Tracy Walder was, by far, one of Hockaday’s bragging points in recent years. The former CIA counterterrorism pro and FBI agent came to the school to teach history in 2010, and told People Newspapers last year that she was happy there.
“This is the best job I ever had,” she said, “and these girls are my role models.”
But things soured, and now the teacher and mother no longer works at Hockaday, and has filed suit against the school, alleging that it brushed her concerns about another teacher – Jason Baldwin – under the rug after her child was allegedly injured while in his care at the school’s Ann Graves Child Development Center in 2018.
This summer, Baldwin – who had worked for Hockaday since 2014 – was arrested by federal agents after an extensive investigation revealed that he had purchased child pornography. His case will go to trial on Jan. 11.
At the time of his arrest, Hockaday told parents, faculty, and students in an email that Baldwin was suspended pending investigation and banned from campus. The school also said that campus leaders are cooperating with authorities, but that there had been no allegations of misconduct at the school involving Baldwin, and he had passed background checks fairly recently.
That, Walder says in the suit filed on behalf of her daughter, is untrue. What unfolds in her suit is a recounting of the times she says she attempted to get the school to investigate Baldwin after her experiences with him, and the retaliation she feels happened as a result.
The suit says that around Aug. 21, 2018, Baldwin was pushing Walder’s daughter (identified as S.W.) on the swings.
“As Baldwin kept pushing S.W. harder and harder S.W. told him to stop and that he was pushing her too high,” court documents detail. “Baldwin did not listen to her, kept pushing her harder, and S.W. fell off the swing and landed on her left arm which resulted in multiple, significant bone fractures.”
What happened next depends on who you ask. Walder said she was never informed of the injuries – even at pickup – and when her daughter complained in front of another staff member, she was told that she fell off the swings.
When they arrived home, Walder realized the injury was more severe, and a doctor’s visit revealed multiple fractures.
“After S.W.’s injury Jason Baldwin lied to Hockaday and told them that S.W. fell off the swing on her own as she was trying to climb on to it,” the suit alleges. “S.W. told Ms. Walder the truth about what had happened which was relayed to Hockaday. The orthopedic doctors who were treating S.W. for her injuries relayed that her fractures could not have been caused by simply falling from the height of the swing.”
In an interview, Walder told People Newspapers that she first felt “overwhelming sadness and guilt” when she discovered that her daughter’s arm was broken.
“Then I was upset because I was not told about the incident for about eight hours after it happened and an incident report wasn’t filed until I told them it was broken,” she said.
Then the anger came when Baldwin claimed her daughter fell, and the doctor refuted it, she said.
“Then I became scared when I tried to raise this issue with the CFO and was rebuffed because ‘her children had a wonderful experience with Baldwin,’” Walder said.
After Walder’s meeting with the schools chief financial officer, Baldwin was not disciplined, the suit said, but changes were made to the playground.
But that wasn’t the end of the issue for Walder and her daughter, the former teacher said in the suit. Her daughter remained in Baldwin’s class, and he began, the suit alleges, singling her out, holding “a grudge” against the 3-year-old.
“My first feeling was that I failed my daughter and should have left sooner.”
“After S.W. started classes with Baldwin S.W. would frequently come home, cry, and throw multiple tantrums,” the suit said. “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 said in the suit that she witnessed some of that herself, including a time when her child became upset that she didn’t have a spoon for her yogurt, and Baldwin said the child had “white people problems.”
Walder again met with school officials – specifically, the suit said, child development center head Angel Duncan, about the conflict between Baldwin and her daughter.
“Ms. Duncan promptly dismissed Ms. Walder’s comments and told her that she had no complaints with Baldwin and that S.W.’s behavior was caused from her adjusting to a new teacher,” the suit said.
In the meantime, documents said, her daughter’s behavior continued to deteriorate. By March 2019, Walder met with the headmistress again about her daughter’s struggles.
“The headmistress told Ms. Walder that it was her word against his and she [the headmistress] had no reason to doubt his [Baldwin],” the suit said .”The headmistress was uninterested in hearing the complaints about Baldwin, cut Ms. Walder short when she tried to express them, and ended the meeting praising Ms. Walder and stating that she was an asset to the school. No action was taken and Hockaday still refused to investigate.”
But by the time school ended, her daughter made another troubling allegation, telling her mother that “during classes Mr. Jason would lock her in the restroom by herself with the lights off for crying too much.”
Walder told Duncan about it, and then sought counseling for her daughter. That counselor, a court-mandated reporter, reported the allegation to Child Protective Services, the suit said, adding that “Hockaday performed no meaningful investigation,” covered for Baldwin, and “gaslighted Ms. Walder by telling her that what her daughter said was not true and that ‘kids make things up all the time.’”
As a former federal law enforcement official who generated a great deal of favorable publicity for the school, Walder said she was surprised that the school didn’t take her allegations more seriously.
“I was very surprised and will never understand why,” she said this week. “Hockaday could have taken the warnings seriously and monitored what was going on in Baldwin’s class when my daughter was a student of his. The headmistress could have taken the complaints seriously instead of sweeping them under the rug and berating me for my complaints against Jason.”
That fall, Walder and her daughter returned to campus, hoping that now that her daughter was in pre-K, things would change. According to the suit, however, they did not.
“Following the CPS report Angel Duncan stopped communicating with Ms. Walder entirely,” the suit said. “Upon returning from the Summer break, the attitude of Hockaday’s administration, including the headmistress, toward Ms. Walder changed dramatically.
“Where Ms. Walder had once enjoyed a friendly and professional relationship with the headmistress and with her peers in Hockaday’s administration, she was thereafter given a cold reception and treated with hostility.”
Things deteriorated over the course of the year, ultimately leading to Walder tendering her resignation in November 2019, although she was convinced – the suit uses the term “guilted” – into remaining for the rest of the semester, and was celebrated for teaching with Hockaday for almost a decade.
But then the news of Baldwin’s arrest came. Walder said she was “horrified.”
“My first feeling was that I failed my daughter and should have left sooner,” she said. “Then I felt horrified that after only 24 hours after his arrest Hockaday issued a statement that no child at Hockaday had been harmed by him – 24 hours is not enough time to conduct a full and thorough investigation.
“Finally, I felt vindicated because I had given several warnings about Baldwin from my observations and from my daughter’s behavior after being around him and knew they had merit.”
In a written statement, Hockaday said that Walder’s suit “contains misstatements” and that it contains accusations that have already been investigated, and that it does take allegations of harm to a child seriously.
“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.”