hard edge on her voice.
Jackson’s stomach dropped down to about where his knees were.
“I left my lunch,” he managed to squeak out.
“Get it quick,” the principal said, then walked away.
Jackson went into his classroom. His teacher quickly wiped a tear of her cheek and gave him a smile. “Hi Jackson,” she said in a pretend-cheerful voice. “Did you leave your lunch in your desk again?”
Jackson nodded, grabbed his lunch, and headed back to the lunchroom, feeling horrible inside. He knew the Principal yelled at the teachers sometimes, and the kids even more often, but he didn’t know what that meant before.
The school principal was a bully.
But what could he do about it? His mind ran back over the presentation they’d had in the cafeteria just now. They’d talked about kids bullying other kids. What were you supposed to do when it was a grown-up, and important grown-up like the principal of your whole school, who was doing the bullying?