The Episcopal School of Dallas (ESD) has a history of teachers and administrators abusing and mistreating its students.
Harvard Law Review warns of ESD Dallas's "unprecented expansion" of a law designed to shield religious schools from criminal and civil penalties. "If followed, they could leave students and their parents without remedy or recourse for wrongs committed by religiously affiliated schools."
Tuition at ESD Dallas is about $30,000 a year, with about 1,000 students in pre-K through high school. That's an annual gross of $30 million. Religious private schools often do not pay income tax on tuition revenues, property taxes on real estate, nor capital gains taxes on interest from their endowments, either. ESD Dallas's endowment is estimated at $100 million.
Because of the publicity in the Jane Doe case (below), many parents withdrew their kids from ESD and enrolled them in other private schools in Dallas. And big donors don't want to be associated with abuse.
The Board of Directors of ESD Dallas has substantial incentive to ignore abuse and mistreatment, cover it up, block criminal investigations and civil depositions, and further hide its complicity, which can cost millions if such stories get out.
The separation of church and state is an important part of the First Amendment -- but it shouldn't mean churches are entirely separate from the state. It shouldn't mean that religious institutions should be immune from local, state, and federal laws the rest of us have to follow.
The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is intended to keep courts from deciding religious questions. Say a Southern Baptist group fires a minister for dancing, which is prohibited in many communities of that faith. The minister sues for wrongful termination, because what's the big deal? It's only dancing. With the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, courts likely will not hear that case. Courts shouldn't decide what beliefs are appropriate for any religion or those who practice it.
But what if, instead of dancing, the issue is the abuse and mistreatment of children in the care of ESD Dallas, or other violations of the contract ESD signs with parents?
In one case, Jane Doe v. The Episcopal School of Dallas, teacher J. Nathan Campbell manipulated a 16-year-old girl into a sexual relationship. He tormented her emotionally. When the school found out, they allowed him to resign quietly. The school didn't even tell her mom and dad. Later ESD Dallas even expelled the girl to avoid "distractions" with other students and teachers.
One administrator, CFO Chris Burrow, counseled Campbell on how to dodge a statutory rape charge. In the civil case over the student's expulsion, ESD Dallas forced a change of venue, so the delay would overlap her first semester of college. The school hoped she and her parents might feel more pressure to settle out of court.
In her deposition, Chief Academic Officer Rebecca Royall testified she wasn't sure the girl was even abused at all. At trial, the school's lawyers called witnesses to disparage the girl's reputation, calling her "sexually suggestive" and "overly friendly."
Rev. Stephen Swann, founder of the Episcopal School of Dallas (ESD) and its headmaster for a quarter of a century, claimed he "didn't know" the age of consent in Texas is 17, or that sex between a teacher and a student is always illegal.
A jury awarded the girl a $9 million verdict. The school settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. In the criminal case, the teacher received no jail time, just 10 years of "deferred adjudication," a kind of probation.
After the Jane Doe case, the school hired a new headmistress, Meredyth Cole. One day Cole's underage son announced a "day drinking party" on Twitter and hosted it at their home when his parents left town and left him alone. Many kids smoked marijuana, too. Cole let off every student, including her son, with a choice of detention or community service.
In another incident, student Paul Patterson wasn't treated so kindly. He and a friend left school, a violation of school policy, for fast food in his car parked in an empty lot. The school had a "three strikes" rule -- a one-day suspension, a two-day suspension, and finally expulsion. Both boys were tested for marijuana. Patterson's drug test was negative. Even if his drug test had been positive, it was only Patterson's first strike, and he should've received, at worst, a one-day suspension. Instead Cole expelled Patterson from school entirely. Apparently she didn't like him very much because he had disagreements with her son. The other boy received only a one-day suspension.
When his father sued ESD Dallas for a return of tuition fees and for emotional distress, the school argued that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine makes the school immune from such lawsuits. ESD Dallas argued that because it's a religious school, it has no duty to follow the law, and all disputes should be resolved within the school.
In short, ESD Dallas said they can do whatever they want and secular courts can't stop them.
While the Pattersons won their case in trial court, a lower appellate court overturned the verdict. The Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case. That means the judgement of ecclesiastical abstention is still on the books as legal precedent -- a basis for similar cases in the future.
I would like to know what constitutes a religious school. Is ESD owned by a church?
✔ Response from webmaster: ESD is not owned, managed or affiliated with a church. ESD was founded by an Episcopal priest and began using the name for that reason. The school sprinkles the curriculum with enough light religious curriculum that it can appear to be affiliated for the marketing benefits that brings, while still being able to attract families of all faith and no faith. Only 11% of the students claim the Episcopal faith and several are agnostic or atheist. The Episcopal church claims the school is an "auxillary" which has no legal meaning and insulates the church from legal liability. So to answer your question crisply, what makes a school (or day care center or assisted living facility, etc) "religious" in the State of Texas (this varies by state and has not yet been tested at the US Supreme Court) is the fact that the entity merely represents itself to be "religious".
Abuse and mistreatment can happen anywhere including at religious institutions. The problem with ESD is that the insular central command has no oversight. when they are responsible for the mistreatment, the victim has no recourse. The top people investigate themselves. If the Head of School causes the problem, which has happened every time at ESD, the only recourse for the victim is a lawsuit. That is why ESD has been sued so often. There has to be a better way.
ESD is not the only religious school that abuses and mistreats children. Dallas Lutheran School had a teacher who sexually abused a 17 year old boy. When busted the teacher left the school but was given a good enough recommendation to get a teaching job in a different state. Instead of addressing the matter and apologizing, these schools just circle the wagons and deny. Here again the court system is of very little value. Like ESD, the case went to court and was successful at the Dallas district court level (where the facts were presented), but the Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court stand in the way of a resolution for the student and parents. Threatened with religious immunity, the parents are being forced by the school to sign a document stating that the school was not responsible in any way - which they clearly were. ?
Thank you for this website. My son is graduating this year. By raising the visibility of the problem, you helped us get through without suffering the irrational behavior of the past. Discipline seems better thought out now. Please keep it up. As soon as the heat is off, the school will probably revert to its old ways. But we are finished with the school at last.
To the parents of Lovett boys: I was one of Cole's victims. If you have boys who are athletic, popular and fun-loving (meaning they l joke around at school with other boys, never disrespectfully), then you need to leave Lovett now. Cole has a personality defect that causes irrational behavior toward this group. The more popular they are the more hostile she becomes. It may have something to do with the girls school she worked at for 26 years like maybe the girls were also complaining about boys who did them wrong. Or maybe it has to do with her own childhood and she has unresolved issues. But she needs professional help - seriously. it is clinical. She covers it well but that is because she is afraid of being exposed. Maybe it won't rear its ugly head because she is afraid of losing her job again - but I can absolutely tell you that this is in her heart.
Don Carty is the chairman of the board who fired Cole. Good for him. But what has he done to stop the abuse and mistreatment? The board is still the same. Carty only cares about his own kid.
I just found out about the D Mag article and this is ridiculous. My kids certainly aren't going here. Imagine expelling child with an unblemished record (in the middle of his important junior year) who was grieving his mother's death for simply being in the car with a child who smoked pot. The kid should have gotten an award for standing up to peer pressure because he didn't smoke and had a drug test to prove it. And to top it off the kid who actually smoked was the son of the head of school who got no punishment. Ridiculous. So the board fired the head of school OK, but where was the board supervision? This school seems to have a pattern of damaging vulnerable kids.
It hasn't changed much if at all. The Board is still full of numb nuts who don't do anything but sit around and congratulate themselves on their self-importance and the money they have made. Baad is better than Cole but nothing else has changed. The executive committee and board don't care about the kids - except for their own.
So glad Cole is gone. Mr Baad is so much better. He had experience before he came which Cole did not.
ESD has had a lasting impact on me. Prior to ESD, I attended Fairhill for a year and a half and Holy Cross Lutheran for a year. Fairhill gave me confidence and even cockiness. It was the 1970's. I think Fairhill was one of the first places it was okay to feel good about yourself. At holy cross, it was mostly snickering and giggling. ESD knocked any confidence right out of me. My main takeaways from ESD are body dysmorphic disorder and later in my twenties: flashbacks. Nothing is all bad, though. ESD prepared me for a career in public service, if I could survive the awful, overbearing, and arrogant John Coke, sterling may, and Richard roever,what a fine example (albeit bruised and battered there), dealing with irate and upset customers is a walk in the park. I have to credit the place for giving me a love of books. Also, I learned to seek out older people as friends. With one exception, I was very fortunate that way. I remember visiting the school for testing. I was asked if I wanted to go to ESD more than any other school in town. Not wanting to upset my parents and taught to always be polite, I answered "sure". If I couldn't go to Fairhill or move back to phoenix, then I figured this place would not be any worse than any other institution of secondary learning-how wrong I was! Steve swann was a nice enough guy with lofty and laudable goals. However, even at the age of eleven, I thought the place reeked of pretension and pomposity. I was quirky and admittedly socially and emotionally immature.in those hallowed and homogenized halls where uniformity and conformity, I was that worst of all things: different. I realize the forum is geared for recent events at ESD, but I would like to thank the webmaster for a safe place to vent about the school that scarred me. I found the uniforms degarding and demeaning. My observation is that the uniforms fostered and instilled the idea in the kids (unconsciously) a sense that being different and not fitting in is a bad thing.
To student - In response to post defending ESD, let me just say that nearly all of what you say is true and this website never intended to indict all teachers or all administrators at ESD. Nearly all of them are dedicated and fair-minded and we apologize if the website implied that to you. The problem was with a few bad apples, who consolidated power at the top and filled the vacuum left by Father Swann. They were self-serving, self-indulgent and incompetent. Unfortunately the damage caused by them has damaged the reputation of a very fine group of teachers and lower level administrators. And the many students who were not victimized by the cronyism, got a very good education coupled with emotional and spiritual growth. But the problem at the top left many children scarred - and scarring even one child is inexcusable for someone or some group who purports to truly care for the children and whom the children are taught to respect. And, as you have eloquently stated, it is true that bad apples are unfortunately not infrequently hired into these positions . The thing that makes ESD different, as Jan Heimlich writes (see excerpts in this website), is that there are no internal controls at ESD to catch these abuses. All power is centralized in one person and the board is extremely passive and exists only to raise money. That is what has to change at ESD. And that is why this website was launched.
I cannot speak for the school now, but I attended the school for 7th and 8th grade from 1975 to 1977. This was roughly the time the movie Carrie with sissy spacek and John Travolta came out. Let me tell you the upper-class, church-going children of E.S.D. made the teens of Carrie seem like model students filled with decorum and kindness. At E.S.D, I was bullied and called "toad" by John Coke, Sterling May, and Richard Roever. There were others, but these "good kids" still stand out after all these years. Also, there was the humiliation of being "de-pantsed" in gymn class by Eva mccrary. I do have to hand it to these ideal children-I was never physically hurt or even threatened-they were too smart and that would have been "unchristian"! When I tried to tell an adult, I was asked to think of a solution, my idea of getting an older teen to rough these guys up was met with outrage. I was asked if that was what I was learning about turning the other cheek! I will give Steve Swann the benefit of the doubt about whether he knew what was going on, but the teachers would have had to be deaf, dumb, and stupid to not know about the teasing and taunting!
Your December D Mag article above quotes Cole as saying: "They are students who are at their pinnacle ..... yet the judgment was to do that." She referred to several boys defecating on the St Marks . The hypocrisy is profound. Here is a video of Cole's pathetic son, also presumably at his pinnacle. How does she live with herself?
For anyone who has any doubts about it, Cole's departure was not voluntary. She was terminated. She hired a broker in the summer of 2016 to sell her house at 6428 Tulip Lane. Yet her new position at Lovett wasn't announced until November 2017. So she spent over a year looking for a new job and finally snagged one.
ESD Must Change- It already IS changing. The new administration is so much better, not only in the high school, but in the middle school. The new administration actually cares about the kids and is doing everything that they can to make ESD a better place. From what I have experienced being a student here for most of my life, ESD is a great place, but like any school, had a few issues. This website is ignoring all of the amazing things about ESD- like the amazing teachers and community. For someone to portray the school in the way that they have on this website. they must be one of two things- 1. a parent whose looser child was kicked out and is now trying to take revenge, 2. someone who is speculating and has not been inside the school enough to analyze how it really works. I respect that someone may think the things that are written on this website, but these are problems that are exaggerated and that every school has, to some degree. ESD is a great place, that had some iffy administration- like any school. But to say that the whole school is full of child abusers and is corrupt is slanderous and incorrect.
OK I admit that I attended a few parties while at ESD including the drug and alcohol darty at Clay Cole's house. But I never got expelled or even in serious trouble thankfully. After the lawsuit was filed, they became very gun shy about punisment - even when it was deserved. But just in case, I kept this photo of Clay Cole's father sharing a glass of wine with Clay's 16 year old sister. I would have had no problem suing it against her if she had tried to expel me.
See letter from new Head of School brought in after Cole was fired. He says he supports Cole's disciplinary decisions which makes no sense because parents are told the discipline files are destroyed after graduation. That language had to come from the school's lawyer Ron Breaux or the Chairman Don Carty. It sounds like a CYA statement so they wouldn't get sued again. But then Baad adds that discipline is not supposed to be a "brick wall" which we know from the D Magazine article that under Cole it was. So this sounds like an admission that he doesn't support Cole. One way or the other it is more of that Orwellian Doublespeak that characterizes the language of so many bureaucrats and their lawyers these days - including of course ESD.
I don’t know who you are, but what you are doing by creating this “website” is immature and are using as a way to make yourself feel better for whatever reason. In case you don’t know, ESD has found this website and will figure out who you are soon. If you want to avoid getting in trouble for creating this profound website. I recommend that you please take this website down before it’s to late.
A great man once said “Our educational policy must enable everyone who receives an education to develop morally, intellectually and physically and become a worker with both consciousness and culture”. The principles are clearly lost at ESD. Facts and logic can not be found at this establishment.
The problem is that school administrators are normally not the best and brightest (there are exceptions), but can make great administrators for their caring hearts and mission focus. The problem comes in when an administrator does not have a caring heart and is in the job for power, self-aggrandizement or money (or worse yet for sexual gratification.) Meredyth Cole was in the job for money and power and this was her first chance to make money and be powerful in her 26 years of toiling away. And she blew it. It is now over. She has been fired. Lets all let this episode go.
Please don't use profanity when posting. Profane posts will not be published.
School punished students based off of rumors and no evidence. If you attempt to defend yourself then you are immediately assumed as guilty. Teachers are awesome admin blows. Good school if you want your children to learn about all the rights they don’t possess while attending school. Also Mr. Ogelsby has a small wiener
It seems the management of Episcopal School of Dallas is now aware of our website. How do we know? Well on Dec 12 and 13 2018 they attempted to bring our site down by stuffing our posts with nonsense words and horrific photos. They were attempting to crash it but did not succeed.
Whoever is doing this please tell your superiors that we actually welcome a healthy debate and counterpoint to what many disgruntled parents, faculty, and students have been posting here all along. Why not engage us with your facts, your points of view? We would love to receive it, we would love to be persuaded. If you have nothing and your response is to try to bring us down it only validates the whole point of this website -- that ESD must change.
Honestly ESD was awesome. All these lawsuits against the school are dumb. But yeah I loved raging tits out with the boys every chance i got. Buncha smart kids with good grades who know how to crush brews left and right. Esd, pretty dope school. Highly recommend your children to go there if you want them to be dope and smart at the same time.
ESD was great. Crushed brews left and right like they were candy. Went to college nothins changed. Still gettin A’s and forgetting 30% of each week. Y’all chill. Trash bags aren’t a crime. Stop giving your 18 year olds curfews it isn’t healthy.
Not sure who started this site but thank you. ESD is filled with complete corruption and protection of unworthy individuals. You can now see why so many teachers come and leave the school so easily. 12/12/18
Most of the board doesn’t do anything. The executive committee and their trusted few run everything. They don’t care about the children - except their own children who are coddled and protected. They care about raising money, building buildings, self-importance and pomposity.
I think its beyond stupid that the court would say that ESD is not held liable for its abuse and mistreatment of students. Even if it were a church these cases should go to trial. But ESD it not even close to a church. It is a freakin' school and run like the business that it is. These idiot judges need to be thrown out.
I think the problem rests partly with the search committee headed by Cullum Clark and Nancy Perot. They couldn't have found a less worthy person. Meredyth Cole had no experience in administration. Her only experience was in fundraising at an all-girl school. I guess the search committee decided that money was the main goal and if she raised enough money, it didn't matter what happened to our kids.
Even though ESD tried to spin it, it is clear to all that Meredyth Cole was fired and that Donna Hull was demoted for their misbehavior. At least ESD did the right thing on that.
Why is it so hard for ESD just to apologize to the children they mistreated and move on? They fired Cole and demoted Hull so it is quite obvious that they understand the problems they caused. But they are so afraid of admitting it that the story just lingers. Get it over with guys! You will be much better off. Plus you owe it to the victims.
Donna Hull is a bad person. She is rigid and inflexible and will do anything to stay in good graces with the boss. She is afraid of Cole. This was Hull's first opportunity to step into a higher paying job and she wanted to keep her job. She doesn't care about the children - but she talks as if that is her highest priority. Very deceptive person. Don't trust her. ESD was smart to demote her and get her out of an authority position.
Ron Breaux was the lawyer the school hired to help Meredyth Cole avoid lawsuits - and the only one with the power to stop her abuses. He had a troubled child at ESD who was absent and tardy a lot. The TEC requires students with ten or more absences to be reported. Because Ronald Breaux's son had exceeded this number, Meredyth Cole expunged his absence records. In return, Ron Breaux protected Meredyth Cole and her personal vendetta against boys who disagreed with or teased her son. Meredyth Cole and Ron Breaux had a cozy club and they along with Donna Hull ran the upper school - until the Board figured it out and fired Cole and demoted Hull.
I worked in the office at ESD and saw what Meredyth Cole did to kids and I didn’t like it at all. But I couldn’t stop it. Neither could Jeffrey Laba who actually liked the kids (which Cole and Donna Hull did not). One time during the John Doe case, Cole came to my co-worker and asked her to get her son to write a letter saying John Doe tried to get him to smoke pot - which absolutely never happened. Cole was afraid for her job over the case - and with good reason. She was disliked by nearly everyone.
ESD says that Meredyth Cole found another job but the truth is that she was terminated. The couldn't fire Cole and Donna Hull right out because they would have testified against ESD at trial. So they told her to start looking instead - and they demoted Donna Hull. When the court ruled that there wouldn't be a trial, she was gone in a hurry. It serves Cole's, Hull's and ESD's purposes to make up this untrue story since it deflects attention from the mistreatment and litigation.