On July 30, 2020, Jason Baldwin, a teacher at The Hockaday School’s Child Development Center, was arrested on child pornography charges, as part of a national investigation by the FBI. Baldwin had worked at the Child Development Center (which teaches both boys and girls from 6 months through pre-K) since 2014, and before that the 28-year-old had been employed by Greenhill and the Parish Episcopal School’s summer camp. When Baldwin was arrested, he admitted to purchasing videos—using a PayPal account that listed Hockaday’s mailing address—featuring young boys and girls performing sex acts on themselves, other children, and men. He also told authorities that he had been addicted to child pornography for eight years. His case will go to trial on January 11.
When the school sent out emails informing parents of Baldwin’s arrest and subsequent firing, head of school Dr. Karen Warren Coleman said, “Please know that our highest priority is providing quality care and instruction in a safe, secure, and nurturing environment.”
That was the part that rankled Tracy Walder. She knew that wasn’t so. Not because she had been a teacher at Hockaday’s Upper School for almost a decade, before her surprise resignation at the end of 2019. She knew this because her daughter had been one of Baldwin’s students and, she says, the victim of a different kind of abuse from him. And, she says, she had told the school this.
So, on November 11, Walder filed suit against Hockaday and Baldwin, on behalf of her daughter and herself. You can read it all for yourself, but this is the summary:
“The narrative that Hockaday has led the public to believe is not true as it hired a depraved, child porn addict to work with young children in its Child Development Center, it failed to properly investigate serious injuries that were caused by Baldwin to S.W. [Walder’s daughter], it ignored and failed to investigate reports of ongoing abuse to S.W., it failed to properly investigate after a CPS report against Baldwin, it retaliated against Ms. Walder for speaking out on Baldwin’s actions and reporting him to CPS, and it fostered an environment where incidents of harm to its students would either be ignored without meaningful action or would go unreported by employees at Hockaday due to the threat of the employees being ostracized and punished for reporting. In effect, Hockaday created a toxic and unsafe environment that sacrificed student safety in order to keep up Hockaday’s appearances.”
(In a written statement to our sister publication, People Newspapers, Hockaday says Walder’s suit “contains misstatements” as well as previously investigated accusations. “The safety of our children remains Hockaday’s most fundamental duty and value,” the school said. “Since learning of the prosecution of Jason Baldwin, Hockaday has undertaken a comprehensive audit, conducted by external experts, of all relevant policies and practices, from hiring protocols to the security of its facilities. Hockaday will continue to take every step at its disposal to protect the safety and wellbeing of its students.”)
I wrote a profile of Walder that ran in our February 2020 issue, timed to the publication of her memoir, The Unexpected Spy, which largely focused on Walder’s time at the CIA and FBI. But in the last chapter, she wrote about the career she had moved onto, the career that she had intended before getting sidetracked by intelligence work: high school teacher. Specifically, she had spent almost a decade teaching at The Hockaday School, not far from the Starbucks where our interviews took place.
Given magazine lead times, I finished up the reporting and writing of the piece in early December 2019. By the time we had her on our EarBurner podcast in late February, to promote her book, she had resigned from Hockaday. I was surprised by the news, and she didn’t go into much detail. Now I understand why.
According to her suit, Walder had originally intended to leave Hockaday midway through the fall semester, but was “guilt[ed]” by headmistress Coleman into staying on “for the sake of her students.” When I talked to her Wednesday afternoon, Walder says the decision weighed on her, because she couldn’t talk about it.
“It was difficult,” she says. “I think it was really hard to not tell my students. That was really tough, even though they had asked me to keep it quiet. And I think, Zac, I love my students very much, and I respect them very much, and one of the things as a teacher I’ve always prided myself on was being very forthright with them, very honest with them. And if you show them that respect, they’ll show you that respect back. And so in a way, I felt like I was—I don’t want to say being dishonest, but because questions would come up about next semester, next semester, next semester, and I knew I wouldn’t be there, but I couldn’t say anything. So that just was really difficult for me.”
But she knew it was the right decision, one that had been coming for more than a year.
It began, as the suit alleges, with an incident on the playground in late August 2018, when Walder’s daughter was 3 years old. Baldwin was pushing her on a swing and, despite her protests that he was pushing her too high, didn’t stop. She fell and landed awkwardly on her left arm. When Walder picked up her daughter that afternoon, another staff member brought her out and, only after she complained about her arm in front of her mother, mentioned that the girl had fallen off the swing. (Baldwin, the suit says, would later tell school officials that she had fallen off the swing on her own as she was trying to climb onto it, a claim the doctors treating the girl would dispute.)
I recall when my son was that age, and even the slightest incident at his school, with no one at fault, was accompanied by paperwork and phone calls from teachers. The lack of anything like that in this case preyed on Walder’s existing doubts as a mother.
“It’s this weird line, right, of—and I don’t mean to get into this at all, but sometimes I question myself a little bit,” she says. “My daughter was conceived using a surrogate, and our surrogate stopped talking to us when she was six months pregnant. And so we went through, obviously, a really traumatic situation with her birth, and so parenting for me and what the expectations are have always been really hard to wrap my brain around. Am I being too much or too little, or—that traumatizes you a little bit and then sort of carries on throughout the process. You wonder, am I being a helicopter parent? Right? Am I being too much? I don’t know. I don’t know what the norm is supposed to be.”
Walder later took her daughter to a doctor and X-rays revealed several fractures. “Once we got the X-ray that it was broken, I think that’s when I sort of broke down. I guess I cried. I got upset that, why was this not documented? Why did I not find out about this until I just casually picked her up at the end of the day? Why was I not called? What happened? I think it kind of went to anger, a lot of anger and frustration, but then that anger and frustration is clouded by the fact that I work here. I have to see these people every day. Right? So you have this really complicated set of emotions.”
The playground incident was enough to cause that complicated set of emotions, but that was just the beginning. Walder brought the matter to the school’s CFO. According to Walder, the CFO said she “had no problems with Jason [Baldwin] and loved him and her kids did, too.” The CFO sided with Baldwin and no disciplinary action was taken. Baldwin continued to teach her daughter. But now, as the suit says, he held a “grudge” against Walder’s daughter for almost getting him into trouble.
“After S.W. started classes with Baldwin S.W. would frequently come home, cry, and throw multiple tantrums. As a young child S.W. could not fully express herself but during her tantrums would tell Ms. Walder statements such as ‘school is not fair’ and ‘Mr. Jason does not like me.’”
Walder saw some of this for herself when she was at school. Once, her daughter complained that she didn’t have a spoon for her yogurt. Baldwin told her she had “White people problems.” Eventually, she brought her concerns to another school official, Angel Duncan, the head of the Child Development Center. Duncan waved it off as adjusting to a new teacher. Baldwin continued to teach her daughter.
Walder’s daughter had begun to bite her nails until her fingers bled and obsessively blink, as she became sad and angry and withdrawn. When the school year ended, she told her mother that Baldwin would lock her in the bathroom with the lights off for crying too much. A professional counselor reported the allegation to CPS. And still, Walder says, nothing happened. She recalls school officials telling her that kids make up things all the time and that it was her word against his, and they had no reason not to believe him. Eventually, the grudge against her daughter became a grudge against her mother, too. Finally, after a meeting with the headmistress in October 2019, Walder decided to resign.
“I can work in a difficult environment. That’s not tough for me,” says the former CIA agent who was stationed in Afghanistan, among other places. “I think that when I had that moment with (the headmistress), I realized that my daughter and my issue was just not important. She just truly didn’t care. And I think at that moment, I realized I don’t believe in this anymore. I don’t want to be here. That was my turning point.”
Which brings up the central question in all this: why? Why, if you believe Walder, did the school turn against a dedicated, decorated teacher and neglect to investigate someone who would, soon enough, be arrested for a vile crime?
“We do have some theories, but I don’t want to speculate at something that could end up not being true, so I think it’s probably best not to speculate,” says Walder’s attorney, Grant Gerleman.
Gerleman says that they’ll get get an official answer on file from Hockaday within the next week or two. “Then, after the answer, they can either engage with us and have the conversation that frankly we wanted to have with them before we even filed the lawsuit, or we would just go through the discovery process and then they would have to turn over documents to us, and we would get to learn more about what investigations, if any, Hockaday did into these incidents, what they knew about Baldwin, what their processes are. And then we’ll really get to the bottom of a lot of these issues that we’ve been bringing to the attention of the public.”
Here is Hockaday’s full, written statement about the lawsuit:
“The safety of our children remains Hockaday’s most fundamental duty and value,” the school said. “Since learning of the prosecution of Jason Baldwin, Hockaday has undertaken a comprehensive audit, conducted by external experts, of all relevant policies and practices, from hiring protocols to the security of its facilities. Hockaday will continue to take every step at its disposal to protect the safety and wellbeing of its students.”