How it works


Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom is the essential ingredient in Clearwater education. Like all citizens in free societies, students at Clearwater balance individual freedoms with the needs of the community as a whole. School governance protects these freedoms by delineating community norms and holding students and staff accountable.

School Meeting

The School Meeting meets weekly to create rules and policies that support individual responsibility and mutual respect at school. Each student and staff member has equal opportunity to discuss, debate, and vote on all decisions that affect the community. Other schools provide debate teams or student councils, but Sudbury schools give students direct authority to govern their community and daily lives.

School Meeting decisions range from immediate problem solving to long-range planning, such as authorizing the purchase of a new drum kit, deciding to suspend a student for repeated rule-breaking and developing the annual budget. In general the rules emphasize respect for others, safe behavior and cleaning—the central issues of all democratic societies.

The rules are recorded in the Rulebook, a constantly evolving document.

Judicial Committee

The Judicial Committee (known as J.C.) is an entity found in most Sudbury Schools worldwide. J.C. enforces school rules and resolves disputes by responding to formal written complaints submitted by Clearwater students and staff. Committee members include a student Chair, one staff member and three to five students. Membership rotates enabling all students and staff to participate.

J.C. investigates each case in order to create solutions that address the needs of those involved and protect the school as a whole. J.C. may revoke freedoms as a means of reminding students of the rules, assisting individuals in changing behaviors, and protecting other members of the school.


Individuals also use mediation as an immediate way to address conflict. Clearwater staff and students draw from a range of facilitation techniques that provide the people involved in conflicts a chance to be heard. The result is increased understanding of different perspectives and creative solutions to problems.


The role of Clearwater students is to take responsibility for their lives. Learning is an active, continuous process that is neither limited to class time, nor segregated from everyday life. Clearwater students may spend their days building forts, playing music or reading books, as long as they follow the school’s rules. Their freedom is linked to the responsibility they take for their actions. Students learn how to meet the expectations of the community, and most importantly, how to set high expectations for themselves.

The adults at school are called staff, a title used to distinguish the role adults play in Sudbury schools from the role of traditional teachers. Staff are hired and fired by the School Meeting—making them directly accountable to the students of the school. Staff members never determine how students should spend their time.

Staff and students are continually engaged in genuine relationships with each other—as mentors, teachers and friends. Students and staff members play cards, read aloud or sew together. Students have the opportunity to work with staff on all school projects, learning new skills as varied as policy making, caring for chickens and painting walls. People of all ages treat each other with an openness that defies most cultural norms. Conversations on any imaginable topic take place daily. Long-lasting friendships are forged between students and staff of all ages, based on shared energies and interests.


Clearwater education works because students take primary responsibility for their learning and their school. Each day, students make decisions about how to spend their time, how to reach their goals and how to get along with other members of the community. Through this process, they gain skills that are essential in the workplace, family and society, and graduate prepared to take on the challenges they will face throughout their lives.

Diploma Process

Clearwater students leave school ready continue their education, pursue their careers, work or live in community and be happy. Most students choose to complete a high school diploma as a final step of closure of their Clearwater education.

Clearwater offers a Washington State high school diploma to students who demonstrate that they have prepared themselves to assume adult responsibilities in the greater community. Diploma candidates engage in a year-long process, creating and meeting regularly with a Diploma Committee comprised of staff members and students. Committee members act as mentors, advisers and friends, as each candidate creates and carries out a self-defined diploma project.

At the end of the year, the candidates present their projects to the school community. Past candidates have written papers, given performances, created art works, produced movies and made video games. These projects honor the accomplishments of the students and demonstrate their readiness for graduation.

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