“Stacey, stop texting and put the phone away,” said Ms. Leeds as she walked into her office, sitting across from the young student.
Stacey tapped the screen a few more times and then complied, slipping the phone into the front shirt pocket of her boarding school uniform. Ms. Leeds found it obnoxious that these kids couldn’t go longer than a few minutes without staring at a screen, but didn’t press the issue. She wasn’t here to quibble over cell phones.
“Stacey,” she said, getting down to business, “It has come to our attention that Chelsea McCormack has been cheating. But she’s your roommate, so you already know that, don’t you? I want you to sign an affidavit testifying to it.”
Not only had Stacey known for some time now that Chelsea was cheating, she knew exactly how the school had caught her, too. She’d come across the tiny camera in their room while looking for her bus pass. At first she wasn’t sure what the strange little button was, so she casually stacked some books in front of it before going home for the weekend. When she came back on Sunday, Chelsea had not yet returned, but the books had been moved, confirming her suspicions.
That was over a week ago, and now the young lady found herself trying to maintain a poker face with her principal, very innocently replying, “Ms. Leeds, I don’t know what you’re talking about. If Chelsea is cheating, I’m not aware of it.”
Stacey Thompson was intelligent and socially awkward. Ms. Leeds had been expecting some resistance from her, knowing that she mostly kept to herself and minded her own business. It was Stacey’s bad luck to have Chelsea for a roommate, as the more popular girl often taunted her and made life generally unpleasant.
“Stacey,” she said, leaning forward, “Chelsea isn’t very nice to you. Why are you protecting her?”
“I’m not protecting anybody. As far as I know, Chelsea isn’t cheating.”
“Is that so?”
“You’re sure about that? You’ve never seen her with copies of any exams? You haven’t had any conversations with her about how it’s wrong?”
Ms. Leeds was getting irritated. A lot of students in this position would jump at the chance to get rid of Chelsea, but she could see that Stacey wasn’t going to take the bait. She’d have to use a different approach.
“Stacey, I know you’re lying. Do you realize that if you don’t speak out you could be in just as much trouble as Chelsea?”
But Stacey didn’t back down. “Why do you think I’m lying?” she asked, keeping her cool as Ms. Leeds seemed to be losing hers.
“Because we know Chelsea is cheating, and we know you know!”
“But why do you think that, Ms. Leeds?”
The woman sighed heavily. She was getting impatient. “Stacey, this is a respected institution. It is imperative that we maintain a sense of integrity in our testing process. Cheating absolutely cannot be tolerated.”
“I agree, Ms. Leeds. If you have proof that Chelsea is cheating, you should expel her. But I’m not signing anything, because I didn’t see her do it.”
“I know you did! Stop lying!”
“Why do you keep saying that? How do you know?”
That was about all the exasperated woman was going to take. Without thinking, she heard herself blurt out, “Because we caught it on camera! We’ve had a camera in your room for weeks! We have Chelsea on tape with the test questions, and we have you on tape telling her not to use them! We know you know, now sign the goddamn affidavit!”
Stacey grinned. She couldn’t believe it had worked. “What about our privacy?” she asked pointedly. “We get dressed in there.”
Ms. Leeds grew pale at first, but then pulled herself together. “You can just wipe that grin off your face. I’ve been principal of this school for eleven years now, and this is nothing new. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. We have a reputation to uphold, and I have a responsibility to ensure that honest students get the education that their parents are paying for. Your privacy is not more important than that, young lady. And if you’re thinking of telling someone, you should know that the camera’s been removed. No one will believe you.”
Stacey pulled the phone out of her shirt pocket and once again tapped the screen a few times. “Well,” she said. “I’m pretty sure my mother will believe me, because the text I just sent her includes a video of this entire conversation. But since you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?”