Change of PLANS

Waldorf foes will try their luck in another court

After nearly eight years of litigation, the fight over whether Waldorf methods can legally be applied in a public school took a dramatic turn when the plaintiff, People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS), refused to make its case in front of U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell on the first day of trial, September 12.

PLANS was left without enough material to make its case when the judge excluded two of its main witnesses because of established court rules and found further evidence to be hearsay and irrelevant.

Damrell plans to dismiss the case.

Up until the mid-’90s, Waldorf schools were traditionally private schools based on a model developed by Rudolf Steiner, a 19th-century philosopher and writer who also developed anthroposophy—sometimes referred to as a religion and sometimes referred to as a “worldview” or philosophy. (PLANS claims that Waldorf-methods public schools inherently are driven by anthroposophical ideas about spirituality. Waldorf educators deny this.)

In the 1990s, the local Rudolf Steiner College helped create an unusual new teacher-training program for public educators who were impressed with Waldorf’s art-based method of teaching and wanted to open public schools based on the Waldorf method.

Sacramento City Unified School District opened its first public Waldorf-methods school in the mid-1990s. That school moved to its current South Sacramento location and became the John Morse Waldorf Methods Magnet School. It currently educates approximately 270 students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

The curriculum in Waldorf-methods schools is arts-focused and experiential. Students from the earliest grades are taught to garden, to knit and to perform eurhythmy, an interpretive form of physical movement or dance. Though the school inspires a respect for nature and the physical world, as well as for the uniqueness of individual children, it does not, according to teachers and principals, teach religion. It does, however, integrate the history of human development into the curriculum, which means that mythology, various religious texts and fairy tales are integrated into history and literature classes.

In 1998, PLANS sued two local school districts—the Twin Ridges Elementary School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District—to prove two things: that anthroposophy is a religion on which Waldorf education relies and that the Waldorf model is therefore a religious model that, when applied in a public school, violates the separation of church and state. During previous phases of the case, PLANS members argued that because public schools are supported by tax dollars, taxpayers like themselves have a right to protest the schools’ use of public funds.

Regarding PLANS’ decision not to present its case last week, Dan Dugan, secretary for the organization, claimed that the group preferred to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a new trial. If the appeal is heard, this will be the second time PLANS has taken its case to the appeals court after losing in the Eastern District of the federal court (see “Schooled in spirituality,” SN&R Cover, February 3).

Dugan and others had hoped that this month’s trial would be the court’s first chance to actually address the issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion and whether Waldorf-methods schools are inherently religious.