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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Working with Highland Hall - Letter from a parent #2

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.


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