The Shepherd's Staff
Welcome to our community news bulletin!
August's Open House was a hit. It was deeply satisfying to showcase an educational model that cultivates an experiential approach to learning, centered on the mutual benefit of people, plants, and planet. The four unique outdoor classrooms we built with reclaimed and donated materials over the summer left people starry-eyed and smiling. It was a brilliant demonstration of what can happen when human capacity meets resource consciousness. Thanks to our many helping hands!
One week later (and one week before our program was scheduled to start), I received a message from the owners of the ranch. The county of San Diego had issued a cease-and-desist order for Little Shepherds Nature Lab, along with a $1,000 fine.
The compliance order claimed we're operating a small school (anything involving seven or more students) that requires a Minor Use Permit (for which they attached an application: $12,000 and an actual year's worth of paperwork) and a license from the state. The person assigned to our case mentioned privately that the order had been triggered by multiple complaints from a neighbor.
The owners of the ranch were able to get the fine removed; after all, we hadn't started operating anything yet, school or otherwise. However, the amount of negative pushback made them feel very uncomfortable. Perfectly understandable.
Before introducing the model and breaking ground here in Ramona, I spent over a year researching the various structures and methods by which a child who is not suited for the chair-and-desk approach and/or the entire growing list of mandated vaccinations may still obtain an education in California. To be clear, EVERY STATE-LICENSED CHILDCARE FACILITY OR SCHOOL IS REQUIRED TO FOLLOW MANDATES, and California has eliminated both religious and medical exemptions. This means homeschooling is the only option, and homeschooling is a full-time job. So, how does a single mama who is not suited for homeschooling, and whose co-parent refuses to leave San Diego, make it all work?
Step One: Move beyond the confines of false jurisdiction.
According to the United States Constitution, parents have the unalienable right to make educational decisions for their children. We also have the right to assemble. If my pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness includes participation in an empowering, comprehensive, and healthy offering for kids, who could lawfully deny it? I made a calculated bid for freedom.
The Ramona Branch emerged as a private membership association in which parents covered costs, including: compensation for facilitators, rent for the space we occupied, and food for our miniature zoo. We developed two programs: The Kinder Garden and an After School Club. We were not open to the public. As such, we did not require masks, vaccines, permits, or permission.
We did, however, require continued support from the owners of the land. It is hard to make a stand for your right to assemble when you are just a tenant, and the owners' primary goals don't depend on your presence. In order to protect and conserve the vision, I had to pull the plug only a few days before the program was scheduled to begin.
The take-away is this: WE NEED TO "OWN" OUR OWN LAND. We need a place to raise beautiful seedlings, such as The Ramona Branch, in supportive terrain. It doesn't want to cower down and play small. It wants to root deep and become a tall tree.
So, we're tucking our seed into the safe. In the meanwhile, we have a modest fundraising goal of $12,000 to help us transform a school bus into a Mobile Learning Lab and move forward with our mission to deliver regenerative educational offerings in San Diego County. Think Ms. Frizzle meets John Jeavons!
When we find a suitable place to raise a full-time kinder program, an expansion to grades 1-5, and place-based building projects for older kids, our seed will come out, shining and singing and ready to sprout.
I know, in my bones, what I need to thrive, how I am designed, and what a functional connection to life feels like in real time. The need for embodied and ecological education has never been more pressing.
Little Shepherds Nature Lab will grow on. Stay tuned!