"Jesus entered into the temple of God, and drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and over-turned the money changers' tables and the seats of those who sold the pigeons."
In some translations it's not "pigeons," but "doves," but no matter: no birds in church, please. There are some things that belong in a temple (or school) and some that do not. And when you see things that do not belong, you ask them to leave.
Letter to David O'Halloran, Headmaster, St. David's School
Dear Dr. O’Halloran,
I’m writing to follow up on my letter to you of February 16th, 2020. How do you, the Board of Trustees, Alumni Council, and faculty feel about the request to investigate former St. David’s teacher Rey Buono? A man who, I remind you, was indicted on three counts of child rape in Massachusetts last year?
I’m sure it can’t have been easy to see my letter in faculty mailboxes a couple of weeks ago, and I hope the forewarning I gave you was helpful. I apologize for any additional stress this caused, on top of the shock at first hearing about Bob Ludlow last Fall, and then the dismaying news I gave you about Rey Buono in December.
I spoke with you and Sharon Nelles again in January, and you both deflected the question I posed then of pursuing Rey Buono. So, it felt necessary to reach out again, and to include others in the conversation. And, now, to make sure David Ludlow is included.
By the way, your initial email of December 11, 2019 did not reach all of the St. David’s community. Among the more than 100 alumni with whom I’ve been in touch, for example, about half neither saw nor opened that email.
In fact, a fellow alumnus who was not aware of that email, and with whom I’ve had extensive conversations recently, was abused by one of these former teachers.
The memories of classes, friendships, teachers, and experiences on the playing fields remain profound influences on a St. David’s alumnus. Some of our teachers in the 1970s were said to have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, to have belonged to the NAACP. They walked the talk.
St. David’s was in effect a substitute parent, meant to protect its students eight hours each day, five days a week, nine months of the year. (In legal terms, this is called acting “in loco parentis,” because under tort principles of negligence, educators owe students a duty to anticipate foreseeable dangers and to take reasonable steps to protect those students from that danger).
As John Dearie writes on the school website, “The Saint David’s experience lasts a lifetime.”
Hence some of us alumni feel very connected to each other, both for the many positive aspects of the Saint David’s experience, and for the very negative ones we’re talking about here. I know what it’s like to survive abuse, and I know how survivors tend to be met in the world. We are working together and hope to include St. David’s as an ally as well.
How skillfully can the school navigate its way through a really tough situation?
You and the current staff are not to blame for what happened in the past. But – I can only assume – you areworried about St. David’s reputation and its finances, and are not sure how to move forward in a compassionate and positive way; you are pressured to weigh risks and benefits; and you are tasked with handling the anxiety of your numerous and varied stakeholders who undoubtedly offer a wide variety of strong opinions on this matter.
You are worried about alumni support, too, I imagine. And worried about the potential for publicity, especially with so many St. David’s teachers now aware of the issues. And you are also probably, unfortunately, thinking about the statute of limitations in New York and the Child Victim Act. That should not be a part of your thinking. (Schools like Milton, Deerfield, and Andover didn’t worry about legalities when they supported victims of teachers, for example).
As more and more St. David’s men come forward – and I guarantee that they will – with stories of having been sexually abused by Rey Buono and Bob Ludlow, it strikes me that the most appropriate, and mission-driven, response from St. David’s might be:
We are so very, very sorry this happened to you. Even though these events precede our tenure, we take full responsibility as an institution for allowing them to happen. How can we help you now? What do you need now to recover, to make up for lost years, to feel more whole again? We are with you – we respect you.
I’m really just asking:
1) Is it unreasonable to assume that St. David’s will believe and support alumni who were abused by Buono and Ludlow?
2) Is it unreasonable for St. David’s to apologize to them for what happened?
3) Is it impossible for St. David’s to acknowledge that what happened caused them pain?
4) Cannot St. David’s offer ways to help – or ask them/us how to help? Ways to make sure ALL alumni are reached, tended to, and offered any manner of resources in order to promote healing?
5) Would it be inappropriate to ask that you send your December 11, 2019 email or letter again, in some form that would guarantee it be opened, with a subject line indicating its importance, in order to attempt to reach those who did not see it?
Finally, might current, long-retained St. David’s teachers who were colleagues of Ludlow and Buono volunteer what they knew about these men back in the 1970s? “In loco parentis,” that would in fact be their legal responsibility. Some of these teachers even remain Facebook “friends” with Buono. And without a doubt, some knew what was going on, and how the abuse was handled (or not handled) by the administration at the time.
Let’s be straightforward: we are talking about boys aged nine through twelve who had adult men fondle them, and force them into sexual acts, inside the classrooms at 12 East 89th Street.
Do you seriously think that this news will not soon become public? Wouldn’t it be better to get ahead of any media probing?
By my own count, so far, I know of six St. David’s alumni who I describe as survivors. And as anyone knows, where there’s six, there’s probably more like sixty who aren’t talking ... yet.
Given the accumulating stories about these former teachers, the fact that New York County District Attorney Nicole Blumberg of the sex crimes unit has been alerted (indeed, at your request), given the power of several St. David’s alumni who are aware of these men, and the potential for journalistic investigation and indeed civil suits against St. David’s, it’s time to act.
By not acting, you align the school with an indicted sex-offender, Rey Buono, and thereby implicitly support his colleague, the accused Bob Ludlow. That’s startling.
Wouldn’t it instead be wonderful for St. David’s to take leadership in this particular sphere? To, perhaps, create a $5 million fund (from the school’s $70 million endowment) to support survivors? To educate? To heal? To put St. David’s mission into action? To win the respect of parents, alumni, and indeed the greater New York independent school community? Could money raised by the recent gala at The Plaza be directed towards such a fund too? (In order to come out from “Behind the Mask,” a theme that is eerily ironic given these circumstances).
Can you tell me why it would not make sense to do something like this? To join other schools that have done similarly? Other schools that have had the bravery to be upfront and public?
Or should we alumni instead disbelieve everything we read now and knew in the past about St. David’s? Are current students really, really learning that, “Respect lies in the heart of a good man, and empathy lies at the heart of respect,” as you, Dr. O’Halloran, write on your blog?
These are not rhetorical questions.
In all my communication with St. David’s, my intention is to shed light on a problem and to help others in need, the same way you would call 911 if you witnessed a car accident. That’s it. St. David’s taught me – us – to recognize we are all part of a whole. My own Zen training and vows teach the same value of compassionate action. As does the Bible, especially in Matthew 21:12, in which Jesus raises his voice against the money lenders in the temple. He was calling 911. He stepped forward. He spoke, loudly.
And I doubt he ever used the word "motherfucker," but I suppose it's possible that he thought it.