An Alumnus' Perspective on The Skinny-Dipping Incident (part 2)

Lethargy in Lancaster: Senior Survival Part 2

The purpose of this multi-part submission is to share a part of this story from my perspective.  Please note, the chronology is based on the historical events and how I became aware of the incident and the events that followed.

 "It was like being on an Island. I have never felt so alone in all of my life.” – Burt

See Part 1

Monday, November 13, 2017:  Impressed to call Burt, I learned that he had attended a meeting the night before.  This is the second of two meetings put on for the pastor and teacher.  The first was the joint meeting on the evening of October 30, 2017.  This meeting was coordinated by the School Board Chair, and was in violation of SNEC Working Policy.  Oddly many parents who attended the October 30th meeting shared similar accounts.  Usually, when you ask a group of people about an event, you get varying perspectives.

As people arrived to the meeting, a SNEC Administrator stopped the female pastor and informed her that she was on administrative leave and that she could not be present for this meeting.  However, the School Board Chairmen countered the claim and the pastor and teacher joined the girls, parents and other attendees to discuss the skinny dipping incident.

The meeting begins and multiple parents, in front of their girls, aggressively questioned Burt about his motive and actions bringing forward his concerns about skinny dipping.  These parents wanted to know why it was such a big deal to him and accused him, among other things, of going to the media.

In the words of several witnesses, one parent “viciously” attacked Burt’s daughter, who didn’t participate in the skinny dipping activity.  Repeatedly questioning, “Why should SHE feel so uncomfortable?”, which seemed to imply that she (the student) had a low self-body image.  The parent also attacked this student for telling her parents about the incident.  Another parent read a portion of a two-page letter that was prepared in advance.  Pumping her fist and stamping her foot for emphasis, this parents oratory included anger that a parent would 1) accuse the pastor and teacher and, 2) report this to people outside of the church and going to the media.  

As far as I know, Burt never went to the media about any of this.  He went directly to the principal, which is the correct step according to the SNEC working policies.  How did this parent know who and what the concerns were to write such a dissertation prior to the meeting?

I can only hope these parents questioning Burt's daughter didn’t know how confrontational things had gotten in the woods between her and the pastor when she said no.  Burt's daughter apologized to her parents later saying she had to be almost disrespectful to the pastor as she insisted she would not go skinny dipping.

To the aggressive parents, Burt expressed his belief that his daughter should be able to express concerns anytime to her parents (Burt and his wife).   Adding that when sharing the experience in Maine, the daughter's comment was “Hey something weird happened…”   This prompted him to take time to contemplate the seriousness of the matter before bringing his concern to the principal on behalf of his daughter and the other girls.               

As the meeting went on, the pastor admitted they bathed nude with the girls and complained that “The Conference does not do enough to protect them in situations like this.”  That “it’s very hard to be a Chaperone” and “That it was for bathing and hygienic purposes.”  The teacher said that as the chaperones it is their job “to empower the girls.  It’s what we do”.  She also addressed Burt and said, “You should’ve known about the consequences of going to the principal” and told Burt that he should have gone to her first.

Meanwhile, girls that wanted to speak were forbidden to by their parents.  Some were crying.  Some spoke in favor of the pastor and teacher, stating they “don’t want this to get them in trouble or fired” showing that somehow they (the girls) are to blame for actions made by their pastor.  SNEC Admin and the School Board were losing control of the meeting and emotions are so high that other parents, who have never met Burt before, stepped in to defend him.  One parent stated that their concern was “the students were put in a position that was inappropriate… and it’s a problem.”  Another spoke up and said that, while he wasn’t passing judgment on the chaperones, “this showed a signigicant lack of leadership on their behalf.”

It is my opinion that this meeting was designed to bully and put on notice the “snitch.”  Potential snitches were to choose their side right then and there!  And it worked, for in the weeks to come many will share their story and want something done but will be unwilling to stand up.  In their words:

"I just don’t want this to define my daughters’ senior year",
"You don’t understand the bullying that goes on at that school"
"This is awful, I’m so glad I have boys"

Witnesses stated that there was no remorse or repentance from the pastor.  The teacher offers an apology saying “I’m sorry it happened” but then followed that with being “sorry for the inconvenience.”   Witnesses said that neither one of the chaperones took responsibility for 1) offending or making the girls feel uncomfortable about themselves, 2) creating an intimate relationship with them (meaning the pastor and teacher),  or 3) that they left students unsupervised.

October 31, 2017   DCF completes their investigation.  They find both chaperones in neglect as a direct result of the skinny dipping incident and failing to supervise all the children, adding that the actions of the pastor and the teacher will affect the children involved for years to come.  I won’t learn about the DCF findings until the middle of December as the Conference repeatedly states throughout November that the DCF Investigation had not been completed.

 October 31, 2017   School issues an optional day off.  They named it “Mental Health Day”, as some girls were emotionally distressed as a result of the joint meeting.

November 10, 2017 (Friday)   SNEC Administration reinstates both the pastor and teacher to full duties. 

(5:43pm) –- An email notice is sent to parents with a message from the Conference President/Communications Director stating that a meeting was going to be held at the College Church on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. to provide further context.  The message stated the meeting was for SLA board members, College Church board members, and parents of girls on Senior Survival trip, but not the general students.

Burt arrives to this second meeting as late as possible, attempting to avoid being accosted.  He attends because he feels obligated to, slipping quietly into the back row.

The Conference takes the lead on this meeting and it is much less explosive.  Attendees are notified that both pastor and teacher are being reinstated with no limitations because the state found no criminal actions had taken place.  (Apparently our church's standard is no longer any higher than what is permissible by law.)  They then take some questions.  It was stated that the Pastor was put on leave to protect her.  Protection from what?  Is he saying the pastor needed protection from the girls?

As the meeting wraps up, Burt raises his hand and asks not once, but twice “What actions are being taken to address this issue with the girls?  The leadership replies, "You can bring your ideas to me after the meeting."  Apparently this has not been considered and will not be discussed here.  What about the girls?  How is it that this has all become about the pastor? 

The number of parents upset over the pastor and teachers behavior is now growing.  Feeling very strongly that Burt and Ernie, needed to talk, I suggested an introduction via phone call weeks prior.  They adamantly refused.  Ernie admits he dislikes Burt for all the drama he has caused.  He doesn’t see how the girls deciding to bathe is any of his business, if that’s all it was.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME…!!!!!  More on this in part 3!

An Uncle of mine explained to me our educational and conference structure.  He explained how the NAD, North American Division and SNEC have written Working Policies.  SNEC’s version can mimic NAD’s or make it more stringent, but not less.

A call to Risk Management was eye opening.  The moment I said “I’m calling to speak to someone about the Skinny Dipping on the South Lancaster Academy Senior Survival trip” an attorney greeted me.  And I daresay, that greeting came before the operator had time to finish her automated Segway….“Just one moment, ple…”.  The Information provided echo’d my Uncle's.

I didn’t make it to my office or my favorite diner for a grilled muffin the next day.  I was so compelled to visit the Union Office.  Without a clue whom I would speak to I rescheduled the day's appointments and headed east.  I learned more than I expected at this Union office.

Memories flooded back as I pulled into the Union.  Mom was assistant to the Gleaner Editor years before.  The rear entrance was locked up, but it had an intercom.  A full minute after depressing the button a voice answered.  Requesting entry, it asked if I had an appointment. “No, but I am willing to make one and possibly wait.  It said “No”. Seriously?   “You will have to leave and call them for an appointment.  So I'm standing there arguing with the intercom; (IDKY) I text a friend within the fortress; “Hey I’m outside the Union Office, can you let me in?” 

An employee pulled up and approached me or rather the door with the keypad.  He seemed annoyed by my presence.  After repeating my appointment request, he echo’d, ”No.”  He added “You don’t just walk into the White House without an appointment.”   Really? He compares the Union Office to the United States Government?

He repeatedly reached around me to get to that stupid keypad as I stood my ground.  Okay it was a little aggressive, I admit.  I questioned the intercom and locks.  He informed me there had been a bomber some time ago.

I suggested that injury in a car accident coming to and from work was more likely.  I recommended a little faith and consideration of the offensive stance the locks presented to the constituents.  FYI- this whole story was a little more colorful, but my editor…

He asked me to leave.  Checking my phone, hearing nothing back from my inside man, unable to cross the moat, I left. 

The reply from my friend came as I cut the engine at the Conference Office.  Catching up on the families, I asked if they had heard about senior survival.  They had not.  Keeping it brief, I learned they chose SLA for their kids because it didn’t have horrific stories of abuse and inappropriate behavior that other Academies had.  I was sad to hear other schools were having issues.  They were disappointed to hear my concern.  I suggested they check my facts and let me know if they heard anything different.  I have not heard from them since.  

I left the Conference Office with a heavy heart. 

It is my understanding that the Administration Committee had asked the pastor to attend a meeting for the purposes of reinstatement.  At the meeting she plead the fifth on her attorneys’ recommendation and stated that she had already given her statement to the President.  With lack of details, no copy of the DCF Findings or even an official statement from her (the pastor), four of the eight Adcom members abstained from voting and four voted to reinstate. 

Now I understood how the pastor and teacher were reinstated.

To be continued….