DSM: Maneuvering around state regulations (long)


Joe Jackson (shoeless@erols.com)
Tue, 2 May 2000 18:45:58 -0400


> I'd appreciate knowing about any other state
> regulations or about ways in which others are
> successfully maneuvering around their state
> regulations.
> Kathy

Hello, Kathy, this is Joe from Fairhaven School in Maryland.

Under Maryland state regulations, a private school must do certain things
that would not, to put it bluntly, be things a Sudbury model school could
do. The solution we finally came up with after several years of planning
was to form a church and have the school operate within the church. The
school would then be classified as a "church-exempt school", and being
classified as such has put us in a file at the Maryland Department of
Education that apparently never gets opened - we have never heard from
anyone since we opened, and there have even allegedly been folks that have
called the MDE to complain that we are not a legitimate school, and
apparently they absolutely refuse to exercise any regulation over us
whatsoever.

Obviously the first thing that concerned many founders about the church idea
is the possibility that the church would develop a direction that would
interfere with the ability of the school to operate in the standard
"Sudbury" manner.

Our vision was that the church would be a fellowship, and maintain a
schedule of activities and study groups that would be free to explore and
"worship" in any manner they chose (much as students are free to explore in
a Sudbury model school), but that the church itself would be
nondenominational in the purest sense of the word, and no specific worship
or study practices would be institutionalized within the fellowship itself.

Nevertheless, we did our best to build in some safeguards to help ensure
that the church, called Fairhaven Fellowship, would not, to put it bluntly,
"develop a mind of its own".

While the school operates legally within the entity called Fairhaven
Fellowship (FF), the property (land and buildings) belong to a separate
501(c)3 corp. called Fairhaven School Inc. (FSI). FSI makes payments on
debt, and undertakes property acquisition, property development,
fundraising, PR services and outreach, maintains the Tuition Assistance
account, and provides the processes involved with Tuition Assistance. FSI
receives monthly payments of approximately $4000 from FF. The reason for
this is that we decided in a fit of Machiavellian paranoia that the open
democratic structure of FF could conceivably allow a group to take control
of the Fellowship, which in turn could possibly interfere with the operation
of the school. Having the assets belong to FSI makes FF a less attractive
"target" in that sense. Also, if something happened to FF, FSI could
conceivably "kick out" FF, and we would start another church and reopen the
school in the same location. The main membership of FSI is, surprise! - the
Fairhaven School Assembly.

While membership in FF must be open to the public, the vast majority of the
FF membership also consists of the Fairhaven School Assembly, as Assembly
members are automatically FF members.

While the law states that FF must directly operate the school, it does so
via the Governing Procedures of Fairhaven School, which, if you squint, look
a damn lot like the bylaws of a typical Sudbury model school.

The church concept still gives some folks within the school community the
willies, and I have also seen/heard people (on the outside) getting really
*angry* about how we set up a "fake" church and subsequently attacking the
idea on an ethical basis. This being said, the extent to and manner in
which I and others believe in this way of educating our children (and
subsequently building our families and communities) amounts to a prima facie
religion, and I certainly do not share the ethical concerns that have been
expressed by others.

As far as whether this idea could work in Nevada or any other state, I do
not know, but my gut feeling is that the reason the state government is so
out of our lives is that they know a First Amendment freedom of religion
issue when they see it, and while they (as a whole, not each person
individually) are stupid, they aren't crazy. (This actually segues into
another topic, which is whether a community starting and running a school
like Sudbury is a First Amendment freedom of *speech* issue. It is my
understanding that the Tutorial School in New Mexico recently won a State
Supreme Court decision on that basis - can anyone pipe in regarding that and
refresh my memory?)

The thing to do if you want to try this approach is find out how to start an
independent church in your state, and call you Dept of Ed and find out what
a church has to do to start a school. Good luck.

-Joe Jackson



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