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September 16, 2005

PLANS Loses Waldorf Court Case, Lies About it in Press Release

On September 14 th, 2005 PLANS lost its seven-year old lawsuit attempting to have public-methods Waldorf Charter schools in two California school districts declared religious schools and shut down for violating the Constitutional separation of Church and State (known as the Establishment Clause, because it reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".)

The reason for the loss? In seven years, PLANS failed to submit sufficient evidence to substantiate the contention that Anthroposophy is a religion. The trial lasted 31 minutes. [transcript here] The judge, the Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr., awarded the case to the school districts under Rule 52(c), meaning that the plaintiff, PLANS, failed to provide enough evidence to prevail. The result is that PLANS lost their lawsuit.

If you file a lawsuit, you have the burden of proof of supplying evidence to support your complaint. PLANS' complaint is that the religion of Anthroposophy is being taught in California Charter Schools. The school districts argued in defense that 1.) Anthroposophy is not a religion, and 2.) even if it is a religion, it is not being taught in the Waldorf-methods Charter Schools. The trial examined these two issues, one at a time. In 31 minutes the Judge determined that PLANS had submitted no evidence to support the first contention, while the school districts had offered substantial arguments for why Anthroposophy is not a religion. The judge then ruled in favor of the school districts.

What happened next was interesting. PLANS issued a press release claiming that they had not actually lost, and promised to appeal. (Comments in red)

PUBLIC WALDORF SCHOOLS CHURCH/STATE TRIAL ABORTED OVER EVIDENCE ISSUE

The trial was not "aborted". The trial concluded successfully, and PLANS lost.

In a move that shocked participants and observers in a Sacramento federal courtroom during the opening of its September 12 trial, People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS) refused to present its case without key witnesses and evidence that had been excluded by the the Hon. Frank C. Damrell.

The only people "shocked" were PLANS. The outcome was widely predicted since the Pretrial Conference Order of February 18 th, 2005 was issued. (http://waldorfanswers.org/PretrialConferenceOrder-2005-02-18.pdf ) Given the evidence PLANS had submitted in the timeframe allowed, it was hard to imagine any other outcome.

Judge Damrell said he intends to dismiss the case.

The case will not be dismissed. The case was awarded to the school districts. The districts prevailed. They won. They proved their point, and PLANS did not. The result is not a dismissal.

As a result, PLANS will take its case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

PLANS will appeal the exclusion of two witnesses to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will not decide whether Anthroposophy is a religion or whether Waldorf-methods Charter Schools violate the separation of church and state. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether the exclusion of two witnesses was procedurally incorrect.

Two witnesses--Betty Staley, creator of the Rudolf Steiner College public school teacher training program, and Dr. Crystal Olson, a Steiner College staffer who teaches courses on music education--had been listed as expert witnesses by the defendant school districts, and as percipient witnesses by PLANS. In fact, PLANS' attorney, Scott Kendall, had taken lengthy depositions from the two in 1999. However, the defense team's three attorneys changed their minds and withdrew both Staley and Olson's names from their list of expert witnesses after reading each woman's testimony. (Presumably, the lawyers recognized that the women's testimony would do the schools' case more harm than good.)

The two witnesses mentioned by PLANS were disallowed because PLANS failed to follow proper legal procedure and give copies of the depositions to the school districts within the timeframe required. For this reason they lost the right to use these two witnesses. Their appeal concerns the issue of whether the exclusion was valid. If the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hears the case and rules in favor of PLANS' (a very unlikely scenario) the case will be retried by the lower court, and the new trial will include the two excluded witnesses. The outcome will likely be the same, because the two excluded witnesses are sympathetic to the school districts, and hostile to PLANS.

The school districts were certain that both Ms. Staley and Dr. Olson would support their side. PLANS took a deposition from both, but when they failed to make copies available to the school districts within the require timeframe, the judge then disallowed Staley and Olson as witnesses for PLANS. They could still be called as witnesses for the school districts, but the districts decided that, with overwhelming amount of other evidence, they did not need the additional testimony of Ms. Staley and Dr. Olson. It makes absolutely no sense for PLANS to object to the exclusion of these two witnesses, since these two witnesses, by their sworn testimony, disagreed with PLANS' position, and offered testimony to refute it. A new trial that includes these two witnesses will very likely come to exactly the same result, with the school districts prevailing. That is why the appeal makes no sense.

Judge Damrell then accepted an objection from the defense, who alleged that PLANS had not properly disclosed those witnesses according to the federal court rule of "automatic disclosure" (rule 26a). This rule requires parties in lawsuits to give all their information about witnesses and evidence to the opposing party immediately, without being asked. PLANS' attorney Scott Kendall asserts that the rule does not apply in this case because it was not in effect in this court in 1998, when this case originated.

PLANS is asking the appeals court to rule that, if you take a deposition in 1999, but you filed the lawsuit in 1998, then the 1999 rule does not apply to you. Judge Damrell disagrees, and is unlikely to be overruled by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the 9th Circuit does overrule Judge Damrell, then the case will be retried with the two witnesses hostile to PLANS, and PLANS will in all probability lose again.

"PLANS was unable to put on its case because of the court's evidentiary rulings, which we believe to be both erroneous and prejudicial," Kendall stated. "Therefore, PLANS is taking this case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals."

PLANS did put on its case. It filed the suit, put on its case, the case was heard, and PLANS was found not to have any evidence to support its contentions. The two excluded witnesses are not materially relevant, since their testimony was hostile to PLANS anyway.

Debra Snell, President of PLANS, said "After seven and a half years of dealing with legal technicalities, we expected that we'd finally be able to have a trial of the real issues in court. We are disappointed, but also more determined than ever to continue to press our case, no matter what we have to overcome. Steiner's books—which form the foundation of Waldorf education and the basis for Waldorf school teacher training--are shelved in the spirituality section of the bookstores, not the philosophy section! We have plenty of evidence that Steiner's doctrines leak into the public Waldorf schools that citizens pay taxes to support. If that's not a breach of the Establishment Clause, I don't know what is."

Debra Snell does not appear to know what a breach of the Establishment Clause is. Nor does she have much understanding of Steiner's philosophy. PLANS has blathered a lot of illogical nonsense over the years. The difference here is that in a court case, the rules of evidence are strict and fair. Under these rules, PLANS was completely unable to offer any evidence that Anthroposophy is a religion. Snell and Dugan may one day realize that the US Court system functions differently from the Internet. On the Internet you can make all sorts of wild allegations, and then insist that the people you slander bear the burden of proof in defending themselves. In court, such wild allegations must be substantiated by the person filing the suit, or they lose the case. PLANS lost.

The Administrative Director of the Anthroposophical Society in America, Jean W. Yeager, attended the trial, despite the fact that public Waldorf schools claim they have no connection with Anthroposophy whatsoever. On February 4, 2004, Yeager intervened in a Waldorf charter school application by writing to the Benecia, California, school board, and the Anthroposophical Society submitted an amicus curiae brief in the PLANS lawsuit.

Jean Yeager attended the court case. Upon consideration it should be obvious that the Anthroposophical Society has a strong interest in not being misclassified as a religion.

When a court is asked to decide whether or not Anthroposophy is a religion, the Anthroposophical Society has an interest in the outcome. In this particular case the Anthroposophical Society filed an Amicus Curiae Brief [http://waldorfanswers.org/BriefAmicus0407091.pdf] explaining why Anthroposophy is not a religion. An Amicus Curiae Brief can be filed when a person or group who is not party to the lawsuit nevertheless has an interest in the outcome.

Jean Yeager's presence has nothing to do with Waldorf education, and everything to do with the fact that the court was being asked to determine the status of Anthroposophy, something the Anthroposophical Society has an interest in. The Anthroposophical Society will likely always be involved when the material status of Anthroposophy is a point of contention, such as was the case in the Benecia Charter application. The Anthroposophical Society became involved in Benecia in order to set the record straight when PLANS mischaracterized the nature of Anthroposophy. Otherwise it has no interest in Charter schools, Waldorf-methods or otherwise.

Both the court case and the reaction by PLANS are typical. The court case revealed PLANS to be a fanatical, disorganized group with no clear arguments, and the press release following PLANS' stinging defeat showed an organization partially out of touch with reality. In actual fact, Anthroposophy is not a religion, a position that the court agreed with, based on the evidence presented. The individual members of PLANS (all 10 of them) may feel differently, but they had their day in court, and utterly failed to prove otherwise.

PLANS often complains, without substantiation, that Waldorf-methods Charter Schools harm children. PLANS frivolous lawsuit has cost the school districts over $300,000 in legal fees, money that could have gone towards educating children. Twin Ridges School District Superintendent Stan Miller is "…outraged at the amount of taxpayer dollars it's taken to defend this case that could have been spent on student programs." The irony is that by filing this baseless suit, PLANS has done substantial harm to children of California, and the Twin Ridges Waldorf-methods Charter School has not.

Posted by Daniel at September 16, 2005 10:09 AM

Comments

excellent analysis!

Posted by: Coleman Lyles at November 30, 2006 12:18 AM

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