Sunday, June 17, 2012

Highland Hall Waldorf School Letters of Complaint by Parents

Below are several letters of complaint against Highland Hall Waldorf School in Northridge, CA.  This is the school I am personally most familiar with.  Two of my own letters of complaint are at the end.

July 12,2004

Highland Hall Waldorf School
17100 Superior St.
Northridge, CA 91325

To: Christine Meyer and the College

We waited a few weeks after we received your letter, to try and compose a reasonable response. Your recent letter indicates that our son is not allowed to re-enroll and our daughter's enrollment is probational because there are unnamed people who have blamed us for doing something unspecific that somehow upset various individuals whose identities we are not allowed to know. Your letter came as a shock because up until Christine Leonard was put on a paid leave of absence, various committees consistently told us that they recognized how diligently we were following the correct communications protocol.

Before we wrote our January 26 letter we consulted with a member of the College and a member of the Board. Throughout the process we consulted with additional Board members plus a member of the Evaluation Committee all of whom assured us we were correctly attempting to resolve our concerns. To this date, Joan Newton is the only member of the College who directly asked for and was genuinely willing to accept an explanation for any misunderstanding that arose at the May 26 parent meeting. Because you have given us only vague generalizations, we are unclear as to what exactly we have done wrong and can only speculate that your letter may be related to the many times Maura was wrongly accused of gossiping over the last few months.

For example, on March 23, an Evaluation Committee member told Maura she had heard that a few kindergarten parents were upset by information Maura had given them about the Fifth grade. As Maura explained, when a parent approached us and asked about specific details they had already heard from other sources, we responded to their questions. We never provided anyone with information they didn't already have from other sources.

In late April, a Highland Hall teacher angrily asked Maura why she had spoken very negatively about the High School to a prospective parent. Karl, not Maura, actually spoke to the parent and told her the faculty is wonderful but Olivia left for social reasons.

Unfortunately, the teacher jumped to three false conclusions. First, that Maura spoke to this prospective parent. Second, that everything said to this parent was negative. And, third, that this parent must have chosen not to enroll her child because of all the negative information she learned. We contacted this parent by e-mail and learned that none of this is true. And yet, how many of you heard this information and have not bothered to ask us about it because you feel we deserve to be blamed?

In May, Ed Eadon and Lori Gardner asked Maura why she had told someone that Alex Houghton would be the Sixth grade teacher. Again, Maura never had this conversation. Lori and Ed would not reveal who gave them this false information. Maura sent a letter to Lori and Ed politely and specifically requesting that they let her know in writing they had taken action to clear up this unsubstantiated accusation. Finally, after a month of waiting, Maura asked why she had not heard anything from either of them. Ed and Lori both told her that they didn't think it was necessary to communicate any written or verbal response to her.

At the May 26th meeting, Fifth grade parents were asked what would they hope to see to prevent the current communication crisis from reoccurring. The main message Maura tried to convey, (which should be in the notes) was that there is an inordinate fear of parents talking to each other. Anyone who says even the slightest criticism, publicly or privately, no matter how constructive it may be, gets accused of being a disgruntled hysteric who lacks tact and discretion and only wants to destroy everything that is good about the school. After eleven years at Highland Hall, we continue to be grateful for those faculty and parents who embrace each problem not as if it is a judgement or a threat, but as a valuable opportunity for learning about ourselves and discovering our true purpose as a community.

Your letter states that we are not willing "to accept the conclusions of various committees". This is clearly not true. Our March 25 letter states that we absolutely accept the Evaluation Committee's conclusion that we should find another school for our son. We informed the Business Office in May that Wesley would definitely not be attending Highland Hall. The College had enough information to officially know that we were fully complying with the Evaluation committee's conclusions.

Your letter says that our communication has had "negative effects on other adults, including the former teacher..." We realize that the questions we asked were intense. When parents hear about a teacher handing out pills to control disruptive boys, difficult questions absolutely must be asked. If Christine's feelings got hurt in the process, unfortunately, it could not be avoided. In our March 25 letter, we thanked Christine for the apology she offered to the parents and we wrote, "In our struggle to protect Wesley, if we have harmed you, we also wish to sincerely apologize." The day after the April 22 meeting in which parents who were loyal to Christine shouted at the committee representatives, Maura privately apologized to a College member who had attended. He assured her the intensely volatile meeting was not a result of anything we had done.

Your letter states that we don't trust the school. We trusted that the College would recognize the validity of our questions, which is why we asked you for help in January. We appreciate that it took enormous courage to intervene on behalf of the children. There are at least a half dozen outraged parents who have publicly stated in meetings and widely circulated e-mails that they don't trust your reasons for asking an extremely popular teacher to take a paid leave of absence. Have you warned them that their lack of trust in the school has compromised their children's enrollment?

Your letter implies that the College is holding us to a standard that is not being applied to the parents who tried to start a boycott against attending school after Christine was removed. Have you sent any kind of warning to the parents who, at the April 22 meeting, screamed at Evaluation Committee members to stop lying? Parents hollered at us that if we didn't like the battered wife song Mrs. Leonard sang, we should leave the school. None of these parents are told that their
children's enrollment will be revoked since many of them spent their Spring break organizing ways to interfere with the school's emergency plan for the class. A few of these same parents viciously gossiped about Jazmin Ferreccio's motives for teaching the class and thereby "back-stabbing Christine Leonard". Rather than jeopardizing their child's enrollment, it is astonishing that some of these same outspoken parents have been selected to help create guidelines for improving other parents' conduct.

As soon as Christine was abruptly removed from the class a climate of mistrust erupted. As much as we were relieved that you asked Christine to take a break, it was obvious to us that the request profoundly impacted everyone. There are no winners and there are no victims, including Christine Leonard. And yet, rather than the College realizing how we each played a part in this complicated decision, you are exclusively targeting us by putting our daughter's education at the mercy of how you (possibly inaccurately) may perceive our actions.

When Cathy Devries was our son's teacher, we used the exact same communications protocol that we followed this year. In Second grade, our concerns fortunately matched those of the majority of the Second grade parents. This year, we have been in the minority of many of those same parents. We are incredibly frustrated that despite our best efforts to be conscientious and fair during a brutally exhausting and confusing process, you see us as wanting to harm this community.

We had hoped to spend the summer preparing to be at Highland Hall without Wesley for the first time in eleven years. On Wesley's last day at Highland Hall, Joan Newton told him she would miss him and wished him well in his new school. We felt her compassionate gesture gave our family some sense of peacefully moving on.

The adversarial tone of your letter makes it a challenge to simply focus on the joy of having our youngest child enter First grade. However, we see no value in starting this next school year with animosity or apprehension. We would like to say that if we have offended any of you, we apologize and invite any of you to let us know if we can do anything to correct any misunderstandings. We agree that following a communications protocol is essential and would sincerely appreciate if you could provide any more detailed written clarification as to what exactly we could do differently in the future.

Sincerely,

Maura Swanson and Karl Haas

Two years later - little had changed and the family was forced out of the school - later filing and winning a lawsuit against Highland Hall:

June 11, 2006

Dear Friends,

We know many of you are deeply upset about the administration's sudden decision to remove our daughter from class, five days before school is over. We have heard that there will be a meeting of all concerned parents on Monday. Because we believe there are always at least two sides to every story, and we have no other way to publicly speak on our behalf, we would like to offer our take on what's happened. We absolutely have no expectation that this will change the decision. If, at the Monday meeting, you are told "It's very complicated - there are a lot of details about these parents that you don't know, but are too difficult to explain", please believe those are the same key details we don't know about either.

If you are going to take the time to attend the Monday meeting, we hope you will also take a few minutes to read this letter. If you're really curious or concerned, this situation does require a prologue.

BRIEF HISTORY:

From June 2003 to January 2004, we repeatedly asked for the school's help in addressing our mounting concerns with our Fifth grade son's teacher, Mrs. Leonard. After a long brutal process, we agreed with the school that our son should not stay in Mrs. Leonard's class, because there was only one other parent besides us that was willing to come forward and say that they felt she was doing inappropriate things to the children. Two days after we came to the conclusion that by Sixth grade we would find another school for our son, Mrs. Leonard decided to teach the children a song involving very graphic violence against women imagery. The College immediately put her on a paid leave of absence. The rest of the semester was filled with a lot of anguishing meetings with many of the parents crying and yelling at various members of the College, insisting Mrs. Leonard didn't deserve the way she was being treated. Ultimately, Mrs. Leonard could not resolve her issues with the College, and chose not to return. Less than a week after school ended, we got a letter from the College telling us that our son could not attend Highland Hall as punishment for our having violated their communications protocol. We were warned that if they perceived we were communicating inappropriately, our daughter would not be allowed to attend Highland Hall. We responded with a three page letter asking for the College to tell us exactly what we did wrong, when throughout the entire process, various committee members had admitted they had made significant mistakes, and thanked us for carefully following their protocol, despite how painful the whole experience was for all concerned. We never got a response to our letter. A few months later, the President of the Board met with us and told us that he had received a copy of our letter and felt it was well-written and clearly deserved a response. Neither he nor Ed Eadon could explain why no one answered us. This past Friday night, two years later, we finally got a response. At nine o'clock, a messenger arrived at our house and handed us a letter, so hastily typed it was not even on school stationery. The letter stated we had ignored the warning that the College had sent in 2004 and violated the communications protocol again. Effective immediately, our daughter is expelled from the class and we are not allowed on campus without a prearranged escort from Ed Eadon.

Apparently there is a strong belief that we have somehow harmed Ms. Taylor. Without knowing exactly what we have been accused of doing to her, we cannot defend or apologize for our alleged actions.

Whoever has decided that we have done something so inappropriate that our child must be immediately removed from the classroom, has yet to inform us of exactly how we were a danger to Ms. Taylor or the community. This time we have been accused of violating a communications protocol regarding water bottles. We were not shown any incriminating evidence, or given any proof of violating this protocol, and ultimately, we have no opportunity to defend ourselves against what we feel is a false accusation.

We have a paper trail of two years of communicating with appreciation, respect and deep enthusiasm for Ms. Taylor. There would be no reason for us to make Ms. Taylor feel threatened by our presence, or the presence of our daughter in her classroom. And again, we have no idea who has told her what piece of information to upset her so much that she cannot tolerate our little girl being in her class for the remaining five days of the school year. Because we had felt so close to Ms. Taylor, we have not a clue why, if she feels we have hurt her, she wouldn't respect us enough to come to us directly to let us know, so we might have a chance to clear up any kind of misunderstanding.

We can only guess that perhaps Ms. Taylor is too exhausted, after an extremely busy year, to be aware of the devastating impact on our child, and the rest of her students. We sympathize with her exhaustion, but then have to ask, who has advised Ms. Taylor to do such a frighteningly harsh thing to our daughter? How is it that the Leadership Team does not need to present us with any scrap of evidence, nor did they offer to bring us together with Ms. Taylor and facilitate a conflict resolution that would allow all of us to work towards a mutual understanding that, according to the handbook, will "result in positive growth for the individuals involved and for the school as a whole"?

If you attend this meeting on Monday, we hope someone will ask the Leadership Team where is the evidence; and did you honestly give these parents a chance to resolve whatever conflict has happened? Who is supervising the Leadership Team to make sure they have followed some kind of legitimate process that can warrant such harsh consequences for an eight year old child?

Our family has invested in this school since 1994 - longer than many people on the board, the faculty and the administration. About three weeks ago, our daughter made a book that was all about Ms. Taylor, complete with illustrations. Ms. Taylor seemed so delighted that she showed it to many colleagues and asked to borrow it for the weekend. A month ago, we were profusely thanking Ms. Taylor for an outstanding evening presentation she gave to the parents. We felt genuinely connected to her and inspired and grateful for her many efforts, and she seemed sincerely touched by our enthusiastic response.

We simply do not know what has happened to change this relationship. We have called Ms. Taylor to ask for clarification, but have yet to have our phone call returned.

If an anonymous person can secretly accuse our family of doing something so terrible that it results in our innocent child being expelled, but we don't even know what specifically is being said, or who said it - then there is no way we can clear up any miscommunication.

Is it possible that there are people on the Leadership Team or the Faculty or the Administration who still harboring resentment towards us about issues involving ancient history - absolutely. When you have been at this school as long as we have, it is inevitable that for every friend you have made, there's at least one person you've unintentionally offended, and at least two who have accidentally offended you.

It would be so much easier to believe we actually did something terrible, because no intelligent person can accept such an irrational action, especially when it is so deliberately devastating to a young child. What kind of story will be told to the children to find a wholesome way to explain this awful situation so that they won't be frightened? If it can happen to their friend,who they know "has never had her name on the board or been kicked out of class or caused any problem", then how does the school reassure the other students and their parents that this won't happen to them?

We came to this school because we believed that a Waldorf education was the best way to nurture our children. We are leaving shocked, and somewhat shattered, but still very grateful for all the wonderful friends we have met. It is profoundly sad to know our child is not entitled to properly say good-bye. She is worried that her friends will think she has done something really bad. It is hard to believe that we are not allowed to attend next week's graduation of so many children we've known since Kindergarten, nor may we participate in any future functions at a place where we spent so much energy building and contributing to the welfare of the school. What we couldn't always give in cash, we always gave in sweat equity and we got to know many wonderful people in the process. Our oldest daughter, Olivia, went from Kindergarten through Eighth grade here. Just last week, Mrs. Edwards was trying to help her find summer employment. Olivia loved attending the plays, concerts, fairs and assemblies and helped decorate for the Father-Daughter dance, even though she is not enrolled here. She has been looking forward to being in the audience when her friends and former classmates will graduate next year. Now she can't step foot on campus ever again and cannot understand how this could happen. We have never heard of a community, other than perhaps extreme fundamentalists, who would abruptly excommunicate an entire family based on unsubstantiated hearsay.

Thank you to everyone who has called (you possibly violated the communications protocol by doing so). We truly and deeply found so much comfort in you reaching out to us. Without your kind words, this would be almost unbearable.

Until our paths meet again, we wish you many blessings. Your friendship will never be forgotten.


Maura Swanson and Karl, Olivia, Wesley and Lilly Haas

***
Another parent - after molestation incident:

July 5, 2001

To the College of Teachers:

At the meeting held Friday, June 22, 2001 I suggested you be kind to yourselves in the wake of your decisions regarding how you handled the Wendy and Jeffrey Wilkins debacle. For those of you not in attendance, I uncharacteristically went against the angry tide and tried to soothe your collective pain with, “No one had a crystal ball. You couldn’t possibly have known what would happen.” I would like to retract that statement now. After two weeks I have found many new facts that obliterate my sympathy. With a modicum of effort you could have had a whole lot of information about the appropriateness of Wendy as a class teacher and a pretty good guess as to what can happen when sexual offenders are left unchecked. With one small phone call from one of our own third grade parents to the Santa Barbara school and one phone call back, we uncovered not only history of Wendy’s incompetence as a teacher, but of Jeffrey’s sexual deviance. Wendy’s visa complications alone due to her admitted misdemeanor for breaking and entering should have been enough to raise an eyebrow, but by the neglect of the most obvious step in any hiring process-- running a cursory background check at even her most previous job where she had been fired, no less -- you put my children at unfathomable risk.
In January, you again had the opportunity to do the right thing and failed. When Jeffrey propositioned Cameron, did you then wonder enough to call the Santa Barbara school to find out about Wendy and her son’s past? If you didn’t, why not? And if you did and you got the information that we so easily accessed, God have mercy. You shared with us that you were given legal counsel to protect Jeffrey because he was a minor, but what about the other hundreds of children that were at risk under your care as students of the school? Isn’t that why you sit on the College? Aren’t you a body set up to look after the well being of the students? What about the dozens of children who have newly come forward and will forever bear the scars of those solicitations in the log cabin, those propositions on the play structure, those lewd images he passed to them in the library, the graphic and terrible lexicon that he wove into their games that is now imprinted on their little souls? I heard some third grade children talk about Wendy leaving Jeffrey alone in the classroom with them where he dropped his pants. I’ve heard he whipped it out as well in after-school care. I know that he offered money and toys in exchange for the children to play his “baby” and “cream” games and was successful in getting at least one child to touch his penis, who then in turn challenged the others in attendance to smell his “stinky hand.” My educated guess would suppose more were a part, that don’t dare come forward even if their parents are gentle and round about in their questioning. My daughter absolutely refuses to discuss with my husband or me something that one of her classmates told her at a sleepover recently. The pointed threats of secrecy have now made their way into my daughter’s lifelong openness with me. And there are others. What about these children bearing the most silent scars?
You made Wendy sign a contract that her son would be under close and constant supervision when visiting campus. What were you thinking? Wendy sent our children unescorted to the lower parking lot to retrieve items from her truck. She sent them up into trees twenty feet above ground by the amphitheater without an adult in sight. Daily she sent students outside the door for punishment with Jeffrey often hanging close by. How in heaven’s name did you think she could keep an eye on her teenage son? And what if the poor dear had to use the rest room while at school? Did you really think she’d escort him in there too? Is your world so insulated that you’ve never heard of children being molested time and again in the “privacy” of public restrooms? And then I heard at the June 22nd meeting that you hadn’t even told the rest of the school staff so that they could keep an eye on Jeffrey even if Wendy couldn’t? You couldn’t even trust your peers with your information. That seems awfully telling.
We heard tale in the meeting that Wendy was visibly upset when Jeffrey showed up at the school without her knowing that he was coming, but I’m beginning to feel it was more out of fear that her job would be jeopardized rather than that our children’s safety might be compromised. I first wondered if maybe this woman was working on a grave plane of denial, but let’s look at the facts. This is the woman who invited the children of her colleagues, as was shared at our own third grade meeting, to come to her house to “rest” between school and the evenings’ activities (namely our third grade play) and was left alone to play with Jeffrey. This is much deeper than denial. This is entrapment. But whether she was setting up to test her son’s mettle or our children’s survival skills really doesn’t matter. Her gross culpability has been clearly drawn and those children will never be the same.
I can’t begin to guess what part of you chose to ignore the enormous red flags to first bring in Mrs. Wilkins and then later to have her sign an impossibly generous contract rather than risk a libel suit, but I’m guessing it was not the heart to which I was drawn when I first came here. As the mother of a nine year-old, a six year-old and a seven month old, you may think that my association with Highland Hall is brief, but it was more than fifteen years ago I came to this school to do research for a play I was writing. I was so swept up by all the beauty that I encountered in this haven I vowed that if I was blessed with children someday; they would come here for their education. At that time I was recovering from my own wounds of a stalking, kidnapping, and abuse at the hands of a sexually deviant man, and I was heartened by the promise that here was a place far away from the violence and fear that had pulsed within my breast each day since the initial assault. Clearly, I was mistaken.
No place can offer complete sanctuary from the holds of a world gone wrong, but never again will I blindly put my children in a place that doesn’t make every effort to keep them protected when I can’t be there to do it myself. I take full responsibility for that classic dilemma of a victim/survivor; a desire to empathize and over trust to make all the hurt and pain go away as expediently as possible. But I would like to warn you, if you think these children that have been left in Jeffrey’s wake are “just fine,” or unaffected by what he has done to them, I caution you to rethink the impact of Cameron’s statement shared tearfully by his mother, Merrie, at the June 22nd meeting. Upon learning that Wendy’s contract had been terminated because “she needed to take care of Jeffrey”, Cameron said, “Oh, Mommy, if that boy that hurt Jeffrey only knew how much pain he’s caused, he would feel so bad!” Cameron feels anguish for Jeffrey and his alleged first perpetrator and the pain goes on and on and on. I’ve also seen this misplaced concern in the letter that you were offering a severance package to Wendy. Stop this madness. Isn’t it time to take care of the real victims here?
Please step up now and acknowledge the harm you have done to our children by your negligence and fear. Stop looking at how the school can grow out (into new buildings) and look at how you might grow inside from this horrible ordeal. And to that end I offer this from Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay “Self Reliance.”

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint
and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in
conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society
is a joint-stock company, in which members agree, for the better
securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty
and the culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.
Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but
names and customs.
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who
would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of
goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last
sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

I would have given my right arm for just one of you to have been brave enough to listen to your heart when it shouted back in January that it was wrong, that a crime had been committed against one of your colleague’s own little boys, and stood up to say it was dishonest and dangerous allowing that secret to remain so closely guarded. I, too, was advised by the police, the District Attorney, and various counsels not to press charges against my attacker because he was a well connected man in this town with a future as bright as my own. And like you having to hold the hurt of those children in your heart, I bear the scars of a bad decision when I heard my attacker had gone on to rape more beyond me; people whose lives would forever after be marred but a heinous act of violence. But you, unlike I, still have the opportunity in your statute of limitations to at least stop this pain from going further. You must do right by those children that were already hurt and you must stop counseling your peers to keep quiet. You must ask them to share with others the horrible acts that have unfolded so that it may never, ever happen again. You must help them find the way to report it to the proper authorities and insist that Jeffrey be given counseling and stick with it and that every school that he attends from here on out have record of his propensity toward sexual inappropriateness. You must also find a way to keep Wendy from ever putting children at risk again. And then you must again, most finally and no less importantly, return your attention to the children left in your care or let someone else into your inner sanctum that can do the job as it should be done. It’s not enough to pray this away. It’s time for you do the right thing.
And I must now do what I consider the right thing for my children too. I have no trust left for my initial instincts in entrusting you with my children. Kai and Ruby graduated blissfully from the dreamy world of Janet, Liis, and Laura. And you have taken away the only other two at the school that I have utterly loved, when you sent Andrew away against our class’ protest and shuffled Christine to put out the other fire. So now, I have no desire to keep them on the once hallowed grounds of my naive dreams at Highland Hall with an impossible hope that this time you’ll get it right. I can assure you Kai will be devastated not to go up the hill with the rest of the little kings in his class, to not join in the rose ceremony and someday play for the Hawks as he and his friends have vowed. Ruby’s dreams of growing into the big yard, being in the school musical, playing in the orchestra, helping her little sister Violet up the hill will be dashed as well, but I simply cannot bring my children back to a place that seems to have forgotten what brought us all together in the first place ... the children.
I am so sorry that this is where we go our separate ways. I have never fancied myself as a quitter, but for my children, I will do anything to give them the world of hope, trust and safety that was torn from me far too young. I bid you well in your journey of healing.

Sincerely,

Jane Sibbett 

***
The following letter was drawn up and circulated by several parents in an attempt to reform Highland Hall after they broke mandated reporting laws to cover up inappropriate sexual contact by the son of Waldorf teacher Wendy Wilkins.

June 26, 2001

College of Teachers & Board of Directors DRAFT
Highland Hall Waldorf School
17100 Superior St.
Northridge, CA 91325

Dear Members of the College & Board:

On Friday, June 22, 2001, we participated in (or have been told about) a meeting held at school that covered many difficult issues surrounding actual and potential exposure to inappropriate/harrassing sexual commentary and propositions that a number of the children at our school experienced from Jeffrey Wilkins, the teenage son of then 3rd Grade Teacher, Wendy Wilkins. It is our understanding that Ms. Wilkins will no longer be teaching at Highland Hall and that efforts are being made to help Ms. Wilkins and her son get the professional help that they and their family need.

The meeting lasted four hours and only ended because people became exhausted. All acknowledged the need to continue to discuss the various issues that these events have raised. Understanding that the College of Teachers has spent enormous amounts of time and personal energy dealing with this situation, and hearing an appeal for help in leading the community through this difficult time, we have taken it upon ourselves to outline some potential next steps for the College and Board to consider:

1. Investigation & Discovery and Recovery: Many people felt that before they would be able to contemplate the future, it is critical to understand more fully what actually happened, to the extent it can be learned. Also, in order to improve our process for dealing with, and ideally preventing, incidents of this nature, we must understand what was done this time, what reasoning went into the decisions that were made and the results of the choices that we collectively made.

As follow-up to the guidelines suggested by the Valley Trauma Center, we recommend that a meeting be set to which all people who have since spoken with their child and who have direct knowledge concerning incidents involving Jeffrey and their child that could be shared to the benefit of others would be encouraged to attend. The meeting should be facilitated by the Valley Trauma Center personnel. The purpose of the meeting would be to create a timeline of events that is as complete and accurate as possible. These events would include incidents involving Jeffrey, parents notifying school authorities of such incidents, the school’s communication(s) with Ms. Wilkins regarding the situation and any other actions taken in regards to the situation. People with such direct knowledge who are unable to attend in person would be encouraged to provide whatever information they had to offer in writing prior to the meeting.

In order for the meeting to be most productive and to try and limit the potential for a raging forest fire of hearsay, we suggest that every family and faculty/staff member be sent a letter explaining the purpose of the meeting and a description of the recommended process for discussing the situation with their children. It would probably make sense to enclose the handout from the Valley Trauma Center. The emphasis would be on calmly eliciting the facts, reassuring the children if they need to share difficult or embarrassing information and helping the children affirm their own power for any potential future incidents of this nature. The goal is to avoid the inadvertent creation of misinformation in the quest for the needed information to allow healing to be assisted and improved processes to be developed.

The following people are willing to help with drafting the mailing to the community, arranging the meeting time in coordination with the Valley Trauma Center personnel and arranging the logistics for the meeting: (please let me know if you would like your name added here)

2. New 4th Grade Teacher Search & Future Teacher Searches: Many parents in the upcoming 4th Grade feel that it would enhance the process of selecting the next teacher for the class if the College had the benefit of parent opinion, as well as all of the other factors the College takes into consideration when selecting a new teacher. We recommend that a new Search Advisory Committee be selected by the College from a pool of volunteer parents from throughout the school. This Advisory Committee would review the resume and any other information available on any teacher candidate under serious consideration by the College, interview the candidate from the perspective of parents, rather than colleagues, and give its impression and any areas of recommended further investigation back to the College as part of the College’s due diligence process. We would recommend that Advisory Committee members recuse themselves when the teacher candidate is for their own child’s class.

The following people are willing to work with whomever the College mandates to do whatever letter writing, recruiting and other legwork necessary to bring the formation of this committee about: Alex Wright, David Cohen (please let me know if you would like your name added here)

3. Changes to Current Community Practices to Better Protect the Children Under the School’s Care: In order to realize the opportunity inherent in these unfortunate and painful events, we as a community need to grow and change. Many questions and ideas have been put forth regarding notification, education, faculty/staff training, etc. In order for these questions and ideas to be more fully discussed and lead to actual changes in the practices of our school community, we recommend that a committee from the broad community be formed to discuss these issues in depth, solicit ideas from professional resources, such as the Valley Trauma Center and/or other communications facilitators, and discuss with College members what kinds of guidelines and principals govern College decisions. With this education and opportunity for discussion, the committee would formulate and present recommendations to the Board and College for consideration.

The following people are willing to work with whomever the College mandates to do whatever letter writing to the community and other legwork necessary to bring the formation of this committee about: Alex Wright, Lynne Moses (please let me know if you would like your name added here)

We all appreciate that Highland Hall is more than a school, that it is a social community for the families that make up the students, parents, faculty, staff, College and Board of the school. We also recognize that much of the work that is typically handled by a larger administration in other schools is instead handled by faculty members volunteering to serve on the College at Highland Hall. Therefore, the work of those in positions of authority in running the school extends far beyond the usual demands of school governance. For this reason, we recognize that we all need to do our part in bringing about social change and supporting the College and Board in your work. We sincerely hope that these suggestions are taken in that spirit of responsibility and loving support.

Sincerely,

David Cohen
Ayelet Cohen
Alex Wright
Ben Moses
Lynne Moses
(Please let me know if you would like to add your name here)

cc: Parent Association

***
Below are two of my own letters.  You can read lots more of my communications with Highland Hall on my other blog Waldorf Awareness.

4/24/2004
Dear Evaluation Committee,

I'm sure you may have noticed by now that Mrs. Leonard is supported by some very rude, pushy and controlling parents who are acting out of their strong emotions and ultimately their denial of what has transpired with Mrs. Leonard. They claim to be the majority of the class. By now, I suppose they are. The many parents who removed their children or were pushed out by Mrs. Leonard have not been considered in their calculations. Many people have already removed their children from this school because of Mrs. Leonard's actions. Others still intend to.

The facts and Mrs. Leonard's actions speak for themselves. The safety and well-being of the children is at risk and I believe each and every one of you knows this. You made the right decision when you suspended Mrs. Leonard. It was a difficult decision made from your hearts, not based on numbers or opinions. When she defiantly sang the "abuse" song, over the objections of some parents, you knew in your hearts that she had done something too wrong to be overlooked. I am told some people suggested that the school could "gummy bear" the song by suggesting that it is somehow brings "archetypal" images to the class. You all have read the song, what do you think?

I know it took courage to come to your decision, and particularly in light of the fact that I pointed these things out publicly. I openly and publicly applauded your courage when you made the right decision. Now, on the verge of a possible reversal of your decision, I ask you to summon the same courage - to do what is right.

Please don't let a bunch of hot-headed parents blur your common sense. You have a primary obligation to the CHILDREN, not to the parents or the teachers. You are educators - start acting like it. Shame on you if you cannot muster the courage to stand up and say "This is wrong and it will not be tolerated."

The children, I am told, have accepted Mrs. Ferreccio wholeheartedly. She is the continuity they need right now. She is a loving and warm teacher who challenges the children intellectually and who is responsive to their needs. She can heal this class and easily take them through the end of the year. Bringing Mrs. Leonard back now would be extremely harmful and painful to the children and would continue to divide the parents and the school. Let's heal this now. Please stick to your decision to suspend Mrs. Leonard and let's please move on. It is, after all, the right thing to do.

Thank you,

Pete Karaiskos

5/10/2004
Dear Evaluation Committee,

First, let me say that I am waiting to hear from someone representing Highland Hall that my son Christopher was sent home last week. I shouldn't have to insist that the school inform me of incidents involving my own children but, nonetheless, I am having to do this. This has happened often enough that I suspect people at Highland Hall are deliberately withholding information from me regarding my children and in some instances I know this to be fact. I am weary of hearing about things like this second-hand and would encourage the school to share information pertaining to my children with me freely and promptly.

I have discussed the events surrounding Christopher's suspension with him, with other children in his class who witnessed the events and with his teacher, Mrs. Knight. I am convinced that the circumstances under which he was sent home are, at the very least, suspect. Everyone I have spoken to insists that Christopher did nothing extrodinary that would suggest that he should be sent home for the day and was, rather, the recipient of the specialty teacher's emotions over a bad day. I would like to hear from this committee what the circumstances were and what he did that warranted his suspension. Furthermore, and on a much larger scale, I would like this committee to review with me the school's policy of permitting specialty teachers to send children home.

I fully acknowledge that specialty teachers have a difficult job and that often children prove to be a handful for them. I am painfully aware of how difficult it is to find teachers who will perform well under the challenge of personal problems or difficult children. This is, however, their job and they have a responsibility to the children, to the parents and to the school to do their job well. Specialty teachers are responsible for their class and I don't want to devalue that responsibility. However, the children's class teacher is, by intent, the teacher who is supposed to be the best judge of the children's overall behavior, their struggles in their own personal growth and other challenges they my be facing in their personal lives. The class teacher is the one who knows what is on the child's mind (that may be manifesting in poor behavior) and it is the class teacher should be the one who decides whether a child should be sent home. A specialty teacher is not, and should not be, in a position to decide on this form of discipline. Certainly, they should be able to dismiss a child from their class, but a child sent home by a specialty teacher will miss all their studies for the entire day. Quite frankly, I would be happier to have Christopher miss a year of eurythmy than a day of math. Undoubtedly, this is far to much responsibility for the specialty teacher to have and ultimately it hurts the children and reflects poorly on the school.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


Pete Karaiskos

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You may ask, "where are all the 5=Star reviews?" Well, the problem with those reviews is that many tend not to be too honest. I have included 4-star reviews that appear honest. Often, gushing reviews are placed by teachers and administrators - as some comments here indicate. "This school educates the whole child!!!" - 5 stars - by Anonymous... I say baloney! Notice, many of the reviewers have been misled by Waldorf and are still buying the PR, even after having been disappointed. Feel free to comment but understand the intent of this blog. Comments are no longer moderated.