How could that happend? - September 2016
Questions and answers about the present situation of Sudbury School Ammersee
As of 19.09.2016
How are the children?
The situation is very stressful for the entire school community. A student said: “We love our school. Why don’t you understand that we want to learn here?” Two additional students wrote on a poster: “The school of our choice is closed. Democracy?”
Why had the government first informed the Sudbury School Ammersee just one day before the beginning of vacation that the school was no longer approved? Had the school missed a deadline?
The application for continued approval was timely filed on 31.03.2016. The government responded at the last possible moment, leaving the school no time to maneuver.
Also, the administrative court had decided immediately before school-reopening to offer the school no temporary legal protection. How is that to be judged?
For us, this was a SHOCK! Throughout the entire vacation we were expecting to be invited to attend a hearing. We could never have imagined that such a serious decision could be made based only on paper filings. We were certain that we would at least be heard before an entire school community would be torn asunder.
The report reached us one day before school opening. On the same day, the government demanded that we report to them with which schools the children were now registered. Also, on the first day, we were threatened with a 10,000 € fine, should the school reopen. This is an unbelievably aggressive process. Supporters and experts assured us that they have never experienced anything like this.
Representatives of the government claim that **the school did not conform to its published standards** and that educational standards were not upheld.
The school had conformed to all its standards.** According to the school’s approval notification, the school must document that in regard to fulfilling the Bavarian educational standards, it does not lie below the public schools. This was, from the perspective of the school thoroughly demonstrated and documented:
We have given detailed reports over the content and progress of each student’s learning. The government had again and again made new demands until eventually it declared that the reports were, in form and content, sufficient. Written statements thereto are included.
A part of the approval stipulated scientific observation of the school. In the reports of this scientist, the fulfillment of educational standards was very concretely addressed. Also, she concluded that the educational standards were fulfilled.
Two students prepared themselves for qualification **graduation?** and completed it successfully at our partner-school in Rott.
There are even students who are very much more capable here than at their old school. Some see themselves finally able again to attend school after it went badly with them at their former school for various reasons. Some were in psychological treatment. Also, for example, students diagnosed dyslexic and learning-disabled, voluntarily engaged themselves again with reading and writing.
For us, however, it is not well-rounded when school is constantly reduced to learning standard material. For us, school involves much more: the rights of self-determination and co-determination, human growth and community.
Must the government also abide by conditions?
The Sudbury School Ammersee could be approved only because a special pedagogical interest prevails. The government school control board would be responsible to verify whether the school actually followed this interest. That did not happen.
Important aspects of the special pedagogical interest:
Democracy as a social way of living (uncompromising democratic structure, all school members having equal rights of participation in decision making and all matters affecting the school. The School-Meeting is the highest organ.
Uncompromising self-determination and self-determined learning.
Uncompromising age-mixing of all “grades”.
Here, the government would have had to put questions like these:
Do the students really decide on their own study-content, their own goals and their own forms and ways?
How do the students profit in an age-mixed environment from each other, also in terms of educational standards?
Do the students really have equal voting rights in all decisions?
How does voting happen? Does the School-Meeting delegate jobs and distribute responsibilities?
How are the students supported by the staff members? How is the relationship between students and staff?
Does the school further all the social competences like teamwork ability, respect, solidarity, tolerance, conflict-solving ability?
Is there space provided for intrinsic, informal learning? Is this supported?
None of these questions were pursued by the government representatives.
What says the Culture-Ministry to all of this?
Our contact person in the Culture-Ministry was until now very open-minded. In preparation for the school-opening two years ago, there was a meeting in the Culture-Ministry between government representatives, school representatives and the Israeli expert for democratic education, Yaacov Hecht whom the school representatives had specially invited to come from Israel. The meeting was very constructive, and those representing both the government and the ministry were then very interested. Also now still, after the closing of the school, speaker for the Culture-Ministry, Andreas Ofenbach was quoted on Bayrischen Rundfunk (radio) with the words: “…One has always seen the school as an enrichment.”
Presently, the Culture-Ministry is holding back. Therefore, here once again our petition which we had already expressed in the demonstration before the Culture-Ministry: “Most honored Herr Butz, most honored Herr Ofenbach, please intervene for us!”
How could it ever come to this escalation?
The school founders had spent unbelievably much time and energy to be able to open a Sudbury School in Bavaria. Nine years had elapsed from the forming of the organizing-committee to the opening of the school. Nine years during which extensive public relations work was done, and contact with government representatives was upheld.
After the school had opened, openness in the government had still prevailed. As before, the school founders over and over built bridges and invited national and international mediators, among them: Professors Ulrich Klemm and Gregor Lang-Wojtasik, as well as the British democratic-education expert Derry Hannam. While the government began by being cooperative, toward the end of the first school-year, this changed. What happened then is, from the outside, unclear. Perhaps the government representatives lost courage. Also a change of personnel certainly played a big role.
The government had then sharpened its tone and it came to an already published press-release describing the school visit in which those representatives had behaved in a fully overreaching and prejudice-loaded manner. There were comments like “Elsewhere you would learn better.” And “That was no proper teaching.” One student even collapsed under the interrogation. We saw ourselves compelled to swerve from our former strategy of bridge-building and compromise. To protect the children, we negotiated and declared an order to stay away for the employees concerned. The school representatives were clear that this was a deciding moment. Parents wrote 15 service-supervision complaints, which were all answered by the department concerned and expressly by the individuals involved.
Why did the school decline testing?
Immediately after we, as school, had forbidden entry of government representatives and had sent the service-supervision complaints, the demand reached us that we should have the students tested.
It’s clear that The School-concept foresees no testing. Nevertheless, the school community is not, in principal, against testing. In a trustworthy atmosphere, we could well imagine that students would willingly participate. In the present circumstances, the proposed tests were obviously to be seen as revenge for excluding the government examiners from the school. The school community could not trust that the students would be dealt with fairly. At this point, the school representatives renewed the suggestion that the English school-inspector, Derry Hannam, extensively experienced with democratic schools, be invited to discussions and to accompany school visits. To no avail…the suggestion was rejected.
How is the court case now proceeding?
After the government had rejected our application for further approval of Sudbury School Ammersee, the school’s legal representative had lodged our protest, and besides, tendered our request for temporary legal protection, with the goal of allowing the school to operate pending the main trial. This application for temporary legal protection was denied by the administrative court. The main trial is still pending.
Also, complaints have already been filed against the refusal of our application for temporary legal protection which must be substantiated within a month. Afterwards the other side will have the opportunity to comment. The complaints will be processed by the administrative court. Our lawyer estimates that these complaints will be decided upon in November at earliest. The main trial will occur only afterward; there is not yet a date set for this.
What is happening now?
We won’t give up! There is a daily vigil at 18:30 at the school. The school community as well as supporters and media representatives come together round the vigil-fire. It’s unbelievable how much support comes from all sides: filmmakers, professors, education experts, politicians, friends and visionaries apply themselves with us for Sudbury School Ammersee. They support with petitions, experts, contacts, and activating their networks.
Our aim would be to meet as quickly as possible together with representatives of the government, the culture ministry, supporters and political decision makers – and as soon as possible to be able to re-open the school.
How can Bavaria profit from the Sudbury School Ammersee?
For years we are going for diversity in education. The Sudbury School Ammersee wishes to make a contribution in this pluralistic educational landscape.
The self-determined democratic learning, as it will here be lived, has been successfully practiced throughout 50 years at Sudbury Valley School, our “mother-school”. Also, in other lands like Israel and France, Sudbury-Schools are booming and receiving great attention.
Sudbury students learn to live in a democratic community, to get along with each other respectfully and tolerantly, and to utilize democratic tools. They learn to know themselves, are creative, find solutions, undertake responsibility --- all that is so urgently needed in these times.
And: a study conducted at the Sudbury Valley School reveals, that nearly all graduates are satisfied with their lives. Who would not wish this for their child?