Pullman Montessori could lose accreditation following complaints of alleged student safety issues, retaliation threats

The Pullman Community Montessori school is located at the Gladish Community and Cultural Center in Pullman. (Credit: Zack Wilkinson / Moscow-Pullman Daily News)
The Pullman Community Montessori school is located at the Gladish Community and Cultural Center in Pullman. (Credit: Zack Wilkinson / Moscow-Pullman Daily News)



By: Emily Pearce, Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Rachel Sun contributed to this report.

The Washington State Charter School Commission has initiated a process to revoke the Pullman Community Montessori school’s charter.

The decision followed an investigation by the Commission. The investigation found the school out of compliance with multiple state guidelines.

The Pullman Montessori was certified in 2020 and opened at the Gladish Community and Cultural Center the next year. It started with roughly 70 students and now offers kindergarten through seventh grade. The charter is an independently operated public school that receives federal and state funding.

The commission received 43 complaints about the Montessori in Pullman since January, said Jessica de Barros, executive director of the Washington State Charter School Commission.

In a March 14 report recommending the commission start the revocation process, de Barros noted encountering multiple teachers and parents describing threats of retaliation by the head of schools, Laylah Bewick. Bewick recently submitted a letter of resignation effective the end of the school year.

Beverley Wolff, the school’s Board of Trustees chair, also stepped down, effective immediately. Montessori parent Robin McDonald will replace her.

According to the report, current and former teachers described Bewick indicating teachers’ jobs might be at risk if negative information was made public by employees.

Similarly, de Barros wrote, multiple parents described the threat or the act of school administration changing student absences from excused to unexcused, and thereby threatening parents with truancy court, for reporting safety issues.

The commission found the school deficient in compliance with student safety requirements and heard complaints from parents, including severe student bullying situations, unsafe behavior and students feeling fearful for their safety.

Other noncompliance issues listed in the report included failure to follow commission-approved educational programs, failures in financial oversight and failure to submit performance reports. 

As of March 14, the school’s Annual Performance Report for the 2022-23 school year was 165 days late.

The investigation also found the Board of Trustees frequently operated below the required number of members stated in its bylaws.

The commission will issue a notice to revoke the Pullman Montessori; the school has a month to respond. The board will review materials and issue a draft resolution on whether to revoke the school’s contract. It then has 20 days to appeal the resolution.

An appeal would go through a hearing, and then the commission would take final action, she added.

Attention was first drawn to the school at the beginning of 2024 when around 30 Montessori families called for new leadership, better communication and other changes. They expressed concern over several issues including student safety, financial stability and high staff turnover, among other things.

The Pullman Montessori, which opened in 2021, has grown to about 100 students from kindergarten through seventh grade. It was planning to expand to ninth grade next year.

The school began to lose enrollment in January. It began the school year with 113 students in August and is now at 89, de Barros said.

The commission found the Pullman Montessori was not financially viable and is deficient in safety compliance, according to documents attached with the meeting agenda.

The school has insufficient funds, de Barros said, and not enough cash on hand. She said as of March 15 the school had only enough cash to operate for 21 days, while a school in its third year of operation should have 60 days of cash on hand.

Roughly 100 online viewers tuned into the March 15 meeting. A few traveled to attend in person. About 30 people commented with the majority in support of the school.

Audri Baker, a sixth grader, said during comments that she has often been above grade level. She said she wanted to learn more outside of what was being taught, and that can do that at the Montessori.

Niki Jones, a Montessori parent, said her children are neurodiverse and have thrived since attending the charter school. She added her children were bullied by other students, teachers and administration at other schools, but since transferring her children have been able to thrive and become leaders.

Katie Kendrick, an instructional assistant, said she’s been a staff member at the Montessori for the past three years. She said the school serves students who are typically left behind by traditional models.

“Revoking the charter would be a great disservice to the children in our area.” Kendrick said. “I believe in the school. We just need time to implement changes … in order to reach our full potential.”