Waldorf School of Cape Cod must address building security concerns before the Falmouth School Committee gives the private school its state-mandated approval to operate in Falmouth.
The school began teaching about 40 students at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth earlier this month through a one-year lease for the 2019-2020 school year as an interim solution while it looks for a permanent location on the Upper Cape. The students are between nursery school and 6th grade and come from communities throughout the region.
The question of approval was before the school committee Tuesday, September 10, but the committee tabled the agenda item until September 24.
Founded in Woods Hole in 1984, the Waldorf School offers hands-on learning with a focus on the arts and outdoor education. During its 35-year history, the school has moved from Woods Hole to North Falmouth and then to the former Coady School in Bourne before renting the former Cotuit Elementary School in Barnstable since 2009.
The Barnstable School Committee decided in January not to renew the school’s lease on the Cotuit space, which ended June 30. The school recently dropped a lawsuit charging that the Town of Barnstable failed to give proper notice of the lease’s termination.
In accordance with state law, the school committee will approve a private school “when it is satisfied that the school equals that of the town’s public schools in thoroughness, efficiency and progress made,” according to a handout Falmouth Public Schools Superintendent Lori S. Duerr provided Tuesday.
The Waldorf School is required to complete all items on the school committee’s approval checklist and submit the required documentation to the superintendent for review.
Presenting to the school committee Tuesday were Clayton Jones of Falmouth, president of the Waldorf School’s board of directors; Roxanne King, the school’s director; Emily Holmgren, the school’s development director, and David Gable, a longtime teacher at the school.
The school’s representatives answered all curriculum-related questions satisfactorily, Assistant Superintendent Sonia Tellier said.
Committee member John J. Furnari asked whether the private school had legal approval to be operating in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship property.
“We referred that to two attorneys and a federal court judge who is now retired to ask the specific question, ‘Are we in any violation of state or local laws in starting up a school while we’re in this process?’ and the answer was no, so we did our due diligence there,” Mr. Jones said.
In response to Mr. Furnari’s question about special education funding, Ms. King said the school currently has no students who require federal or state special education supports.
Mr. Furnari also raised the issue of the Barnstable School Committee’s decision to end the school’s lease in Cotuit.
“You had some financial challenges for a couple of years. What has changed from then to now that made you think you’re viable?” he asked.
Mr. Jones said that the school now has a new administrative staff who are taking steps to correct some decisions the previous administrators made.
“They [the previous administrators] had lapsed on their right-sizing of the school and to keep a balanced budget, so there’s [now] a strategic overlay of both right-sizing for the student population which we have [and] keeping a balanced budget. [We] also have new fundraising initiatives. The debt has been resolved, and we have completely resolved our issues with the Town of Barnstable,” he said.
Still in question are safety and security concerns that led to the committee’s decision to table its approval for two weeks.
Committee chairman William S. Rider said he visited the school with vice chairman Kelly L. Welch last week.
“The building obviously meets any code of codes for the circumstances, but a couple of things concerned me with regard to safety,” he said. “We walked right in [the building’s front entrance], which was concerning to me. We weren’t buzzed in, we weren’t checked in. There was no sign-in to know who comes into your school. I think signatures and sign-outs are very important.”
Another concern Mr. Rider raised was that there were students inside and outside the building when the exterior doors were open, without magnetic or keypad locks as the Falmouth Public Schools have.
“I think that needs to be monitored and looked at and evaluated, and through the church directors and your school, you need to do those things,” he said.
A further concern was the risk of negative interactions between Waldorf School students and adults who enter the fellowship building for reasons unrelated to the school.
“[There are] people who come in and out of that establishment as members of the congregation. We have interactions there that could lead to some concerns,” Mr. Rider said. “It refers to the safety of your organization, the safety of your children and of your staff, and in today’s world, whether we like it or not, we have to be overprotective in many instances when it comes to school and children’s security.”
Mr. Jones said the school has taken action items on some of those areas of concern.
“There are double sets of doors that are open during the time students are brought in, but we’ve worked with the church in locking those inner doors, and we have an attendant there to open those doors for anybody coming in,” he said. “We’re in the process of setting up a sign-in log for those who are not already known and CORI-checked.” CORI means “criminal offender record information.”
The school committee asked the Waldorf School to bring a written record of the status of the safety action steps to the next meeting, when the board will consider approval once the superintendent is ready to give her recommendation, and Mr. Jones agreed to do so.