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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Working with Highland Hall after the Wilkins Incident

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.


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