Our school deep in East Oakland used to be a farm, and the farmer’s name is still on businesses and housing projects all over the neighborhood. When he died around 1910, the farmer deeded the land to the city on the condition that there always be nothing but a school there. There were two child development centers, two elementary schools, two middle schools, a playground and a softball field on the land, but we still got a nice big yard. Unlike other playgrounds, 6 portable classrooms didn’t really get in the way. In fact they provided a nice barrier between our yard and the middle school’s exercise yard on the other side of a chain-link fence.
Sometime in the spring of my first year there, a pair of big fat floppy-eared rabbits took up residence under Portable A, the first in the row of portables. They got in and out through a hole in one of the vents beneath the classroom, drank out of puddles, and spent all day sitting ten feet back from the hole staring back at the succession of children who laid down on the ground and reached through the hole up to their shoulders whenever the coaches were on the other side of the playground breaking up a fight. Within about a week you could follow the trail of cafeteria-issued baby carrot wrappers across the playground to the hole, but not everyone knew about the bunnies.
At this point in the year I was meeting frequently with my boss Lidia trying to wrap up the evaluation process for a couple of my students to see if they would qualify for special services. She mentioned one afternoon that the rabbits were going to be dealt with the next day; Animal Control was going to provide a trap. One of the rabbits had died, probably because an early-spring heat wave had dried up the last of the puddles, so it was cooking under the portable and it was only a matter of time before that attracted other nice plague-bearing animals.
The other rabbit had produced a handful of small rabbits.
We had an ancient PA system whose wires were one with the plaster inside the foot-thick walls. When the large elementary school got reconstituted into two smaller schools with two principals and two office staffs, there was no cutting of wires and giving each school their own PA system. Everyone had to listen to everyone’s announcements, which often came right before the end of the school day.
The other school started and finished their day 25 minutes ahead of us. Our dismissal was at 2:55. At 2:53 the next day, Lidia got on the PA.
“Please pardon this interruption. Boys and girls, as you know there are rabbits living under Portable A. We all love rabbits and I know some of you have been feeding them, but we need to leave the bunnies alone. We need to not feed them carrots, we need to not leave water for them. We shouldn’t try to reach through the hole to them. Mr. Jacques is going to be setting out a cage for them so we can take the bunnies to find a home. Please stay away from Portable A when you leave your classrooms. Have a good afternoon!”
This is what the children heard:
“Blah blah blah blah blah RABBITS blah blah PORTABLE A blah WE ALL LOVE RABBITS blah blah blah BUNNIES blah blah blah FEED THEM CARROTS blah blah LEAVE WATER FOR THEM blah blah blah REACH THROUGH THE HOLE blah blah blah TAKE THE BUNNIES blah HOME blah blah blah HAVE A GOOD AFTERNOON.”
Then the bell rang.
By the time I had checked all twenty cubbies, shut the door and crossed to my bank of windows facing the yard, all two hundred sixty of our children and about 50 kids from the other school’s after school program had sprinted across the playground and crowded around the side of the portable. Mr. Jacques was trying to swim through them, holding aloft a medium-sized Havahart trap. After several minutes and a lot of whistle blowing enough kids dispersed that he was able to affix it to the portable’s frame.
Early the next morning the other principal’s truck and Animal Control were parked on the playground to block everybody’s view of the box full of live rabbits and the disposal of what was left of the dead one.
Ever wonder what teachers do when they get together for holiday parties? We drink pitchers of margaritas and re-enact this stuff. Including the crowd-surfing.