Anglican Watch has received disturbing allegations of physical and emotional abuse of a fourth grader at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Edmond, OK. The allegations involve Fr. Mark Story, the rector of St. Mary’s church and someone directly involved with the school.
The youth allegedly was previously abused by a family member. As a result, his mother enrolled him in the school, feeling that it would be a safe place for her son.
But on April 5, 2023, things went sideways with the school. Here, in the mother’s own words, is what allegedly happened:
On April 5, 2023 at approximately 11:15 AM, I got a call from Pam Doctor, headmaster at Saint Mary’s Episcopal School. She asked me to come pick my son, [redacted] up from his fourth grade class because he was being “disrespectful.” I asked her what he had done to be disrespectful, and she told me that he was balled up in the middle of the floor with his hands over his ears, crying. I asked how that was disrespectful. She mumbled that he had had a bad day and that he needed to be picked up. I told her I was at the doctor and would come as soon as I got out.
I told her that I had been meaning to call about the classroom environment in Mrs. Shannon Goodspeed’s fourth grade class. My son has had several panic attacks under her care since Jan 9th, when he had his first panic attack….
I have had extremely good reports and poor reports from the teacher about his engagement in the classroom the past months, while he was off meds.[redacted] constantly complains that the classroom is stressful and Mrs. Goodspeed just yells instead of teaches. She has reported that [redacted] has lost interest in work and that his behavior, at times, has been disrespectful. We have had many conversations over text about [redacted] this year and also added the aid, Jennifer Cox, in which they had to hire to keep the classroom under control, to the text thread. I have dealt with [redacted] at home about being disrespectful to any human, especially his teachers. Yet, I feel he has lost all respect for Mrs. Goodspeed and has shut down. Now, I know why. He does very well for every other teacher he has.
On April 5, I arrived at the school and [redacted] was in Mrs. Doctor’s office. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was calm. She had a notepad out with several things written, and I sat down to speak with her. I was told then that there was an incident with Father Mark at chapel because [redacted] did not have his shirt tucked in. [redacted] then told me that Father Mark crushed his hand when he shook it and pushed [redacted] out of line, [redacted] told me Father Mark chased after him to the boy’s north bathroom.
By that time, some teachers had alerted the principal and the principal went down to the bathroom. It took several teachers to get [redacted] to agree to unlock the stall and come out. She then took him to her office and they talked. I’m not sure how long he was in her office before she sent him back into the classroom. Minutes later, he was balled up in the middle of the classroom floor, crying with his hands on his ears, and that is when she called me to come and get him.
After learning that Father Mark had placed his hands on my child, and then chased him through the school, I told Pam that he could never be around my son again, and that we would not be participating in chapel or any event where Father Mark was present. I asked if they had cameras and she said yes and I said I wanted to see the footage. We had a very candid conversation and I thanked her and left. I took [redacted] to the doctor and then to the Edmond Police Department, where I gave my statement.
On Wednesday, April 12, 2023 at 1:01 PM, I got an email from Pam that stated they were making arrangements for me to see the video the following Tuesday at 10 AM with Father Mark, Deb Bryant, board president, Nikki Sutch, media specialist and Pam. I asked who had seen the video, she told me that she, Nikki, and Father Mark had seen it. I then asked for an immediate viewing of the video by myself, since everyone else had already seen it. She said she would have to get back to me.
On Thursday, April 13, at approximately 11:55 AM, I got an email from Pam that asked if I could come to the school 35 minutes later at 12:30 PM to view the video. I also got a voicemail stating the same. I was in an appointment and did not get the message until approximately 1:15 so I called her and asked if I could come in the following day.
Through several phone exchanges, we agreed that 9:15 on Friday, April 14, would be appropriate and I would be watching the video with Nikki Sutch and Pam. I stated I wanted my son there with me to watch the video in case. She agreed. I stated that IF there were discrepancies in my son’s story, I would hold my son accountable right then and there.
At 9:15 on Friday morning, [redacted] and I walked in the building. I met Courtney Brogan at the office desk and asked if she could come with us to watch. She replied, “They will not let me be present.”
We were taken by Pam, to the media center where the door was closed. Pam, Nicki,[redacted], and I were present. They turned the video on, and you could see clearly and hear clearly. The students were walking by as Father Mark shook each and every hand including staff members. This is a practice I believe he forces on children and adults alike to show dominance. It also takes the right to say “NO” away.
At one point, very quickly, Shannon Goodspeed sped past Father Mark, and exclaimed, “[redacted] doesn’t have his shirt tucked in.” Father Mark shook one more child’s hand before [redacted] came to him. He took [redacted] hand, which [redacted] said Father Mark squeezed as hard as he could and hurt [redacted]. He then put his left hand on [redacted] shoulder, and then released his right hand and put his right hand on [redacted] other shoulder and physically pushed him out of line.[redacted] was trying to explain that he could not get his shorts unbuttoned to tuck in his shirt.
We were late to chapel that day, and the only pair of clean shorts he had a very hard button. Father Mark said, “No, we are going to handle this right here! “He then kept grabbing at my son, and eventually grabbed his left wrist. The kids were piling up in the line, and they did not know what to do because they are usually made to shake his hand while walking by.[redacted] tried to get away several times, but Father Mark kept putting his hands on him.[redacted] finally did get away, he moved around Father Mark and walked away. Father Mark then turned around to chase him. At the end of the video you can hear Shannon Goodspeed saying, “Why don’t you just tuck in your shirt like an adult? “She yelled that statement to my son while he was running down the hall being chased after Father Mark.
Father Mark chased [redacted], around to the rotunda, through the rotunda, and into the north wing of the building, where [redacted] ran into the boys bathroom and locked himself in a stall. Father Mark chased him into the bathroom and stood outside the stall. He proceeded to tell [redacted] that “He would never amount to anything in this life.”
I’m not sure how much time passed before Pam was notified and came down to the boy’s bathroom. Father Mark backed out of the bathroom and I believe several teachers had to coax [redacted] out of the stall. He finally put his feet on the floor and unlocked the stall and came out with Pam. I do not know where Father Mark was, at this point.
Pam walked [redacted] down to her office, where he sat and gathered himself. After some time, she asked him if he was ready to go back to class, and he agreed and she walked him down to the room.
Several minutes later, he was balled up on the floor of the classroom with his hands on his ears, crying. I took him to the doctor, to the police station and home. I did not return him to school the rest of the week.
In light of the video evidence, several witnesses, my son’s testimony and possible endangerment of children/staff/parents/grandparents/family,, I request the board release Father Mark from the SMES board and all his duties having to do with St. Mary’s Episcopal School. I also ask for his immediate resignation from the school. I do not feel my son, or anyone else, is safe with or around Father Mark. I ask this action is immediate and I expect to hear from the board about their decision in a swift manner.
Our take on things
A word to the inevitable lawyers: These are all allegations, and nothing has been adjudicated in a court of law.
That said, we find Tyler’s story credible and convincing. In our conversation with her, Tyler comes across as a kind and compassionate human being–someone anyone would enjoy having as a friend.
We also find the clause in the church bylaws about the school ironic:
St. Mary’s Episcopal School is a partner in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Parish commits itself to an on-going relationship that promotes the mission of the Parish and the mission of the School.
This is the church’s idea of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If so, time to check out the ELCA. Jesus would have no use for Story’s behavior.
Jesus and the children
We also note several warning signs involving the school’s conduct, including:
- The mischaracterization of [redacted] conduct as “disrespectful.” The school uses that word often, but we’re having trouble understanding how grabbing a student or chasing him through the building models respect. Indeed, describing [redacted] behavior as disrespect strikes us as emotional abuse in the form of gaslighting.
- A shirt untucked? Spare us. This is hardly a case of high crimes and misdemeanors. An appropriate response might be, “[redacted], your shirt’s untucked. Can you fix that yourself, or would you like help?”
- Goodspeed should not be a teacher. The comment about, “Why can’t you just tuck your shirt in like an adult?” is telling.[redacted] is not an adult. He is a fourth-grader learning to be an adult. And last we heard, lots of adults wear their shirts untucked, but no one chases them through buildings in an effort to address the issue.
- Telling a fourth-grade student who’s been abused that he’ll never amount to anything? That is verbal abuse and profoundly unhelpful. And given what we’re hearing about Fr. Mark’s behavior, if that is his definition of success, no thanks. He can keep it.
- In a day and age when wave after wave of child abuse claims rock organized faith to its very foundations, what kind of imbecile touches a child? Or chases him into a bathroom? Does Fr. Mark have half the common sense God gave a goat? If nothing else, an instinct for self-preservation should have kicked in at some point.
We also look with a jaundiced eye at using an outside law firm to investigate the allegations. While we believe it is essential that the school use an external, independent investigator, the emphasis is on the word “independent.”
If the report isn’t made publicly available, then there’s nothing independent about it. Allegations of abuse must be made public for the safety of all involved, and transparency is key. Yet Tyler has not received a copy of the report, which suggests that the real reason for the report is risk management, not resolution of allegations of abuse.
We also note that non-sexual abuse is widespread among students, and a good teacher works to engage with students in this situation. But what we hear suggests a school that is all about power and control versus helping students grow into loving, caring adults.
Anglican Watch is also deeply concerned that prosecutors allegedly have told Tyler they can’t press charges absent marks on her son.
That is total BS. Many forms of child abuse — including neglect, emotional abuse, and even sexual abuse — don’t necessarily leave marks. So we are appalled that this is the standard applied in this situation.
We also find it disturbing that a parent cannot obtain a copy of the video footage involving Fr. Mark. Parents should be able to access all data involving their child unless an active criminal investigation is underway–which we know is not the case.
As for the diocese and the school board, Fr. Mark must go. Like yesterday. Anyone who chases a child through the school has issues, full stop.
And pulling the classic Episcopal trick of sitting in splendid silence and trying to ignore matters is unethical and unhelpful. Judicatories must handle allegations of abuse promptly and with total transparency.
Response from school attorney
Relatedly, the school’s attorney released the following statement shortly before we went to press this morning:
Over the past two weeks, the Edmond Police Department, in consultation with the Oklahoma County District Attorney, conducted an investigation into a parent’s concern and determined that the parent’s allegations were unfounded. As further due diligence, St. Mary’s retained a law firm to conduct an independent investigation and, likewise, concluded that there was no evidence of any child endangerment or physical safety concerns.
That artfully worded statement ignores several issues, including the fact that the allegations include behaviors not identified in the statement, including emotional abuse. Chasing a child through the halls over a shirt? Telling him he’s going to be a failure in life? Sounds to us like folks in Oklahoma follow a no-blood, no-foul approach to child abuse.
What we’d like to see
In addition to Fr. Mark’s immediate removal, we would like to see several things happen sooner rather than later. These things include:
- Posting the full investigative report on the school’s website.
- A meeting with parents and other stakeholders in which all questions are fair game.
- Greater transparency in governance from the school and the church. Indeed, there are no vestry minutes on the church’s website; the only financial reports pertain to the church’s investment funds and are several years old. Hardly reassuring. No do we see any sign of written child safety policies.
- Formal training of all school and church personnel on recognizing and addressing child abuse in all its forms–sexual, emotional, neglect, and more.
- Training for Edmond police and prosecutors on child abuse. Specifically, the definition they are currently using is straight out of the 1950’s.
- Supervision by child welfare officials of this situation. We are still scratching our heads, wondering how anyone can think it’s appropriate to chase a child through the school over an untucked shirt.
If these things do not happen, we recommend that parents withdraw their students from the school until officials come clean about this matter, remove Fr. Mark, and take steps to ensure this situation does not happen again. And we recommend that parishioners insist that Fr. Mark step down. If the conduct described here is his idea of living out the baptismal covenant, all involved have a problem on their hands.
As to parents of future students, we recommend taking a pass until the school mucks out its stalls. That starts with removing Fr. Mark and Goodspeed, and training all staff on child abuse—including verbal, emotional and relational abuse. Otherwise, we do not believe your children will be safe at this school.
We have filed an open records act request for police records in this matter and will update our reporting as we receive additional information.