Education

St. Mark’s Response to Ploegstra Story: Ignore It

Administrators appear to think that this will all just go away.

Yesterday we broke the news that St. Mark’s employed for 28 years a man named Henry Ploegstra who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old at a previous teaching post at Phillips Exeter Academy. That is what Exeter called it: sexual assault. They covered up the crime when it happened and allowed Ploegstra to resign, only last week revealing to the public what had happened. In that sense, Exeter finally did the right thing.

Now it is St. Mark’s turn. So far, they are not doing the right thing. Administrators there are avoiding talking about Ploegstra, who retired in 2012. They have stuck their heads in the sand and are, from all appearances, hoping this ugly story just goes away.

When the Morning News ran its story, the paper noted: “Administrators at the Dallas school did not respond to several requests for comment on Thursday.” Heck, Ploegstra himself talked to the paper. But not St. Mark’s.

My first call (and email) yesterday morning was to the school’s headmaster, David Dini. I talked to his secretary, who told me he was “with someone and couldn’t take the call.” I explained in detail why I was calling and left a message for him. The secretary called me back a little while later and told me that Dini was “off campus for the day and couldn’t talk.” Instead, I was told to contact the school’s director of communications, Katy Rubarth.

Let me stop here and drive home this point: a reporter is calling about a longtime former employee who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old at a previous job. This is kind of a big deal.

So I have to assume that Dini’s secretary spoke with him, and he decided, for whatever reason, not to talk to me. He told his secretary to tell me to call Rubarth. And I have to assume that Rubarth, in turn, was given the heads-up that I’d be calling. Because, again: big deal. Yesterday, I called and emailed Rubarth. I called her again this morning. No response.

This avoidance is not encouraging. Problems don’t go away if you ignore them. Exeter told St. Mark’s about Ploegstra in 2013. They’ve known about it for five years. If St. Mark’s administrators don’t have a plan to talk to the media when they call, then it’s hard to believe they have a plan in place to talk with a student who might come forward. 

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Comments

  • topham

    I think they’re dopes if they won’t talk to you. But being unwilling to talk to Tim Rogers does not itself demonstrate that they just want this to go away or that they have no plan to talk to students. You just don’t know, and your overt and implied conclusions smack of journalistic hubris. The monks taught you better than that, I’m sure.

    • That is why I pointed out that the News also can’t get a comment from St. Mark’s. The school has dodged 100 percent of the reporters (that I know of) who have called. And it’s not so much that I think they should talk TO students; I think they need to be RECEPTIVE to any student who might step forward and wish to talk.

      • topham

        David Dini has sent an email about this to the school community. (I’m an SM alum, from long before Ploegstra’s time.) The last line reads, “Should you ever have concerns, we urge you to contact the School directly.” So, I hope they will be receptive and transparent (keeping privacy in mind), if anyone does have anything to raise about Dr. Ploegstra.

  • micklethwait

    Just out of curiosity, what do you think the school should do? The impression this article gives is that you’re whining about not getting a phone call answered immediately, but it’s unclear what action the school isn’t taking that you’re concerned about.

    • The school didn’t return calls from both me and the DMN. They’d known about their Ploegstra problem for nearly a week. The AP and others had reported the news over the previous weekend (without drawing the St. Mark’s connection). So by the time they got calls from local reporters, they should have been able to answer those calls and explain what steps they’d taken to reach out to their alumni and let them know what was going on—and, most important, establish an open line of commination for victims, if there were any.

      The school did eventually send such a letter to its community. They did that on Friday, at 4 p.m., two days after they’d gotten calls from me and the DMN.

      • micklethwait

        So…in other words they were in the process of reaching out to people who might have been affected? I dunno dude, that’s some pretty staggering solipsism if you think “not doing the right thing” equates to not returning your all-important phone call at a time like that…. As a side note, how is Friday “two days after” Thursday? Why would you exaggerate that when the timeline is right here on this page and you literally wrote it?

  • Kyle Reese

    “Ploegstra, who retired in 2012. … Exeter told St. Mark’s about Ploegstra in 2013.” Without any more facts, it’s sort of hard to pin blame on them. Please spell out the controversy for St. Mark’s because I’m just too dense to get it. I mean, we are all shocked and horrified by kiddy diddlers, but how can there be a failure to act or take corrective measures if there is no knowledge to base it off of? It’s probably just my shitty Jesuit education that has me so perplexed.

  • Alex Muse

    Dude, you’re scary… I don’t blame anyone who is reluctant to talk to you! 😉

  • John Smart

    Why are you contacting St. Mark’s about something that happened 13 years ago at another school? Mr. Poegstra been retired for 6 years and, to my knowledge, there was never a problem while he was at St. Mark’s. Had there been, the school would have dealt with it properly. Where’s the story? Remember when you wrote funny stories for the Met about putting your boogers on a toll booth? You should go back to that type of writing.

  • Thomas Brown

    I’ve done some research into you, and I’m aware that you’re a Cistercian alum. Although you may think that libeling St. Mark’s is a good way to help quench your thirst for victory in the rivalry between these two private schools, I’d recommend different tactics, as doing this will make you and your alma mater look bad.

  • Billy Clyde Tuggle

    Well, I don’t know. I’m an alum, and I was very uncomfortable with the email that went out to us. It reflected a complete lack of interest in knowing whether anything happened when he was at SM. And faculty and students who were there with me at the time heard the gossip, so don’t pretend you didn’t. Of course, I wrote it off as gossip since I never saw anything, but now I wonder if it was more than that. I also wonder if someone made a more credible complaint that was subsequently ignored. That’s the sort of thing I would have expected the school to assure us it was looking into.