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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What events lead to Burris Ewell leaving school early in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Burris Ewell has turned up for his annual regulation day at school. It's nothing more than a tick-box exercise by the authorities to ensure that the law is formally complied with. All he has to do is sit there in class for a whole day and then he's off for another year. It's a time-honored tradition in Maycomb, which says a lot about the Ewells and the state education authorities.

Unfortunately, the new teacher, Miss Caroline, didn't get the memo. She doesn't know about the unusual arrangement that gives the Ewell children one day of schooling a year. She also doesn't seem to know what kind of reputation the Ewell clan has in Maycomb. If she did then maybe she would have given Burris a wide berth to avoid the thriving colony of cooties crawling all over his lank, greasy hair.

One of the head lice—clearly not very happy at the poor standard of accommodation—crawls out of Burris's scalp, causing Miss Caroline no little discomfort. She tells Burris to go home and wash his hair, but all she gets is some smack-talk in return. Burris never planned on sticking around, but Miss Caroline's attitude pretty much seals the deal as far as he's concerned. The Ewells don't take kindly to being told what to do, and so Burris has no intention of sticking around to be chastised by Miss Caroline, or any other teacher for that matter.

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Miss Caroline's reason for asking Burris Ewell to leave class was his having head lice (kids called them "cooties"). 

Miss Caroline said desperately, "I was just walking by when it crawled out of his hair...just crawled out of his hair--"

Burris was not upset by his infestation of lice and simply killed the creatures as they revealed themself.  However, Miss Caroline was concerned with the other children remaining free of lice.

Despite the fact that Miss Caroline excused Burris for the remainder of the day, she was not his real reason for leaving.  He maintained that he "was on the verge of leavin'--I done done my time for this year." According to one of the oldest students, there were many Ewell children attending that school and each of them attended only the first day of school each year.  Between his expectation of coming to school only that day and Miss Caroline's instruction to leave, Burris found no obstacle preventing him from abandoning his first grade education.

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