This is Episode 4 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
Out of Step
Now with Karen no longer serving as district liaison, word went out that if anyone was interested in pursuing an emergency teacher’s credential, this would be a great time to do so; otherwise, say goodnight to that element of Bell Springs Collective. That was when I decided to go for it. I already had my bachelors degree from San Jose State, so I figured I would take a stab at it. Karen, Beth and I went down to talk to Brian Buckley, the superintendent of Laytonville schools, and told him about the plan. He was very supportive, and it was nice that I got to meet him and work with him, because it gave me a leg up on the middle school job down the line, the one that was to occupy me for the next sixteen years.
Now, however, I was on the track to getting a California Teaching Credential within one calendar year, so that when school opened again in the fall, I would be the bonafide contract teacher. Brian had granted my request for an emergency credential, with the stipulation that I complete the credentialing process within one calendar year. That made sense to me, because I could not see stretching that out any longer than necessary.
The situation was very straightforward. The members of the collective had repeatedly been available to help Imika out with problems brought on by her being a single parent. The community as a unit pitched in and helped because it saw this person in need. She had an infant and more serious problems, such as disappearing for three days, seeming to forget that she had a daughter. However, the inability of Bell Springs to convince Imika that the schoolwork had to be consistently addressed turned out to be the beginning of the end. From the collective’s perspective, the child belonged in school five days a week; otherwise she was going to end up well out of step with her peers.
Imika was outraged that the child had been dismissed from the school. She felt betrayed even though members had tried to impress upon her the sense of responsibility that the collective required. The resulting bitterness was to have an unending effect on her; her very soul was rocked-albeit, unintentionally-off of its fulcrum. Over the course of the next year or so, and actually at least until 1996, which was when she filed her final lawsuit against members of the collective, Imika allowed her actions to be swayed by this bitterness.
Whether she was mentally ill, emotionally imbalanced, plain angry, or some combination of the three, I do not know and I do not care to conjecture. She was who and what she was. My focus is on the way the community-her community-came first to her defense, and then, later, to Misha’s defense. Imika went about the business of using the legal system to pursue her own agenda, in an effort to discredit Bell Springs, because she felt as though she had been stabbed in the back. It does not matter whether or not her logic made sense to us. She was relentless; she spent hundreds of hours in the court library and she defended herself because she could/would not pay for a lawyer.
As a community the members of Bell Springs did everything in our power to avoid conflict. However, when the legal proceedings dictated that we defend ourselves, we hired a lawyer. As I relate this narrative, my goal is to present the dual stories of my efforts to obtain a California Teaching Credential, and Bell Spring’s efforts to retain the integrity of the collective and its members.
Chronologically, events unfolded as Imika began to protest that there was too much traffic going by her house, both in the mornings and in the afternoons. The traffic created dust and the dust coated everything, Imika said. As early as 1985, she protested to Joe that the traffic past her house was unacceptable. With the most students ever enrolled at this period in time being fifteen, and some of the kids carpooling, there could not have been more than five or six vehicles on any given morning. It didn’t matter how many there were; it only mattered that there was vehicular activity and it annoyed her. Joe’s response to her complaint was that he believed he had unlimited right to use the easement.
Imika continued to register her complaints with Joe. In addition to regular school traffic, she complained about special school events, and she reported that children had once thrown rocks at her horses. In August of 1987, she told Joe he had until the end of 1988 to limit the use of the easement to her satisfaction, or she would take him to court. By the end of 1988, she maintained that the use of the road had not diminished. On January 14, 1989 Joe wrote to Imika, insisting he had unlimited legal access over the road for his school. On February 27, 1989, Imika filed for an injunction to limit Joe’s use of the road easement to its level of use in 1982, when there was only a trailer for a preschool on the site of the school.
She asked/demanded that the collective start parking its vehicles on the far side of her house, and walking the last two to three minutes, past her residence to the school. It was an unreasonable request by any yardstick, and yet, we went along with it. No one liked the vibe that Imika emitted in those days. She was so acidic that parents did not wish to subject the kids to her negative energy any more than absolutely necessary.
So we walked for a period of time, until she again protested that our presence every morning and afternoon was annoying and unacceptable. By this time, no one would have blamed us if we just ignored her, or better still, went back to driving past her house. However, the same spirit that moved us to acquiesce to the initial requests, now required that we once again go along with her further demands.
The only feasible way around the dilemma was to construct a path below her place by maybe two-three hundred feet, so that we could gain access to the school, without having to pass by her house. It seems preposterous that one individual would impose her will on a group of unwilling individuals, but no one had the interest nor the energy to pursue an acrimonious course of action. It was infinitely easier to gather everyone together one Saturday and simply cut a 42 inch wide path into the side of the hill, leading from Joe’s place, straight over to the school, a distance of maybe two football fields, end for end. It didn’t even take the whole day, and we were feeling good about the way we had dealt with the problem.
Nothing worked. We still needed to keep a vehicle at the school during student hours in case of emergency, so that still meant at least one vehicle going past her residence. All of the events came to a head in March of 1989. Imika had filed the road easement lawsuit in February, Misha had been dismissed from the collective, effective at the end of the school year, and I was no longer working for her.
And then one day, I got a phone call.