Letters About the Josephsons’ Grievances Against Archer and Ms. English

Here is a selection of letters and responses posted on this site or www.whatwillmatter.com  in response to Mr. Josephson’s article about his struggle regarding continued pursuit of this law suit. 

What this Dispute is Really About by Brandon

As a consultant in human capital management and having a series of articles published on ethics in business relationships; it seems Mr. Josephson’s red line in the sand is not an objection to a reasonable disciplinary measure against an acknowledged transgression by his daughter; but against an irrational act of administrative overreach engaging in improper influence over staff, teachers and a governing body.

What parent would not defend and allow an administrator to stand in the way of a child walking graduation; particularly a vulnerable child? What parent would allow an overzealous administrator to penalize a completely innocent sibling who had no involvement in the incident?

What parent would allow a school employee or governing entity [or anyone] to penalize an entire family with expulsion, perpetual exclusion and the character assassination of each member of the family and malign their collective reputations?

There are situations when all good faith efforts have failed that defensive measures aren’t enough; where the best defense is a good offense. Was the ‘governing body’ ‘for show only’ and unduly influenced i.e. derelict in exercising its charter responsibilities? Can any professional, particularly an acclaimed ethicist of national renowned stand silent in the face of an attack? Beyond the business side of the equation there are indeed unreasonable people in the world; people whose sense of self-importance no know bounds, and must be confronted. Sociopaths for example, inflict emotional pain on others with a passion and without limit, unless confronted.

While I can’t say whether this school administrator in this situation is a sociopath; was the prescribed discipline of excluding C1 from high school graduation [a one-time life’s event] over a single outburst, reasonable discipline?

Was ouster of C2 from the school program reasonable or responsible professional behavior?

Was alienation of an entire families deep-rooted social relationships a moral or reasonable act in the face of an otherwise long, good standing affiliation within this school and community?

Michael Josephson reply to Brandon

I thank you for your very cogent summary of how we got to this awful place. So few observers were able to separate as you did the separate escalating offenses. Our case is about much more and much worse than Ms. English’s handling of our daughter’s rudeness to a teacher.  As bad as that was, ousting her younger sister, knowing the huge trauma adjusting to a new school would cause, simply because I advocated for an alternative sanction was, in our view, far worse. And the back-breaker was the patently vindictive decision to ban all four of our daughters (including two who graduated from Archer and are in college in New York) from attending any events on campus. This was done with the knowledge it would be humiliating and painful for the two younger daughters to be told a day before the ceremonies that they could not witness the graduations of their best friends.

As hurtful as it is when readers of this blog assume the worst of me and my children and, without even taking the time to read the facts, rebuke or condemn me, it is so gratifying to have a reader like you understand where I am coming from and express your support. Thank you. Michael Josephson

It Seems Simple by John 

Judging from the outside, it seems to me that the impasse had a critical point: when your daughter developed anxiety due to her upcoming appearance in front of the board, you had it authenticated by a psychiatrist. The principal was hesitant to believe it and, believing she and the faculty might know your daughter more realistically than you, decided you were being played by your daughter but the principal wanted to call your daughter’s bluff.

Thus, she came up with the ridiculous assumption that since she wasn’t well enough to come in front of the board, she obviously could not attend school.

I believe this is where the suit came from. The principal believes your daughter had everyone duped into thinking she was too anxious to appear, the principal took offense at that and made a rash decision. When you called her on it and brought the suit, she couldn’t back down and thus this is where you are today.

I’m Not Surprised by Ari 

As a former Archer family, your predicament comes as no surprise to me. Several years ago our family encountered an [Archer] administrator that I can only describe as so filled with self-importance that she was unable to even discuss any conflicts occurring at the school. Our daughter had a teacher that was extremely abusive. She was his target and he was unrelenting. (I have to state that my daughter is perfectly behaved and never a discipline problem). I did a little research and found that he was fired from his previous 2 private schools jobs. When I approached the administration they wanted no part of me and would not listen to anything I had to say. They defended this teacher completely.

It was at this point that we realized Archer was not about the students but more about their reputation. I tell this story because Archer has always had an arrogance and culture that reverberates self-importance. The students were made to feel that they were lucky to be there.

I hope Michael sticks with his lawsuit. It is about time that Archer is brought down to earth. The truth needs to be exposed and the culture changed.

The Arbitration Clause and Your Alternatives by Lynn

I am curious as to what the JAG liability contract states regarding arbitration. Arbitration is a clause in almost every camp, gymnastics studio, school, doctor’s office, etc. We have a very litigious society and the clause helps to diminish overly litigious people and disproportionate monetary amounts in lawsuits. There are some that would not be able to operate without the arbitration clause.

Also, while your case seems to be in your favor, the Archer School is at a distinct disadvantage here because they cannot respond to your allegations as their school records are private. If they put anything on a website/or a response that contains personal information about your children/family, wouldn’t you find them in violation again?

Whatever the outcome, I find the situation very sad. You stood up for your family, but as an outsider, who knows the truth? The school was forced to protect its own so-to-speak, and you have effectively tarnished a school for many years to come in ways that are not even known yet, as well as challenged the effectiveness of Boards in general. You said you are not litigious, but by bringing the Head AND the ABOT into the lawsuit, you are doing just that, and are helping to pave the way for lawsuits to be filed more easily. There are many independent schools that would file for bankruptcy and fold up if a jury awarded a $10 million lawsuit. The fact that you asked for such an incredulously large settlement for something that did not maim, permanently disfigure or result in a physical attack, etc., makes me weary.

I don’t know what the truth is, and if your family really was treated in the manner you describe — that was horrible. If it were me, I would want to rectify the injustice as well, but I really don’t see how trying to bring down the entire reputation of a school, dedicating a website to the case using peoples’ names (that also seem to be peripheral) and provide personal information about your children, and throwing the independent school community and the Archer community into an upheaval, can produce more good than harm. You say that Ms. English had it out for you for years and was unreasonable and rude — maybe she was and she took it out on your children which is completely unacceptable — but your campaign seems to be doing the exact same thing you are fighting except you are including the entire school’s reputation in your offensive against one person.

Michael Josephson July 14, 2014 | In reply to Lynn.

Lynn, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It deserves a thoughtful response.

Let me say at the outset, ambiguity some people may feel about how Ms. English handled the situation with Child 1, the impropriety of forcing Child 2 to find another school (while telling her to blame her father) and the petty and vindictive decision to ban all the Josephsons, including our older daughters who are already in college, from ever coming on campus are completely indefensible. Although the written documentation on this site seems to have been enough to persuade most people that this case was badly mishandled by Ms. English and Archer, it is not unreasonable that you have chosen to suspend judgment. Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I do care what people like you think. That’s why I take the time to respond hoping I can protect a reputation for integrity earned over decades.

Lynn: “I am curious as to what the JAG [the gymnastics academy run by Anne Josephson] liability contract states regarding arbitration. Arbitration is a clause in almost every camp, gymnastics studio, school, doctor’s office, etc. We have a very litigious society and the clause helps to diminish overly litigious people and disproportionate monetary amounts in lawsuits. There are some that would not be able to operate without the arbitration clause.”

Let me address the misconception that arbitration is an adequate and less expensive way to deal with the sort of claims we raise. In fact, for parents like us (and the other families who contacted us to tell us their horror stories), arbitration is much more expensive (e.g., arbitrators in L.A. routinely charge between $6k and $10k per day, and since there are all sorts of constraints on discovery and remedies and there is no appeal (even if the arbitrator makes a clear mistake of fact or law), it is not a satisfactory process to air grievances as serious and legal issues as complex as ours.

In this setting, the greater danger is not overly litigious parents with trumped up claims (the prospects for success are very slim and legal costs are very high – attorneys don’t take these sorts of cases on contingency) but of providing no practical avenue for very sincere parents to have their claims heard and properly adjudicated.

As you said, if Ms. English did all the things we said she did it would be HORRIBLE. Well, we want to prove that she did and that these horrible actions inflicted horrible consequences on our children. (We are not liars or frenetic overly protective parents).

From a board governance point of view, we also think the Archer Board’s reflexive decision to fully back everything Ms. English did w without even investigating the claims, was a reckless dereliction of duty subjecting the school to unnecessary expenses and reputational damage. We think their refusal to take our claims seriously and accept our very generous offer to settle BEFORE we filed suit is the cause of the present mess you so rightly lament.

Please be aware, that at least to date, no one at Archer claims that the way Ms. English handled each phase of the crisis she created was consistent with good educational practices or is sound Archer policy (in fact it violated Archer’s long standing policy and tradition of collaboration and non-coercive discipline).

They do not claim what was done was right; they merely claim it was legal because the enrollment contract grants her sole discretion. Even if Archer is correct that the actions taken were legal we think an informed Archer community will judge the conduct wrong. As we’ve asserted before, we think there is a big difference between what one has a right to do and what is right to do.

If Ms. English did all the horrible things we said she did, and she did so with full board support, this fact should not be shrouded in secrecy. I would have thought that more parents would object that Archer has spent thousands and thousands of dollars trying to suppress the facts rather than deal with them (through a failed attempt to get a gag order and transparent attempts to prevent you and others from knowing the evidence and outcome of our allegations by trying to force the claim into arbitration).

We do not object to mandatory arbitration confined to interpretation of contractual obligations but, here, Archer is claiming that anything they do vis a vis our family is covered, including intentional and malicious acts. Even as a former lawyer I never dreamed a reputable organization, let alone a school one has a fiduciary relationship with, would interpret the clause so broadly.

We also never would have imagined that the Archer Board would, without any independent investigation of our claims (which we requested), blindly back actions which violates accepted professional educator practices.

Please review the offer to settle we presented to the Board BEFORE we brought the lawsuit and the extensive memo accompanying it and tell me what was unreasonable about that offer — especially in view of the obvious alternative of litigation.

You raise an interesting point re: arbitration clause in JAG contracts. I don’t know whether there is one but I do know she would never seek to use it the way Archer is. Even with my legal background I never imagined they would claim that the phrase “dispute arising out of the contract” would cover anything anyone at Archer would do to any parent or child — even after the contract is terminated!

Also, while your case seems to be in your favor, the Archer School is at a distinct disadvantage here because they cannot respond to your allegations as their school records are private. If they put anything on a website/or a response that contains personal information about your children/family, wouldn’t you find them in violation again?

With all due respect, this statement is unfair and untrue. We believe that whatever facts or claims they have were included in Ms. English’s very selective and misleading declaration. We believe they have held nothing back; there are no unrevealed facts that justify their actions or dispute our claims.

Archer did not feel constrained about revealing personal information about our kids in Ms. English’s declaration (including broad misleading allegations of Child 1′s disciplinary history). But more central to your concern is the reality that the critical facts in this case are NOT about anything that is in school records. This case will turn on what Ms. English did and how I responded.

With regard to Child 2, Ms. English acknowledges that our child did nothing wrong. She acknowledges this daughter was excluded from the school because I opposed the way she had handled Child 1. Archer is free to reveal any explanation, contention or communication that they think will justify that action. Similarly, with regard to banning all four of our daughters from Archer forever there are no private records. Archer is free to justify its actions if they can.

Finally, as to whether my conduct was so outrageous as to justify exclusion of Child 2, every single communication with Ms. English I had relating to the incident (except for the one and only personal meeting where she announced she would not tolerate any opposition to her judgment) was by email. There were no phone discussions or meetings. I have posted every communication (including repeated pleas from Anne and me to specify what conduct she was objecting to). What’s more, the one meeting we had was audio taped at their request and they have or should have a transcript. This is not a private school record and if Archer thinks I said something inappropriate they are free to publicize it here or elsewhere.

Conclusion: Archer is at no disadvantage to publish whatever they think will help their case.

Lynn: “Whatever the outcome, I find the situation very sad. You stood up for your family, but as an outsider, who knows the truth? The school was forced to protect its own so-to-speak, and you have effectively tarnished a school for many years to come in ways that are not even known yet, as well as challenged the effectiveness of Boards in general. You said you are not litigious, but by bringing the Head AND the ABOT into the lawsuit, you are doing just that, and are helping to pave the way for lawsuits to be filed more easily.”

Forgive my bluntness but the school is only protecting one person – Elizabeth English and they certainly weren’t forced to do so and I don’t think any responsible board would have done so without the benefit of a comprehensive independent investigation.

To say I am litigious because I support the filing of this action is unfair. I am a 71 year old former law professor with a substantial expertise in litigation yet in all those years I only remember bringing two lawsuits – one in the early 70′s on a business matter and one about 10 years ago against tenants who did not pay rent. I would have greatly preferred to negotiate a settlement but Archer’s board has refused to take our claims seriously enough to warrant an investigation, let alone a negotiation.

Thus, we concluded that Civil court is the only forum that will allow us to prove our claims are true so you and Archer parents would know that the institution teaching values to our children punishes sincere and supportive parents who dare to disagree with the way she exercises her claim and use of “sole discretion”.

Parents need to know that the head of school will remove a totally innocent child from the Archer community because one of her parents persisted in asking for an alternative strategy to handle a disciplinary matter (that the director of the upper school described as minor and not worthy of a suspension or other serious sanction). Parents need to know that Ms. English is willing to substitute her own judgment as to what will be “good’ for their child over their own strenuous objections and the objective opinion of a licensed psychologist.

Before you judge us so harshly, please remember that the Board was given two distinct and separate opportunities to investigate our claims, mitigate the harm, and engage in serious discussions as to how we might contain the controversy.

In each case, they took no action other than ratifying Ms. English’s conduct and, only the day before our offer to settle expired did they suggest mediation in a form and manner that they knew would not be fruitful or acceptable. Settlement efforts should be sincere not just a tactical ploy. Archer has yet to make any effort to discuss or negotiate alternatives insisting that our action is frivolous.

Also, please keep in mind that our initial communications about the lawsuit were limited in scope and content. Archer escalated the public exposure dramatically when they tried to close the website down and forbid us from even talking about the case. And, at that hearing they claimed any effort to call public attention to the lawsuit would irreparably harm Archer. They did not inform the judge or us that shortly before, the chair of the Board sent a letter to every Archer parent calling the suit meritless and malicious (thereby impugning our motives and characters). Only then, did we write a letter to the Archer parents.

Lynn: “There are many independent schools that would file for bankruptcy and fold up if a jury awarded a $10 million lawsuit. The fact that you asked for such an incredulously large settlement for something that did not maim, permanently disfigure or result in a physical attack, etc., makes me weary.”

This suit has never been about money though we do believe that, ultimately, the possibility of a huge punitive damages award will eventually cause Archer to come to the table and discuss other ways to satisfy our demand for accountability.

You will have noted our initial offer to settle wasn’t about money. Instead, it centered on our request that the Board to conduct an independent investigation and take steps to mitigate the emotional harm on our daughters. Instead they chose to instinctively defend actions they did not investigate knowing it would subject them and the school to unflattering publicity.

Lynn: “I don’t know what the truth is, and if your family really was treated in the manner you describe — that was horrible. If it were me, I would want to rectify the injustice as well, but I really don’t see how trying to bring down the entire reputation of a school, dedicating a website to the case using peoples’ names (that also seem to be peripheral) and provide personal information about your children, and throwing the independent school community and the Archer community into an upheaval, can produce more good than harm.”

Thank you for acknowledging that IF we were treated as we say we were it was horrible. You seem to be open-minded as to the possibility that we are telling the truth but you say you are not now be in a position to know whether our description of the events is true. Well, that’s why we asked for an independent investigation of the Board before we sued. Our allegations are very serious with enormous implications for every Archer parent and you and others are entitled to know the truth. Please tell us what you would have done that we didn’t do?

Lynn: “You say that Ms. English had it out for you for years and was unreasonable and rude — maybe she was and she took it out on your children which is completely unacceptable — but your campaign seems to be doing the exact same thing you are fighting except you are including the entire school’s reputation in your offensive against one person.”

Forgive me but I do not see the moral equivalence of a vendetta originating in Ms. English’s resentment that I was not passive when she decided to repress important data about the behavior of Archer girls and irresponsibly accuse me of unprofessionalism and the pursuit of that vendetta through hidden ulterior motives that resulting in the punishment of all four of our daughters and our direct, open and explicit passionate pursuit of holding her accountable for unprofessional, unnecessary and unlawful conduct. The Board speaks for the school, not Ms. English and they have declared unequivocal support. Thus, they have put the school’s reputation on the line.

Perhaps you and I will be the only ones to read this exchange but I thank you for the opportunity to respond to your honest concerns and frustrations — Michael Josephson

 

I Trust You, Michael by Wende

If there was only one person in the world I could trust to make a thoughtful and ethical decision it is you, Michael. Your extraordinary examination of the facts of the matter and your response(s) to them tells me that your actions are not one bit reckless or knee-jerk.

Your children deserve the respect you are providing them by standing up to callous and thoughtless behavior. While many parents instantly react to any perceived wrong to their children you worked within the system to have C1 understand the consequences of her behavior and apologize and to have the school accept that a teen-ager occasionally overreacts and deserves a second chance. When the righteousness and undue punishment for all your daughters began I cannot see what other choice you may have had in responding.

Your daughter has learned a terrible lesson that a sincere apology isn’t enough when given to a vengeful person. All your daughters have learned the valuable lesson that their father will stand for what is right even when it costs more than he wants to pay. I salute you and your ongoing examination of your high ethical standards.

Keep Up the Fight by Ellen

I have religiously followed your articles whenever I needed a pick me up and a reminder that there are still some good people in this world although there seems to be a flurry of “bad people doing bad things to good people.” There is no doubt in my mind that with the legal entanglement you are describing as of late with the Archer School, that you are absolutely in the right and now you are in need of your readership who has learned so much from your commitment to making this a better world to come to your side in an empowering way.

I am an educator with decades of experience. When I was a hearing officer for a major school district, it was a necessity of mine to tease out the facts from the emotionally charged accusations and come to a compromise so that the child was not the casualty in the case.

Barring a child from graduation even though up to that point they were the exemplary student leaves me speechless. It is nonsensical and a cause of irreparable damage to the student. In fact, it should never have gotten to the point where you have to prove your daughter’s worth.

Society is seeing an unprecedented number of people sporting an “I don’t care attitude.” This is supported by their actions of hurting others just because they can. It used to be believed that justice will prevail. Unfortunately, this too is taking a back seat and giving way to more of a tribal mentality. Just as you pointed out in your article about your lawsuit, the Archer Board of Trustees threw all of their support behind the headmistress. . . .

Michael, will we ever change the evil that are exuding from so many people today? I don’t know but I am thankful that you are dedicated to this cause. In me, you have a true follower. I am hoping that justice will win out and do the right thing by your family.

Why Do You Defend Your Sassy Daughter by Girl Talk

Whenever we make choices about our behavior, we need to be aware that there are intended and unintended consequences. Your “sassy” daughter chose to continue to “sass” the adults around her – even though she was warned in advance to stop. Your daughter chose to not take her punishment, with the help of the best psychologist money could buy. The unintended consequence of her actions meant that her younger sister was asked to leave the school. This is an excellent time for your “sassy” daughter to learn the concept of unintended consequences. Not only can we hurt ourselves with ugly behavior, but we can also hurt those we do not intend to hurt.

As difficult as it may be, at a certain point, every parent needs to let their children learn their own lessons in life without hiring lawyers to slug it out in court on their behalf. Nobody will “win” this court battle – well, maybe the lawyers in fees – but definitely not your daughters. Let your daughters move on and heal at new schools, instead of dragging them backwards to relive this debacle in court, on the internet, in the newspapers, on your website, etc. Sometimes the most resolute fight is no fight at all – and maybe that’s a lesson your “sassy” daughter might want to learn too.

Response to Girl Talk by Michael Josephson 

Okay, lets assume that you are right that that my “sassy” daughter was rightfully presented with a choice between participating in the hearing and withdrawing from school in her last semester and that Ms. English had no professional obligation follow Archer policies and practices re: collaborating with parents to find an alternative sanction that met schools need. Are you suggesting that the separate decision of Ms. English to remove her innocent sister from school as a direct result of my efforts to advocate for the sassy daughter were a natural, inevitable and proper consequence? Do you not impose any responsibility on Ms. English when she chose to escalate the problem by punishing my daughter for my behavior (especially when the other parent was a perfectly behaved member of the board? Are you suggesting that the separate decision to ban all my daughters-including two long graduated- from Archer was fair and proper?

Blame me and my first daughter for our shortcomings as you see them but please don’t let Ms. English off Scott free.

 

A Full-On Debate/Discussion Started by Jennifer

So sorry for your situation and the emotional effects on you and your family. Admittedly, I’ve been scanning this article for one word: contract. When you and your wife agreed to send your daughters to this private institution, you signed a contract. Have you reviewed ALL of the paperwork to see if there is language about who prevails in a teacher vs. student conflict? The only other thing I can recommend is to consider mediation, not court.

That school isn’t the only card game in town, and while it’s very difficult for your daughters, please recognize that a lot of kids their age change schools and end up with a growth experience. You may be happy engaging a counselor if that may help. I was their age once, too; I do remember when everything was larger than life itself. Prayers for all of you.

 Brandon July 7, 2014 at 9:12 pm

Jenifer, on your comment about Archer not being the only card game in town; really, for the child who will miss her graduation, it is indeed the only card game, for a life time.

Jennifer July 8, 2014 at 11:40 am [edit]

Good point, Brandon. True, I was thinking of the younger girl. Just not to be jerks, the school should let the older girl graduate–unless it’s already happened and they’re just being jerks to her now. To be fair, I don’t know how private schools operate, but it is apparent the best conclusion would be for this school and the Josephsons to part ways, and it appears they have done. Litigation isn’t going to restore the girl’s opportunity to walk in the ceremony with her friends, in any event. This is a terrible lesson in the unfairness of the world for a young girl who should be looking forward to her next educational adventure instead of mourning this past one.

One more thing, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” This quote is credited to Buddha. Remember the example you set for your family.

Bill July 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm

From your article: “Extreme reactions of support and condemnation induce constant reflection including the realization that we are not now we we wanted to be. That the controversy threatens to grow and take us even further from our initial objective.”

Brandon July 7, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Bill, while this war has cost both sides a lot, one side will prevail. If Josephson’s facts bare out, Archer will lose big, and it should; because “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Having gone this far, this is one matter that should never see the light of an out of court settlement with stipulations that mute and overshadow bad behavior.

Indeed, Mr. Josephson has a unique opportunity to use this incident, not only to make Archer an example of to other private schools, but to impact much more broadly on the American education system. Think for example about the impact the Josephson Institute could have had, had it directly challenged the Obama administration closing down high-performing Charter Schools in D.C. in favor of forcing mostly minority and less advantaged students back into failing public school environments and where the ‘Road Not Taken” will leave these students on paths far from success. Was this not a case where good [liberal] people did nothing and evil triumphed?

Inclined to believe Josephson’s facts are correct, this is a war of belligerence he tried to avert. His diplomacy didn’t fail, Archer failed to understand its responsibility to every stakeholder, acting first in the interest of one insecure administrator and a board of sheep. Archer failed in its fiduciary duty on so many levels. I know I advised against any settlement, but if the opportunity for such were on the table it should include no less than the removal of the headmistress and every board member, at a minimum; no compromise.

My advice to Michael on his quest to know: ‘How do you do the right thing when you’re not sure what the right thing is?” Just think of Edmond Burke’s wisdom “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing [or fold because its the pragmatic thing to do].”

Sparky July 8, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Brandon, I’m not sure why you are inclined to believe that the Josephson’s facts are correct, but you have some things wrong, for sure. For instance, you ask, “was the prescribed discipline of excluding C1 from high school graduation [a one-time life’s event] over a single outburst, reasonable discipline?” Actually, no one, including the Josephsons, asserts that it was a single outburst. That would indeed be an absurd overreaction if the student was not allowed to participate in graduation over a single outburst.

I am surprised that Mr. Josephson didn’t correct your incorrect statement, seeing as you repeated in two places on his blog.

According to the school, the behavior happened before, to other staff at the school, and the parents don’t dispute this. The student was told if it happened again that she would have to face the Honor Education Council. This is apparently a group of students and faculty who are tasked with deciding what to do about behavior issues. The students are elected by the student body and receive training. So, after previous bad behavior and warning, that’s when the student was rude to the math teacher, and the promised punishment was required.

The student then had a breakdown, and the parents tried to have the punishment changed.

In my opinion, though, this would have undermined the school’s behavior guidelines. Would any student be able claim they had a breakdown, and avoid facing the council? Or just students whose parents facilitated the claim by sending the student to a psychiatrist? Or would a psychiatrist even be necessary? What about students who had taken their licks, despite being upset about it? Would they feel betrayed, and wonder, “Why didn’t I just say I had a breakdown?” Probably the school didn’t want to make a special case for this student, because it would have seemed like special treatment, and undermine their stated behavior guidelines.

Should the sister have been barred from returning to the school? This does indeed seem harsh. I don’t know anyone at the school, so I have no preconceived notions, but I can certainly imagine that they might not want to have had to deal with the parents any

more. We don’t know everything the father said and did. In fact, we pretty much only know his side. And even from his side, the behavior is unreasonable, in my opinion. In any case, the school apparently decides every year which students come back. In this case they decided she wouldn’t.

Mr. Josephson keeps stating that this was unfair, and is what people should focus on. I agree it might be unfair, but you can’t isolate this one action from all the other actions that occurred before. On punch in a fight might seem overboard, unless you look at all the things that happened beforehand.

To use one of your quotes: “When you’re in a hole, quit digging.” Nothing good comes of a lawsuit. Both sides loose- only the lawyers win.

 Michael Josephson 

Dear Sparky,

While I carefully read and consider each letter posted on this site, it is difficult to decide when, whether and how much time to devote responding to each person’s theory and judgments, especially as I have yet to see anyone change their mind even when clear undisputed facts are presented that undermine their previous views.

While I was preparing this response I noticed Brandon already responded. Still I have decided to respond personally to your letter. I assume you have no connection with any of the defendants and I want to make clear that I nor my family has any connection with Brandon, though we greatly appreciate his support and admire his cogent comments.

I think the answer to every issue you raised and more is covered in our rebuttal to Elizabeth English’s declaration recently posted on our website  http://www.JosephsonVsArcher.com  I will assume you did not have the chance to read it.

But before I try still again to paint the whole picture (as you said, “you can’t isolate this one action from all the other actions that occurred before. On[e] punch in a fight might seem overboard, unless you look at all the things that happened beforehand.”), I want to point out that anyone who publicly shares their judgment on the merits of this dispute and/or the motives and character of the respective parties has a moral responsibility to review and fairly evaluate the evidence and arguments available to them. I presume you agree.

I have learned that our case does not do well when in the form of a one-minute summary or even a short and shallow article in a newspaper. I know that very few will have the interest or patience to even read this lengthy and meticulous response. Even you may be tempted to skim it.

A major reason to seek a full trial is that juries on the other hand, are obligated to hear all the evidence before rendering a judgment.

I will address your specific questions in detail but some preliminary statements lay a needed foundation.

Our family is united (despite Ms. English’s insulting effort to suggest otherwise her declaration) in our commitment to vindicate our actions and subject Ms. English’s actions and leadership style to public judgment.

Though we are aware of the hazards and costs of litigation, we are confident that all the tools our civil legal system provides will allow both parties to develop and present their respective cases under oath and subject to the cross-examination of the other party. This rigorous process which separates facts from assumptions, credible opinions from speculations and truth from lies will serve our cause well.

Archer has raised the cost of this dispute enormously trying to prevent us from having our day in court and from exposing our respective claims to public scrutiny. They have spent many thousands of school funds trying to force us to take down our website and communicate about this case. They are spending thousands more (and inflicting costs on us) trying to prevent us from availing ourselves of all the protections of our legal system.

Because they have very clever lawyers they have a chance at succeeding, but there is a big difference between what one has a right to do and what is right to do and we will fight this effort to shut us down tooth and nail.

If Archer has its way, we will not have our day in court. No one will ever know whether our claims were sustained or not. Resolution on both our factual and legal contentions will be veiled in confidentiality, there will be no clarification of the law to guide Archer or other private schools and Archer and Ms. English will, regardless of the outcome, be free to exercise “sole discretion” in a manner that we think would outrage most, if not all, objective observers – especially those who have children at Archer.

If Archer has its way, it is likely we will not be able to discover and offer evidence proving each of our causes of action against Ms. English and individual members of the Board who were involved in various degrees in the actions that damaged our family. For example, we almost certainly not be permitted to discover many statements to staff and board members proving Ms. English’s unacceptable motives for the consistently drastic actions she took at every phase of this developing disaster. And we will not be able to discover and offer evidence of an extensive pattern of arbitrary and capricious use of her discretion in dealing with other parents and staff demonstrating the Board’s dereliction of duty to provide oversight and internal controls to prevent such abuses.

If our family is willing to expose our actions to public scrutiny what is Archer trying to hide? Since the vast amount of publicity this action has already received raises serious questions about the propriety of Ms. English’s conduct and Archer’s policies, wouldn’t you think the best way to uphold the reputation of the school is to demonstrate publicly that they did no wrong? We think they know the more the public knows, the worse they look.

Now, let me respond to the key questions/issues raised in your letter (in italics).

Brandon, I’m not sure why you are inclined to believe that the Josephson’s facts are correct, but you have some things wrong, for sure. For instance, you ask, “was the prescribed discipline of excluding C1 from high school graduation [a one-time life’s event] over a single outburst, reasonable discipline?” Actually, no one, including the Josephsons, asserts that it was a single outburst. That would indeed be an absurd overreaction if the student was not allowed to participate in graduation over a single outburst. I am surprised that Mr. Josephson didn’t correct your incorrect statement, seeing as you repeated in two places on his blog.

Let’s start with Archer’s side of the story as told through Ms. English’s Declaration.

6. The school referred C. Josephson (Child 1) to the HEC as a result of her documented history of disrespectful conduct to faculty members throughout her career at Archer. Most recently, in October 2013, the school provided Child 1 an explicit warning, after she was rude to the librarian and repeatedly disrupted other students in the library, that the school would refer any further misconduct to the HEC. Thus, when she disrupted a test during her Advanced Placement Calculus class, on December 13, 2013, by having an outburst during the test, repeatedly leaving and returning to the classroom, and making disrespectful comments to her teacher, the school followed through on its warning and asked her to go before the HEC.

Ms. English does not specify what Child 1 said but we will prove it was very mild – “this is ridiculous” and “this is unfair”. Ms. English’s declaration omits the fact that Child 1, on her own initiative and shortly after the incident apologized to the teacher and her classmates and, after speaking with her father, precipitated a meeting with Director of the Upper School, Samantha Coyne, and Dean of Students, Gretchen Warner, during which apologized, accepted accountability and expressed acceptance of the possible need for additional sanctions.

No one at Archer has ever contended that Child 1’s rude conduct in December 2014 justified or would have resulted in a suspension or expulsion. To the contrary, during a January 9, 2014 meeting with Mr. Josephson, Ms. Coyne indicated that, in view of the nature of the violation and CHILD 1 ‘s subsequent apology and acceptance of accountability that there was “no need to worry” since only a minor sanction was appropriate. She explicitly ruled out a suspension as a sanction for Child 1’s rudeness. (Complaint, para 27)

Ms. English’s reference to Child 1’s “documented history of disrespectful conduct to faculty members throughout her career at Archer” seems designed to imply that Child 1 was a chronically troublesome student on the edge of expulsion. In fact, Child 1’s history of infractions over a six year period, involved a small handful of inappropriate but mild demonstrations of disrespect – none involved profanity or violence and none were deemed serious enough to warrant suspension.

Ms. Coyne, the director of the upper school trusted her enough to ask her to babysit for her children on many occasions and Child 1′s successful application for early admission to Barnard was supported strongly by letters from the faculty and administrators counselor. Child 1 was selected by peers and faculty for leadership in the school’s dance program, and she was very active in global social causes (including spending one summer in Ghana and another in Cambodia volunteering to assist orphan children).

The declaration also fails to point out another fact Archer does not dispute: Child 1’s parents Anne and Michael Josephson had always, and in this case as well, supported the imposition of sanctions for her disrespectful conduct.

According to the school, the behavior happened before, to other staff at the school, and the parents don’t dispute this. The student was told if it happened again that she would have to face the Honor Education Council. This is apparently a group of students and faculty who are tasked with deciding what to do about behavior issues. The students are elected by the student body and receive training. So, after previous bad behavior and warning, that’s when the student was rude to the math teacher, and the promised punishment was required.

As documented in our Complaint, the Honor Council is an optional method of determining whether an honor offense has been committed and they recommend a sanction. The fact that the school originally determined that this process should be used for a subsequent incident does not “require” that it be used, especially when new and potent information as to its necessity and impact was provided.

Suppose a gym teacher informs his team that anyone who comes late to practice will have to run two laps and an athlete appears late but has seen a doctor about a leg injury. Assuming the coach believes the child and his doctor, she would impose a different sanction as forcing the child to run laps could exacerbate the injury and changes dramatically the nature of the sanction. If the coach does not believe the athlete or the doctor (as you appear to disbelieve the depth or sincerity of Child 1’s emotional disability in this case),l she should investigate further or require additional evidence before concluding that the athlete and doctor are lying.

In my opinion, though, this would have undermined the school’s behavior guidelines. Would any student be able claim they had a breakdown, and avoid facing the council? Or just students whose parents facilitated the claim by sending the student to a psychiatrist? Or would a psychiatrist even be necessary? What about students who had taken their licks, despite being upset about it? Would they feel betrayed, and wonder, “Why didn’t I just say I had a breakdown?” Probably the school didn’t want to make a special case for this student, because it would have seemed like special treatment.

A fundamental precept of good education practices and discipline is that it be tailored to the student with the goal of a educating the student. Taking into account the circumstances and likely impact of any particular disciplinary strategy would not undermine but fortify the school’s disciplinary process. Blindly ignoring credible evidence and rigidly insisting on following a strategy selected under different assumptions, on the other hand, discredits the process.

All accommodations to special circumstances can be labeled special treatment but it is improper only if other children with the same circumstances were treated differently. We are confident that Archer has never before insisted on subjecting a student to the HEC process under similar circumstances.

It is pointless and probably ineffective to state how much I resent the implication that Anne or I would trump up a phony excuse to let our daughter escape accountability for her conduct. Our history at Archer belies this contention and I have no doubt that an objective fact finder will believe we were both diligent and sincere before we decided to seek a professional diagnosis. We also resent the implication that we would seek a therapist without the integrity to give nothing more or less than an honest professional opinion.

We don’t support a system where someone can avoid a sanction just by “saying” I had a breakdown but equating what actually happened in our case to undocumented claims just to get out of an uncomfortable situation is not appropriate. We do think our history with the school and our personal reputations for integrity justified our expectation that our judgment about the welfare of our child be taken seriously and that the judgment of a licensed clinical psychologist with a sterling reputation be deferred to unless there is clear and compelling reason to ignore it.

The decision of Ms. English to ignore the judgment of credible parents and an objective expert and substitute her own conclusion “I think this will be good for Child 1” (this is what she told me at our one and only meeting) seems arrogant and reckless and it mystifies me that you can so casually support this.

Should the sister have been barred from returning to the school? This does indeed seem harsh. I don’t know anyone at the school, so I have no preconceived notions, but I can certainly imagine that they might not want to have had to deal with the parents anymore. We don’t know everything the father said and did. In fact, we pretty much only know his side. And even from his side, the behavior is unreasonable, in my opinion. In any case, the school apparently decides every year which students come back. In this case they decided she wouldn’t.

First, let’s go back to Child 1. Please consider whether effectively expelling a high achieving, well-respected senior in her last semester is, in any way, an appropriate sanction for her unwillingness to subject herself to an experience both her parents and a qualified psychologist thought could cause her severe and lasting harm — even if you think she should have. Assuming this unwillingness to appear before the HEC was unjustified, do you really think academic capital punishment was warranted. There are no other facts to justify this result other than those which demonstrate Ms. English’s deep and abiding animosity toward me (Have you read the allegations and supporting evidence demonstrating her malice?).

Second, we contend that the actions against Child 2, including efforts to drive a wedge between me and my daughter and subjecting her to enormous trauma of having to find a new school (given her high anxiety as to how she would be received as an openly gay female), simply can’t be justified under any theory of due process or good educational practices.

You say you don’t know everything I said or did. In fact you do.

Except for one meeting with Ms. Coyne and the one and only meeting with Ms. English and one of her Board members (which was recorded and probably transcribed by Archer), every single interaction on this matter was by email and every pertinent email is included in context in the memo to Support Plaintiff’s Offer to Settle provided to the Board of Trustees BEFORE we filed this lawsuit.

Ms. English was repeatedly asked in those letters to specify what she objected to and she repeatedly refused to identify anything other than a letter to two faculty members (which are inoffensive on their fact and is also included in the memo).

Please don’t speculate on what else might have been said or done. You have it all!

Please, please read all the facts re: this incident, especially regarding C2 and statments made by Board members in that context.  

As far as I know, Archer does not disagree with our statement of facts at all. Instead it relies on a provision in the hand book that gives Ms. English sole discretion to do whatever she wants without justifying her actions.

This is the incident against C2 is what caused us to bring the legal action.

It was vindictive pure and simple. It was designed to punish me and intimidate any other parent from considering opposing her rulings.

There were so many better alternatives, especially when Child 2 had another parent, a model parent, a board member, who sought to determine what needed to be done to repair the family-school relationship Ms. English claimed was damaged. We know of another incident, far more egregious, where the child of a sitting board member was not asked to leave the school.

Finally, how do you justify a decision to ban the Josephson’s older daughters who had absolutely nothing to do with this case from ever attending alumni functions, events at Archer and visiting their former teachers? What more evidence do you need of malice and abuse of power?

Mr. Josephson keeps stating that this was unfair, and is what people should focus on. I agree it might be unfair, but you can’t isolate this one action from all the other actions that occurred before. On[e] punch in a fight might seem overboard, unless you look at all the things that happened beforehand.

Anyone who takes the time to truly understand the facts will realize that my family was not hit by one punch but a whole barrage of punches, many below the belt. These events have had life-changing impact on every member of our family and we deserve a true and full hearing. And Ms. English and the school deserves whatever consequences will come from revelation of her conduct. 

Brandon July 8, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Sparky, I appreciate your questions and observations. On the matter of Josephson’s credibility having seen no information to the contrary, I’m inclined to give Josephson’s representations the benefit of the doubt until other facts prove differently. As to whether the child’s behavior happened before, I agree that’s an important fact to not miss. I appreciate the correction. I guess I focused on the comments that C1 was an involved student and generally well liked and about to graduate was a student in otherwise good standing. That said, if this behavior was recidivist to the point of [basically] expulsion just prior to graduation; where was the leadership and the Honor Education Council before? What was to be gained by pushing for purely punitive measures given the child was leaving anyway; she was graduating, right?

On balance, who are we [readers of a blog] to second guess the opinion of a psychiatrist? Mental illnesses are serious and there are federal statutes protecting the afflicted from the arbitrary actions of laymen [general education teachers] and in this case minors with limited training and zero insights. Many mental illnesses only begin to appear and only begin to become obvious in late teen years and often not until mid to late 20’s. Some such illnesses are at best difficult to treat and highly recurrent [OCD, GAD, BPD are just some examples that are brutal in their effects on the entire family]. Any parent who would allow their child to be subjected to the judgment and punishment of other children and ignorant adults should themselves have their heads examined. In fact, a parent who would allow this might find themselves in family court on charges of being unfit.

To ask “would a psychiatrist even be necessary?” is on its face a preconceived notions and an absurd question. In my opinion, yielding to the advice of what I presume was a board certified psychiatrist [letting go] would have undermined nothing. Indeed it would have been the compassionate thing to do, would it not?

Was this but one punch, or a beating at the hands of an imperious administrator? I guess we will see when we learn who cries uncle.

And, finally, if indeed the school makes annual decision which students [families] come back; what was the point?

Michael, Amen to Brandon’s comment above. Your deep involvement in this issue will not hurt the development of your daughter and may help it toward the truly ethical person or character you so constantly seek to strengthen in all of us. You also often share your own dilemmas over many issues which encourages those of us who trust (yes trust!) you to struggle with ours and be open to contrary thinkers and traditions.

You acted to thwart institutional behavior which you strongly believed had gone over the top against your entire family in relation to the “disrespectful behavior” charged against one member of it. Good for you! Too often official and unofficial groups and individuals in our society ACT on guilt by association and, as a life long educational administrator, educational institutions have such down to a fine, very righteous, point. Hang in there, Abe

Dear Mr. Josephson, I want to first set the record straight. I read your entire website, including your complaint, the emails, your oldest daughter’s comment, everything, before I posted here. I also read the school’s website, including their mission and history, and I even read their student/parent handbook, which I found by googling.

I had never heard of you or the school before the LA Times article, but the story really piqued my interest, so I spent a lot of time researching the whole story. I base my comments on this research.

Just recently I started reading your blog, and I am impressed with your advice and wisdom on ethics. I try to be an ethical person, and to me this means fighting the urge to use my biases as part of my opinion, versus actually reading and understanding all the facts. Obviously I can’t know everything, but if something new comes up I try to suppress preconceived notions and allow my opinion to change.

That said, I am sorry to say that I am disappointed in some of your statements and actions. From reading your website I am lead to believe that you have exaggerated what the school has done (or leave out or minimize what you did to precipitate their actions). For example, you say that the school has slandered you to the parents, but from what I have read the school is extremely closed-lipped about discussing anything with other parents. The reason they said anything to other parents is because you emailed first, and it’s understandable that the school would want to clarify from their side. You down-play your email by saying that you only emailed a “few dozen” people, but the school couldn’t possibly know how many–and what’s a “few dozen?” Thirty-six? Fifty? That’s a lot of people in a small school with a graduating class of 64.

I can give other examples, all from your website, but the other examples are similar. For instance, you imply here that the psychiatrist’s advice was “ignored” but this is also not entirely true. The principal wanted the psychiatrist to talk to the school counselor, but you wouldn’t sign the release.

And, hugely for me is the fact that you didn’t correct Brandon’s false statement. Brandon was the first comment, you thanked him, and he even posted it twice on your blog. I would have been really impressed if you had corrected it, but you didn’t.

You also downplay the number of times the student had been “sassy,” but how has it happened more than once? A handful of times is way too many, in my opinion.

You say that punishment should be tailored to the person, and refer many times here and on your website to your prominence and reputation. But the prominence of the family, or their donations to the school can’t be taken into the equation. That would be unfair and unethical. It’s also why the school would be wary of altering rules and requirements for people, because they could be accused of bias or prejudice –and rightly so! Imagine if less prominent families felt they were required to do things that others weren’t. That would be a slippery slope indeed.

You make a lot of points, and I don’t want to write a book here, so very briefly, you say that your older daughters shouldn’t have been banned from school functions–but this happened AFTER you filed a lawsuit against the school for $10 million. I can imagine that a lot of businesses would do the same (ban the family from their property) if they were faced with such a lawsuit. They could have been more magnanimous, but I don’t think it is so off base. As a lawyer you might have even recommended the same if you were representing the school.

You say, “Please don’t speculate on what else might have been said or done. You have it all!” But obviously that’s not true. You had several lengthy meetings, and we don’t know exactly what was said, or how it was said (except for your condensed descriptions). We don’t even know exactly what your daughter said or did, except from what you heard. We don’t know what other students who were in the room witnessed, or what the teacher’s version was, IN HER OWN WORDS. We only have your interpretation, which could be downplayed in your favor, or exaggerated against the school.

This is your blog, and I am a guest here. I appreciate that you have allowed me and others to post comments that are in disagreement with you, and I find that admirable. I apologize for bluntness, but I didn’t want to beat around the bush as this is already too long. Because of this, I won’t post again so that you have the last word. I can’t help, though, succumbing to the desire to give a little advice. Several people have said this as well. I believe we parents must allow children of that age to be responsible for themselves. Ironically it’s a mission at Archer School–”We graduate courageous, committed and ethical young women who take responsibility for their own physical, financial and emotional well-being.” Please consider this.

First, I apologize for suggesting you had been less than thorough in reviewing the facts and I thank you for taking the time to do so. That you and I come away from our posts with differing conclusions is unfortunate but I had my chance to persuade you as you have had yours to persuade me. I will post this response as I did the first both on this site and the JosephsonVsArcher site as your points and perspective are worth considering. It is always painful to discover that I’ve disappointed folks who think I should have done things differently. I will continue to reflect on my past and future actions but I have to accept that sometimes good and smart people disagree. Thank you for investing so much time thinking about this and expressing your thoughts. – Michael

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