As soon as the weather turns nice, John Payne, one of my local heroes and the prefect of discipline at the Duke Ellington School, is on the move. He does't just sit in his office- he goes out and tracks down his prey whether the errant students are in Georgetown or enjoying a park just down the street. A lot of people in my family have attended DC public schools including my parents, and during my son's tenure at Ellington, I noticed another theme running through our family: truancy.
First there's my mother and father- they met at Western High (now Duke Ellington) in the 1930s. My mother remembers skipping school to have picnics with my father. He had a a Model A Ford for a quick escape, and more importantly, two sandwiches in his bag because my Greek grandmother was sure he would starve while away at school all day.
For my oldest brother, Peter, skipping school in the 1950s meant he and his buddy Pete Stone would head for the movie theaters like the RKO, the Capitol and the Palace. Back then going to the movies also included not only a newsreel and a cartoon, but often a stage show, and my brother swears he once saw Peggy Lee. Unfortunately for my brother, our father's spies were everywhere, and he was caught more often than not, but despite the consequences, it was worth it to him.
My sister also remembers skipping school with Pete Stone, Wilson's expert truant at the time. This is what she remembers:
"Back in the day, skipping school was easy if you knew the right people. Pete was a senior, and I was a lowly freshman. He plotted with me one evening to go to Fletcher's Boat House, and the next day, he handled the attendance records by commandeering the girl in charge. She erased my name and his from the absentee list. We then drove to the boat house, rented a canoe, and down the Potomac we went at lightning speed.
We spent the rest of the day trying to paddle back against the current. Finally, somewhere around the Tidal Basin, we were able to get the canoe out of the water. We carried the friggin' thing all the way back to Fletcher's. Returning home much later than usual and in agony with the aches of hauling a canoe over my head and a fresh sunburn, I now had to explain to the parents where I had been. I was astonished when they accepted my tall tale about too much sun during the field hockey game, but I never risked skipping school again."
Finally in more recent years, the very first time my daughter, Zoe skipped school at Wilson, she became a victim of Homeland Security. She and a friend had snuck out out, just for a quick run down the block to get a soda, but during her very brief absence the entire city went into lock down mode. (Remember the Bush Administration?) Getting out was easy, but to Zoe's horror, when she returned the doors were locked, and she couldn't get back in. That's when the truancy officers picked her up, took her downtown and made her call her parents. This cured her until senioritis set in, but I am happy to report that all of the truants in this story recieved their diplomas.