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Waldorf Education - One family's story

Money - The Leaving

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By 2000 we had accumulated about 700 in arreas. The school had promised that these would remain frozen to be paid when we could afford it or if need be after we left.
 
Unfortunately the academic year 2000/1 was a difficult time for us. There was a  fuel stike and a lot of serious floods in the autumn of 2000, and these affected my husband's business badly. Then in the spring of 2001 there was the foot and mouth epidemic which cost my eldest son his job. We began to get behind with our contributions.
 
In the spring term we made an appointment to go to the school to discuss our financial position. By this time, my husband's business was getting back on its feet and we were going to say we would borrow to bring that year's contribution up to date.
 
When I arrived at the school I saw one of the teachers who had always been a friend of ours. I greeted him with a smile and immediately realised that something was wrong by his response. He was very subdued. He took us to the meeting room. We were surprised to see the chairman of the school council there as we had thought this was an ordinary finance meeting. There was also a member of the finance group.
 
From the moment the meeting began we were given little chance to explain our reasons for having accumulated more arreas, or to say what we had planned to offer. Right away we were told that the school wanted the whole of our debt by the beginning of the next term. This was three days before the end of the spring term.
 
We were asked if  we could borrow the money from relatives or friends. We explained that we had no relatives apart from my husband's mother who is a pensioner, and no friends who were in a position to lend to us. We were then told that we should remortgage our house.
 
We were asked to borrrow not just enough to pay our arreas, but an amount that would cover the fees until Richard left the school.
 
We were then given a lecture about not coming to workdays and fundraising events. We had supported almost all of the major fundraising events during our time at the school but had missed two recent ones because we had not at that time had a car to get to them. My husband works on Saturdays so was unable to go to the workdays but an arrangement had been agreed that he would clean the school windows instead. I was unable to do workdays because of poor health and the school was aware of this.
 
Before we left the meeting, it was made clear to us that even if we took Richard from the school, the whole of the debt had to be paid immediately or court action would follow.
 
I remember leaving that room in total shock. We had been allowed to run up these arreas with the agreement of the school. We had been told we could pay them off after we left. Now they were threatening court action to retrieve the whole amount immediately.
 
This was a community we had belonged to for seventeen years. These were our friends. Why on earth were they suddenly treating us like this? 

One possible answer was facing us when we left that room.  During the previous summer holidays the school had purchased the house next door which they planned to convert into a new kindergarten and offices. This had left them with a very large amount of money to pay off. When we had first heard about it we had wondered how on earth it was going to be paid for. We had also been shocked that a decision like this had been taken without consultation of the community. The reason given was that there had been very little time to make the offer or it would have been lost. I'm not sure how long it would have taken to post letters out to each family but such things had been done in a very short time on previous occassions.
 
Perhaps the school, finding themselves with this huge debt to pay off had decided to call in all of the debts owed by parents. So perhaps we and others like us were expected to remortgage our houses so that the school could pay off the loan on these new buildings that the community as a whole had not been consulted about. Who knows?

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We were really worried about the idea of remortgaging our house. We were both in our mid fifties and both had health problems. I was unable to work. My husband was coping at the moment but finding things increasingly difficult.
 
Joanna was still suffering psychological problems. She had never really recovered from the bullying. It looked likely that she would not be able to live independantly in the near future, if ever. How could we put her home at risk in order to pay the people who had made her ill? Nevertheless, we were looking at loans when Richard told us that he didn't want to stay at the school. He said he was not really happy there, but I think he was worried about causing us more financial problems. We respected his wishes and took him out of the school. I wrote to the school and told them I would be in touch with regard to the debt.

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A  few days into the next term we received a letter from the school reiterating all of the things that had been said at the interview and repeating the threat of court action if we did not pay the whole amount immediately. The suggestion of borrowing on the security of our house was repeated. After taking legal advice, we decided to offer payments.
 
During the next few weeks my state of mind was terrible.Whenever I went out, if I saw a man in a suit the colour the chairman of the council had worn, I would imagine it was him. A couple of times I even saw his face on someone else. I experienced nightmares where people from the schoool came to our house and took all of our possesions. I  wrote almost a dozen letters to the school trying to explain how we felt, but I could not send any of them. They would develop into pages of hurt and anger at the way we had been treated. It may sound like an over reaction, but we had been seventeen years with these people believing they were like a second family and then this sudden betrayal.
 
Then I began to find that I was feeling better so long as I kept them right out of my mind. We still had every intention of paying our debt, but I was finding that attempts to communicate with them ended in distress. I thought that eventually I would get over this.
 
In August we had a phone call from the school burser. She wanted to know what we were going to do about the debt. My husband said there were some other things we wanted to disuss as well. She said she was only interested in the money. This upset me again.
 
Then, in September, we bought a computer. I was beginning to discover how behind academically Richard was and I wanted to help him with his schoolwork. He had begun at state high school, but was finding that he could not cope with the work. After half a term there he was finding things so difficult that he asked me to educate him at home. After everything that had happened, I still believed in Steiner Education. I thought it was just this school that was being difficult. I looked up Waldorf Education on The Internet, looking for a home schooling course and I found the Waldorf Survivors internet group.
 

I'll never forget that first afternoon of reading the messages on the Waldorf Survivors group. Here were dozens of other people who claimed to have had big problems with Waldorf Schools. Here were other children who had been bullied by pupils and abused by teachers, other children who were found to be years behind academically after leaving. The tears were running down my face as I read it.
 
Some of their experiences were surprisingly like mine, like being reported to Social Services after making complaints about the school, being made to feel that their children's problems were all the fault of their parents, and having that feeling of never really being listened to.
 
I told these people my story.  'They damage you children and then expect you to pay for it' was what one of them said. With their help and support we decided to challenge this 'debt'.

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