Blaming Child’s Expulsion on Mother’s Behaviour
Waldorf School of Princeton

A Steiner Waldorf school in New Jersey, USA, has lost a discrimination suit, and has had to pay US$58,000 for, as the Princeton Patch puts it, “unlawfully expelling a special needs student due to the student mother's advocacy.”

As Anthony Bellano reports“The parents moved from Union County to Princeton to put their child into the Waldorf School as a first grader, beginning in the 2005-06 academic year. […]

“Two years later, she was diagnosed with a learning disability. For the next three years, her Individual Services Plan (ISP) – under the supervision of the same classroom teacher each year – included a number of accommodations such as “seat student near source of instruction and visual displays” and “allow extended time” for both classroom and standardized testing.

“The student advanced each academic year, and at one point, the girl’s classroom teacher wrote a note thanking her mother for “working so hard with me to make her successful.”

“She switched teachers in sixth grade, however, at which time the parents claim there was less communication, particularly face-to-face, between teacher and parents. […]

“The mother was disappointed in the perceived reduction in communications, a lessening of regard for her concerns, and a diminished amount of attention focused on her daughter’s needs. The education professionals said the mother was overstepping her bounds and spoke with an occasionally disrespectful – even abusive – tone of communication.”

This story is extremely similar to our own; encouraged by staff members, remarks were made by the school community, which were a degree of magnitude worse than how the Waldorf School of Princeton described the mother’s behaviour during the hearing, claiming she was “disrespectful”, “abusive”, “aggressive” with a “lack of consciousness about appropriate boundaries”.

The Princeton school’s claims contradict these parents’ attempts to resolve the situation, like offering to “remove ourselves from the scene” in favour of an appointed educational guardian. The school didn’t accept that suggestion, and expelled the child instead.

Blaming parents, and especially the mother, is all too common in Steiner circles, although fathers aren’t spared such attacks either. How easy it is for people to blame a distraught parent, who, despite their best efforts are unable to help their child, and then claim that distress to be the reason to damage the child further.

These allegations didn’t work for Waldorf School of Princeton, and it didn’t work for the Titirangi Rudolf Steiner School either.

Craig Sashihara, Director of the Division on Civil Rights, wrote in the Finding of Probable Cause that: “It appears that Waldorf engaged in a good faith interactive process with Complainants for six-and-a-half years until May 2012, when it unilaterally determined that a limit had been reached, and that no further accommodations of any sort would be provided.” He added in his decision, “Perhaps a different conclusion would have been reached if the school had refused to provide additional accommodations, explained why those requests were unduly burdensome, and given the parents the option of accepting the status quo or withdrawing their child. But that is not what occurred.”

This abrupt decision to cut ties is all too common in such schools. In our own case, rather than go through with a meeting with us to discuss how to implement a better anti-bullying strategy, the manager decided to abruptly cancel it, and expel the children instead. This happened the day after our eldest had been first pushed down a steep bank by one boy and then threatened with an axe by another, who like the first, was two years older than her, when that class had been left unsupervised, building huts in the neighbouring bush.

The Princeton Push reported that Sashihara said on the 21st of December 2015: “if a school determines that a parent is requesting too many accommodations, it should tell the parent why it finds those requests to be unreasonable, and engage in a meaningful discussion of possible alternatives, rather than simply expel the unsuspecting student before her final year.”

Just like us, it took three and a half years for this family to gain vindication for their child. Getting redress from a Steiner school is an incredibly labour intensive and highly stressful endeavour, so it's hardly surprising that most accounts of similar occurrences worldwide are merely anecdotes.

It makes you wonder how many others just don't have the strength, or are too fearful of reprisals, to tell their own tales, and just try and forget what happened, like another family did for decades until the report of our own case in the media gave them the strength to finally come forward. Such is the power of these supposedly loving and nurturing communities which claim to honour children and their families.

How many more parents will be forced to engage in legal battles before these schools are publicly shamed to stop driving their cultic wedge between parent and child, saying in effect “you can blame your parents’ advocacy and love for why you're not welcome here anymore”?

The photo of Anthony Bellano was taken from his Google+ page.

The photo of Craig Sashihara was taken from the State of New Jersey’s website.

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