DORSET — When John Moser agreed to step down from the Long Trail School Board of Trustees — as its chair immediately, and from the board entirely by January — he satisfied one of several conditions that faculty at the independent school had set for avoiding a threatened walkout.
Indeed, Moser’s resignation was the first action item listed in a letter signed by 26 faculty members last month. That letter also called for a “360” performance review of Head of School Seth Linfield, the addition of faculty and current parents to the board of trustees, and the removal of a school policy that would allow the school to disenroll students whose families “act unacceptably ... towards any faculty, staff, or student,” at the school’s discretion.
But Moser’s letter of resignation, addressed to his fellow trustees and emailed to the entire school community on Friday, makes accusations that the constituencies who had sought change in school governance ignored the school’s core values and used “bullying tactics” to achieve their ends.
Sources familiar with the situation said teachers were angered by the distribution of the resignation letter.
Emails to Linfield asking why he sent the letter to the larger school community were not returned by press time Friday.
In the letter, Moser, of Dorset, said he stepped down in the best interests of the grades 6 through 12 independent school moving forward. He listed accomplishments during his tenure: the completion of a field house, an increase in enrollment, the school remaining open in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and improved financial stability.
“I am proud of these achievements and to have worked with such a committed team to improve the lives and experiences of LTS students,” Moser said. “However, over the last few days when I have asked myself the question, ‘What is best for the students of Long Trail School,’ I have come to a different conclusion than in the past.”
But Moser also called out his critics.
“I have been deeply frustrated and saddened over the last few weeks to see many in our school community ignore these core values as they sought to win at all costs instead of looking for ways to collaborate for the greater cause — our students,” Moser wrote. “As much as I disagree with the bullying tactics and the demands vs. conversation practice it is my hope that by stepping down the much-needed conversations between the Board, Administration and the teachers and faculty can begin in earnest and everyone at LTS can return to and model our school’s values.”
He did not specify what constituted “bullying tactics.”
“I leave this board with only one regret. I wish the teachers knew how much every board member respects the work they do and appreciates how hard their job is. Clearly, this is an area which we could have communicated better,” he said.
“I wish only good things for the future of Long Trail School. It is a community of passionate thinkers, learners and advocates and contains so many opportunities for future success. I hope it can remedy some of the broken parts of its culture and focus on harnessing the possibilities so all students can thrive.”
Moser’s interactions with parents and faculty were cited during a Sept. 20 “town hall” meeting, and in a blog post that preceded it. Parents who organized the meeting said Moser and the board had refused to meet with them to hear their concerns about the school’s direction — specifically, the departures of about 20 faculty and staff during Linfield’s tenure, the lack of parents and faculty on the Board of Trustees, and a lack of transparency from leadership.
At the meeting, middle school science teacher Sean Dempsey recounted that in 2020, Moser attended a faculty meeting after teachers sent the trustees a letter expressing a lack of confidence in Linfield.
That’s where Moser and the teachers’ version of events diverge.
In an interview in September, Moser said the teachers’ concerns were addressed “point by point” in a meeting.
But Dempsey said Moser “literally waved our letter in our faces scolding us and preaching talking points that were not part of the issues being addressed in the letter. No discussion was held, and our concerns were dismissed as if we have no idea what’s happening in the walls of the building we’ve worked every day.”
In another email to parents who organized the meeting, Moser responded that board members “would not be dignifying this event with our participation.”
“The mission and core values of LTS ... will not be changing,” he said. “If you do not share these values, we recommend you withdraw your enrollment from the school.”
In a joint statement released Wednesday, faculty members, Linfield and the board said a two-hour moderated session Tuesday “resulted in agreements to continue to meet and repair our relationship and our school processes. The Board is planning some governance changes, including changes in board composition and information distribution.”
Instead of a walkout on Oct. 15, the entire school community will gather for “Celebrate Long Trail School” day, with the entire school community welcome.
Editor’s note: Manchester Journal editor Darren Marcy is a Long Trail School parent and has not been involved in the reporting, writing or editing of Vermont News & Media’s coverage of this story.