Parents group rejects settlement in Waldorf curriculum case

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

A group of California parents and taxpayers says it won't accept a settlement offer in a federal lawsuit against two school districts using a curriculum the group says is infused with religious precepts.

Last year the group, called People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools, sued the Sacramento City Unified School District and Twin Ridges Elementary School District charging that the districts' use of the Waldorf education curriculum is unconstitutional. The group claims that the curriculum promotes a religion. Waldorf education emanated from the spiritual-scientific research of the early 20th-century philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Steiner's work, called anthroposophy, sought to cultivate the child's imagination. According to Steiner, anthroposophy was “a scientific research of the spiritual world which sees through the one-sidedness of both normal, natural science and traditional mysticism.”

In late September, a U.S. District Judge Court ruled that the group's lawsuit against the school districts could proceed to decide if Steiner's spiritual research was so intertwined with the Waldorf curriculum “as to be inseparable from it, thereby making public funding of Waldorf education methods a direct and substantial endorsement of religion, and fostering excessive entanglement between church and state.”

On Nov. 23, officials for the two California school districts presented a settlement offer. Christian M. Keiner, a Sacramento attorney representing the school districts, said the offer would “result in a permanent injunction prohibiting the classroom teaching of anthroposophy or the published works of Rudolf Steiner, or the expenditure of school district funds for Waldorf private education courses, excepting courses designed for public school teachers.”

On Dec. 13, the People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools rejected the offer. In a prepared statement, the group said the settlement offer failed “to make any significant changes to current practices of the schools in question.” The group maintained that the Waldorf curriculum would still be used in the John Morse Waldorf Methods Magnet School, which is part of the Sacramento district and the Yuba River Charter School located in the Twin Ridges district. The group's president also said teachers in both schools would continue to receive training at anthroposophical institutions, such as the Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, Ca.

“Good try,” Debra Snell, the group's president said. “But PLANS won't be bought off. We've spent years going step by step through the system in our efforts to stop public funding for this religious cult activity, and we're going to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to.”

Keiner, the school districts' attorney, said a settlement was now doubtful and that a trial date had been set for Feb. 28, 2000.

“It is unfortunate that PLANS has taken such an extreme position in this situation,” Keiner said. “The school districts have successfully established a secular purpose for the use of the Waldorf-methods programs and now we will have to prove they do not violate the establishment clause. Both school districts intend to continue the Waldorf methods. Public schools need to be innovative and both programs are legal and provide a quality education for children in both charter schools and magnet schools.”