Junior High?

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NT: I'm afraid to ask. What did they change Balloon Day to?

Hayley Hoffman: (Rolling eyes) Flip-flop Day. And I wear flip-flops anyways. So what a rip-off.

NT: I read on the Internet that helium gas can cause fatigue, dizziness, coma and even death, if abused. What do you suppose "abused" means? A tank next to your bed?

Hayley Hoffman: I think it means if you take too much? Because with us, it was like, it wasn't to the point where we started getting dizzy or lightheaded or anything. So it wasn't any big deal.

NT: You can also die from inhaling water. Do you have drinking fountains at your school?

Hayley Hoffman: Yeah.

NT: Well, you'd better be careful. Anyway, you were suspended for five days, but that was reduced to one day of out-of-school suspension after principal Jill Bowers re-examined the circumstances. Why?

Hayley Hoffman: I think that's because my dad brought it to themedia. The school changed their mind right after a newspaper called them. They changed it to a one-daysuspension,which Ialready served, and then they just totally took it off my record.

NT: So this won't go on your permanent record?

Mark Hoffman: The principal assured me it wouldn't. But I still have a problem with them, because you can't appeal a suspension if it's less than ten days.

NT: What do you have to do to get a ten-day suspension? Drop acid?

Mark Hoffman: I know. I wanted to ask the principal if she would give Hayley a ten-day suspension just so I could have an appeal. The frustrating part was I went through all the channels I was supposed to -- I talked to the principal, and I tried to call the superintendent, but he was in meetings all day. Meanwhile, my daughter is still in detention. The secretary referred me to a hearing officer, who talked to the principal and then told me that the principal's decision stands and, by Arizona state law, it can't be changed. And oh by the way, there's no appeal process, so there's not much I can do. So I contacted the media.

NT: Good man!

Mark Hoffman: [The news media] contacted the school to confirm the story, and by 5:30 I got a call from the principal that, after further discussion with other principals, they decided to change the suspension to one day served.

NT: Gilbert Unified School District has a "zero tolerance policy" on inhalants. What does that mean?

Hayley Hoffman: I think it's just, like, anything that can be inhaled in your body?

Mark Hoffman: It means that if you bring any kind of drug to school, you will be suspended immediately.

NT: Does that include asthma inhalers?

Mark Hoffman: It includes Tylenol!

Hayley Hoffman: Yeah, but that's only if you don't leave it at the nurse's office. You have to leave any medicine at the nurse's.

NT: You guys are making that up.

Hayley Hoffman: No. If you need your inhaler, you have to go the nurse and get it.

NT: I hope she's conveniently located. If you got suspended for five days, what's happening to kids who are smoking dope or dropping Quaaludes at recess?

Mark Hoffman: Actually, the principal told me that this should have been a ten-day suspension and I should be grateful she only made it a five-day. She was acting like Hayley got off easy with a five-day suspension.

NT: Hayley, what -- besides not inhaling helium -- do you plan to do when you grow up?

Hayley Hoffman: I don't know. I haven't decided yet. I'm like the Helium Girl now at school. Everyone, like, always comes up to me and talks about it and stuff. They just, like, ask me what happened and stuff. It's slowing down, though. Not as many people are into it. I'm ready for something else. I'm ready to move on with my life.

NT: I read Sannea Becker's editorial about you in the Tribune. Who the hell is Sannea Becker?

Mark Hoffman: I don't know, but that was the only negative editorial about Hayley that we've seen. I wrote a Letter to the Editor about that. I hope it runs.

Hayley Hoffman: Oh, is that the mean one?

NT: She was ragging on you about getting good grades and saying it didn't matter. The nerve!

Mark Hoffman: To me, it doesn't matter if she was a C student with no extracurricular activity. I don't believe that kind of student -- an average student who maybe doesn't play soccer or isn't on yearbook staff -- deserves that kind of treatment, either.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela