Joint Parent Letter to the Board of Trustees

To: Karen Fisher

cc: Joan Lonergan, Chris Blair, Nanci Kauffman, Anne Ritchie (CSA) and Michele Ono (Parent Alum Board)

Date: November 18, 2009

      It is with grave concern that we write to you regarding Bear Capron's recent leave of absence. We are horrified to hear that our beloved Uncle Bear has disappeared from Castilleja.

      We request that the Board oversee the current process surrounding Bear Capron's leave of absence as directed by Joan. We want to ensure that due process is occurring and that Bear's leave is not an overboard reaction.

      Because of the cloud of silence surrounding Bear's sudden leave of absence, we have had a difficult time gathering facts. It has also been extremely unsettling to have our girls calling home from college crying to tell us of Bear's plight and questioning the Castilleja that they know and love. Many of us, not being on campus, had no idea of the unfolding drama. Though we appreciate that Joan apparently did send one email message to current students, we would hope that Joan would at least send a brief communication to extremely worried current parents as well as student and parent alums. We have heard that Joan has a lawyer and can say little about this delicate matter, but we hope for a brief communication nonetheless. The concerned Castilleja community needs more reassurance.

      This is the situation as we understand it and our concerns:

      -Joan insisted Bear take a leave of absence after hearing complaints that he showed an award winning R-rated short film (Cashback) to his 9th grade drama class. It's very important to note that the movie shown was the 17-minute short film produced in 2004 that won 14 international awards & was nominated for an Academy Award for short films. (NOT the 2006 full-length movie.) While there is no sex in the film, naked girls are used as models for charcoal drawings. Keep in mind that Othello has been shown at Casti for 10 years and is a lot more sexual than the film Bear showed. There are numerous other examples of controversial subject matter in curriculum at Castilleja: Catcher in the Rye, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Germinal, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to name a few.

      -Bear gave parents a permission slip to sign allowing the girls to watch R rated movies earlier this fall. Before showing Cashback, he did warn the girls about nudity and encouraged girls to leave if they weren't comfortable.

      -Bear is on leave until further notice as directed by Joan. The leave plus threat of termination seems like a rapid overreaction. Termination appears to be too high a price for this offense. Isn't there a sequence of steps that should be taken first? What has happened to a reasonable process? Does Casti have a written process in place?

      -We also don't understand why Bear's office was cleaned out while he is just on leave. Shouldn't that have waited until negotiations are complete?

      -Staff are worried about their job security after such swift and seemingly overzealous reaction by Joan. (What will happen to them if a beloved 20-year employee is suddenly put on leave? Will Castilleja support teachers as they have in the past?)

      -The Castilleja community is so upset that there is talk of withholding donations to Castilleja.

      -We worry about other damage that will be done to Castilleja, if Bear is fired because of an overreaction.

      -There is overwhelming support of Bear through emails, phone calls & the Facebook group, "We Want Uncle Bear Back". As of 11/18 @ 11:40AM there are 424 members of the Uncle Bear Facebook group and 372 students, staff & parents have signed the petition. The student and alumni letters to the Board are passionate, amazing and easily viewed on the Facebook group.

      -Those of us that know Bear well can attest to his amazing character, his dedication to his students and that he would never do anything malicious because he always has the girls' best interest at heart. Bear is one of a handful of outstanding teachers at Castilleja - among the truly great ones.

      -Bear is what Castilleja theater IS and has been for 20 years. Bear is always encouraging and makes learning engaging and fun. He is widely known and kids come from other schools just to be in Bear's productions.

      In closing, we hope reasonable action will be taken. We are confident that you will be able to get to the bottom of this issue. We hope you know that we have the best interests of Castilleja, Bear, our kids and future generations of Casti girls in mind. Let's get back to the five C's and great education as soon as possible.

      Thank you for your time and we anxiously await your reply. Furthermore, we would hope you will be able to provide a statement to the Castilleja community. One email to current Casti students is not enough. Damage control needs to start ASAP.

Respectfully and most sincerely,
Nancy Cox
Mary-Jo Fremont
Jacob Klebaner
Dick Leask
Barbara Means
Jeff Palmer
Trudy Palmer
Dorit Scharff

PS: You should know that while other parents agree with the statements in this letter, they are afraid to sign for fear of repercussions to their daughters. What does this say about the Castilleja of today?

If you would like to post a letter, send it to [email protected].


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