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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Working with Highland Hall - Letter from a parent #3

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.


Maura Swanson and Karl Haas