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Cover Story

The ESD Sex Scandal

When an exclusive private school discovered a teacher was sleeping with a student, administrators did their best to make the problem vanish.
illustration by Mark Ross
Campbell slid his letter of resignation across the table. In it, he accepted full responsibility for his actions and closed by offering his “heartfelt apologies.” Campbell taught his last class of the day and was escorted off campus by CFO Chris Burrow. Before leaving, Campbell told Burrow he’d had sex with Emily. Even though ESD filed a report with Child Protective Services the very next day, the school never told Emily’s parents. They didn’t learn that a teacher had had sex with their daughter until a week later, when CPS interviewed Emily.

When Mayo announced Campbell’s resignation at an emergency faculty meeting the morning after he’d quit, there was a visible and audible reaction from the crowd.

“We know the shock of our students will be about 10 times what it is here,” Mayo said.

She told her faculty not to speculate about the reason for Campbell’s abrupt departure, assuring everyone that he and his family were in good health. That same day, Mayo and Royall grilled Emily, asking her explicit questions about the nature of her contact with Campbell. She continued to deny it had been sexual until meeting with CPS officials the following week.

In meetings with Emily and her parents in December 2009, Royall and Mayo repeatedly reassured the girl she wouldn’t be forced to leave ESD. This was Emily’s main concern in coming forward, as Campbell had told her she’d be kicked out if anyone ever found out about the relationship. Emily’s father, Paul, said Royall and Mayo were going to be her “best friends” until she graduated (all family names have been changed for this story). He encouraged his daughter to go to them with any concerns. Royall suggested that Emily should enter therapy and offered the school psychologist as a starting point. She also asked Emily’s parents to consider changing their daughter’s cell phone number so Campbell wouldn’t be able to contact her. Royall told Emily her door was always open and that she was there to help her get through this difficult time.

In the coming weeks, Emily would follow ESD’s recommendations about therapy and confiding in Royall and Mayo. She reported hearing several rumors concerning her involvement with Campbell. Days after Campbell resigned, Emily’s French teacher approached her after class and asked, “Are you the reason Campbell had to leave ESD?” Emily was hurt by this question, and immediately told Mayo, who reprimanded the teacher and threatened to fire her if she continued to gossip. That same day, Mayo sent an email to the faculty, reminding them not to speculate about reasons for Campbell’s exit.

Emily was attending regular sessions with her therapist, Dr. Laura McCracken. Mayo saw signs of improvement in Emily’s emotional state, especially as she began to express anger toward Campbell for the first time. But Emily’s feelings about Campbell weren’t always negative, and she’d often wonder aloud to Mayo why he hadn’t tried to contact her or if he’d told his wife. During Christmas break, Emily would call Campbell’s house and hang up as soon as someone answered. She also drove by his house several times, but never went in.

When the new semester began in January, the rumors persisted. On January 22, Marc Salz made an appointment with Mayo to discuss Emily’s inappropriate behavior from the previous year when he’d been her adviser and shared an office with Campbell. He said Emily had pressed her breasts against him during chapel and had sent texts to other teachers. He hadn’t thought to report it at the time, but considering the rumors about Emily, Salz wanted to make sure he set the record straight on their interaction and his feelings about it. Mayo never approached Emily about these accusations.

photo courtesy of People Newspapers
A few days later, two more teachers made reports about Emily. Susan Weil told Mayo that a group of students in her yearbook class said Emily had asked a couple of girls to see if Campbell’s wife was wearing her wedding ring. Weil reported the incident because the students were visibly uncomfortable and the conversation had disrupted her class. Hours later, theater teacher Elaine Biewenga shared a similar story with Mayo. Her class was also fixating on the wedding ring story, and though Biewenga hadn’t heard Emily’s name as the source of the request, she inferred her involvement.

Mayo considered the ramifications of Emily’s purported request. No longer suffering in silence, Emily was disrupting the entire campus. Feeling Emily was a long way from closure, Mayo met with Royall and Swann, and, without input from Emily, her parents, or her therapist, the trio of administrators decided Emily had to go.

In an email that would become central to the civil case against ESD, Mayo wrote to Royall: “I don’t want the girl haunting the halls with her sad story for the rest of the week.”

Emily’s father was summoned to the school on January 27. Paul had a lot on his mind that Wednesday morning. Emily was headed to the East Coast the next day to tour her first-choice college with her mother. It had been about two months since he’d learned about his daughter’s relationship with her teacher. He and his wife were in therapy of their own, trying to cope with such a shocking revelation. Emily seemed better, though, and her therapist reported progress and signs of healing. Paul had never looked at Royall and Mayo as anything but allies in Emily’s path to recovery. He met them that morning with a smile.

“I’m here today to offer you two choices,” Royall said. “Withdraw your daughter today, or we will begin the process to expel her. There is no Door No. 3.”

Paul went numb.

Royall said that ESD was no longer a healthy environment for Emily. The entire school community was associating her name with Campbell’s departure. If he withdrew Emily, she’d still receive college recommendation letters from her teachers, and the family would be given a refund for the spring semester tuition, which was more than $10,000. If ESD had to expel Emily, there’d be no helpful accommodations. Paul asked if he could have a few days to think about the decision, but he was told he couldn’t leave the room without making a choice. If he left without signing the voluntary withdrawal form, Emily would be expelled.

Royall consented to a phone call, and Paul reached his wife at home packing for Emily’s college trip. Sharon was stunned. She begged Royall to reconsider.

“Kids have done worse stuff than this and gotten to stay,” Sharon pleaded.

But Royall said, “This comes straight from Father Swann. You have no say in the matter.”

Paul hung up the phone, and Royall slid the withdrawal form across the table. With the stroke of a pen, Paul ended his daughter’s 11-year education at ESD.

Meanwhile, Emily finished up what, unbeknownst to her, was her last English class with Mayo. As Emily walked out the door, Mayo addressed her.

“Have a great trip,” she said.

On the advice of Emily’s therapist, her parents waited until after the college visit to share the news with their daughter. On Sunday night, as Emily was laying out her homework for the next day, her parents called her into the living room. Sitting her on the couch, her father delivered the painful news. Emily went into hysterics, and her father had to hold her down. Emily asked her father if he fought for her.

“They didn’t give me a choice,” he said through tears.

At that moment, Emily felt her whole world collapse. First Campbell had betrayed her. Then she’d been fooled into believing Mayo and Royall were her allies. In the end, she was cast out from ESD, just as Campbell had predicted. Worst of all, any doubt that she’d been the one involved with Campbell was erased by the clear signal of her leaving.

“Now everyone is going to know it’s me!” she cried out.

That night, Emily barely slept, and when she awoke, her mind was filled with thoughts of suicide. Her parents frantically tried to enroll her in a new school, one that met her unique academic and athletic needs. At Emily’s request, they also contacted a lawyer.

“I’m tired of getting stomped on,” she said. “This isn’t right.”

In the following months, Emily would bounce around at schools before finding the right fit. She filed criminal charges against Campbell in February, and the police began investigating her claims. She continued therapy and met Charla Aldous, a heavyweight Dallas attorney known for winning big settlements. Aldous told Emily the relationship with Campbell and her resulting expulsion from ESD hadn’t been her fault, that she’d twice been a victim of people abusing their power.

The civil suit against the school was filed in May, and Campbell was arrested in July for sexual assault and improper student-educator relationship. Around the same time, Emily earned an athletic scholarship to the college she’d visited after leaving ESD. Entering her senior year in high school, with college plans and a new social circle intact, Emily, it seemed, was finally moving on from being a victim.

But then came the civil trial. In September, ESD’s CFO, Chris Burrow, was deposed in the case. That deposition apparently gave him an  idea, and he called Campbell. “Hey, buddy,” he said in a message left on Campbell’s cell phone. “I want to pass on a little information that might be helpful. I’m not going to ask you anything, but I will tell you something.”

Campbell was taken aback. No one from ESD had contacted him for months. He sought the advice of his lawyer, Mark Nancarrow, who recommended that Campbell call Burrow back and record the conversation.

“One of the things you ought to know about is, it’s a little vague from what exactly she says happened before she turned 17. That’s really,
really important for you,” Burrow said on the phone. “I’m thinking it will really work in your favor.”

In Texas, 17 is the age of consent. Campbell kept his responses short and prodded Burrow for more information.

“Is there anything you want me to say on behalf of the school?” Campbell asked.

“You were using vehicles for school reasons. That’s what they will have,” Burrow said, adding there wasn’t any proof that Campbell had improperly used his school credit card, cell phone, or laptop. “The case is weak. It’s just her word.”

Campbell asked Burrow if there was anything he needed him to do.

“One thing you need to make sure you do is protect me on this, in terms of sharing information with you,” Burrow said before telling Campbell three times to “bide his time” in the criminal case. “Wait until our part is over. Then figure out your situation.

“Rebecca [Royall] and I both are very, very hopeful you come out of this in the best, best possible way you can,” Burrow said in closing.

Campbell told Burrow he appreciated the sentiment and ended the call. Stunned, he gave the tapes to his lawyer, who mailed them to Aldous. This set off a chain of events that resulted in Judge D’Metria Benson, who was assigned to the civil case, turning the tapes over to the district attorney, likely so that the matter could be investigated for witness tampering. But not before Aldous had made a copy.

The civil case was contentious from the outset. About two weeks before the trial was scheduled to start on June 6, ESD requested a change of venue from county to federal court because of issues surrounding the school’s 501(c)(3) status. This was eventually denied, but it delayed the trial date until July 25, which angered the plaintiffs, who had hoped to have a verdict before sending Emily off to college.

When the trial finally began, it was a parade of big-name attorneys. Lisa Blue Baron helped Aldous & Co. pick an all-female, all-minority jury. Despite joining ESD’s defense team only days before, State Senator Royce West cross-examined the first witness. Behind him was an accomplished team of attorneys from Locke, Lord, Bissell & Liddell, including partners Chrysta Castañeda and A. Shonn Brown. Eventually, former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins represented ESD in court as well. Aldous primarily relied on partner Brent Walker, a young
but capable attorney, and longtime friend Cyndy Goosen, of Cooper & Scully.

Father Stephen Swann, ESD’s founder and headmaster, was called as one of the first witnesses on July 28. On the stand, Swann was aloof at best. He testified that at the time of the affair, he wasn’t aware of the age of consent, or that it was always illegal for a high school teacher to have sex with a student. His long pauses between answers seemed more calculating than compassionate, and it was hard to sympathize with a man who showed so little empathy for a victim of sexual assault. Aldous dropped a bomb during Swann’s second day of testimony, accusing him of lying about his knowledge of another case of a teacher having sex with a student. ESD promptly objected, and the judge declared the court in recess so she could rule on the matter.

Swann returned to the stand for his third day of testimony in a clerical collar. But the cloth failed to increase his believability, and he frequently replied that he didn’t recall a number of events and details. During cross-examination, ESD’s attorneys elicited information about Swann’s consumption of memory-altering medication, providing a questionable explanation of the priest’s inconsistencies in testimony and arguably invalidating all of it.

On the stand, Burrow cited memory loss as well, though not chemically produced, and said he couldn’t recall any details of his conversations with Campbell. Arguing for ESD, Coggins doubted the authenticity of the recordings and said he didn’t believe Burrow would recognize them as his own voice. Burrow did contradict himself on the stand, however, when he said the reason for calling Campbell was to “conduct an investigation” and ask him “important financial questions.” The recordings showed that Burrow explicitly stated he had no questions for Campbell. Instead, Burrow offered him information he’d learned in his deposition that might be helpful for Campbell’s criminal trial. Burrow would say only that the voice “sounded like his” and that he couldn’t confirm or deny its authenticity.

In its defense, ESD clung to the fact that Emily and Campbell started having sex during the summer and never had intercourse on campus. They also called witnesses who disparaged Emily’s character and said she was “sexually suggestive” and “overly friendly” with teachers. On the stand, Emily was demurely dressed and still looked very much like a child. But the ESD community seems largely resolved to blame the girl for ousting its most popular teacher. On blogs and message boards, people asserting ties to the school decry Emily for seducing Campbell and then bragging about it, claims that have never been verified in court.

Rebecca Royall gave testimony on three occasions, each time offering a different version of history. Her deposition statements were delivered coldly, showing no concern for Emily. Royall initially said she didn’t care one way or the other what happened in Campbell’s criminal trial, but by the time her third turn on the witness stand arrived, she was asking “for justice to be served,” and calling Campbell “completely stupid.” Her feelings toward Emily also evolved. In her deposition, Royall said she wasn’t sure whether Emily had been sexually abused. On the stand in front of the jury months later, Royall referred to Emily as “sweetie” and said she didn’t blame her for being a victim.

On August 15, the day Emily testified, a group of ESD students sat in on the proceedings. They took care to duck out before being seen by their former classmate. After Emily took the stand, representatives from Lisa LeMaster’s crisis-specialist public relations firm released a statement on behalf of the school. They sent out another release weeks later, after the recordings of purported conversations between Campbell and Burrow were played in court. Rumors circulated that the firm was hired by a disgruntled group of parents, but ESD maintains LeMaster, who put two children through the school, volunteered her services.

In an email to alumni on August 29, Swann described the trial as “a difficult and stressful time” for Emily and her family, but as an “enormously difficult situation” for ESD. Several families pulled their children out of the school as a result of the relationship coming to light, and at least one student besides Emily entered therapy. Emily’s graduating class walked the stage without her, but the experience of a peer’s sexual abuse was an education in itself.

Although the relationship ended nearly two years ago, tales of the affair still haunt the hallways at ESD. Students now entering the upper school weren’t even on the same campus as Emily, but with current teachers serving as witnesses and the trial spilling into the 2011 school year, the story just won’t go away. All the efforts of the ESD administration to squelch gossip have ironically led to a lawsuit more public and damaging than any whispered rumor ever was.

When the school called its first expert witness, Dr. David Thompson testified that Emily was negligent and culpable for the crime perpetrated against her because we all have a reasonable duty to exercise care of our own body. He maintained he didn’t “blame” Emily for what happened, but that by telling someone, she could have prevented some of her own sexual abuse.

None of ESD’s administrators expressed any remorse for their handling of either the circumstances that led to a teacher sexually assaulting Emily, or her subsequent departure. Swann repeatedly stated he had no regrets, save for the fact that Emily wasn’t allowed back on campus to clean out her locker. Despite testimony that Campbell used his ESD-issued credit card, Suburban, cell phone, and email account to perpetrate sexual assault, his employer maintains it would do nothing different in monitoring his activity.

On the stand, Emily emotionally recalled the moment she saw the relationship with Campbell for what it really was.

“I learned I was used for a sick man’s game,” she said.

Write to [email protected].

UPDATED, Sept. 21: After eight weeks of testimony and three days of deliberation, a jury found ESD liable for fraud and gross negligence. Total punitive and compensatory damages awarded were more than $9 million.

ESD board chairman John Eagle testified that the school had learned its lesson and planned to make changes. “If there was some way I could’ve taken this back, I would’ve,” he said.