My Full Story of Institutional Abuse at Veritas Academy

I originally published my story of institutional abuse at Veritas Academy in Leola, PA, in a series of seven posts here on my blog, because it was so long. Some have advised me to make a single long post, however, collecting all the information in one place to make it easier to find. This post, then, is a collation of everything I have to say.

Introduction

Lancaster Online

Veritas Academy is a private Classical Christian school in Leola, PA, and a member of the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS). Nestled amidst Pennsylvania farmland and characterized by stately Georgian architecture, the school was established over 25 years ago by some of the same people who founded Veritas Press, purveyor of homeschool and private Christian school curricula. Veritas Academy (not the press) is run by G. Tyler Fischer: headmaster of the school, a board member at the ACCS, and a personal friend of Douglas Wilson, who is the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, ID, and author of Ride, Sally, Ride, a novel about a sex robot.

If that doesn’t quite bring you up short, there’s more: Ty Fischer and Doug Wilson co-edited a flagship curriculum published by Veritas Press entitled Omnibus. Some controversy arose regarding this curriculum a few years back: not only had these editors inadvertently included plagiarism in their textbooks, they had also featured racist content.

All of this matters to me for more than purely academic reasons, but that will take some time to explain thoroughly. This entry, including full receipts, will recount for you the unethical and abusive treatment I experienced as an employee at Veritas Academy in 2021.

Part 1

In July of 2021, I was looking for a job in education. I am a Christian, and I have a degree in English and Classical Studies: that is, in ancient Roman and Greek history, language, and literature. Veritas Academy in Leola, PA was seeking an English teacher for their 12th grade Senior Thesis class, so I applied and was quickly offered an interview.

I had been vaguely aware of the Omnibus controversy before applying, and because I understood that Veritas Academy originally used Omnibus as a course text, I made a point to bring the issue up with Ty Fischer (editor of Omnibus and headmaster of the school) when I met him. Mr. Fischer admitted that there had been a few limited instances of plagiarism in his text, but he explained that these were purely accidental, as often happens in publishing, and that revisions had been noted for the next edition. He also noted that the school no longer uses Omnibus. This seemed reasonable to me, so I let the matter drop. I had yet to learn about the racism in the textbooks.

I also addressed Ty Fischer’s connection to Douglas Wilson up front, in my first interview. I have many issues with Douglas Wilson, not least of them how he harbors sexual predators in his church, so I wanted to know, right away, whether or not I had be a Wilson fan, too, in order to work at Veritas. In no uncertain terms, I was told “no.” I was told that a number of Veritas Academy employees are, indeed, not fans of Douglas Wilson.

Finally, as part of my application process, I included my publication history on my resume. This meant that I was up-front with Veritas Academy about my own history of child abuse, including childhood sexual assault, as I wrote about it in my essay at The Salt Collective (now defunct), “I Survived a Rural Evangelical Daddy Cult.”

When I came in for my first interview, the person conducting it told me he had read my essay, and he offered his sincerest sympathies. He was clearly moved by my account, and I was touched. This was the man who assured me that distrust and disapproval of Douglas Wilson would not be unwelcome among the ranks at Veritas Academy, despite Ty Fischer’s allegiances to Doug. I decided that was sufficient security for me to continue pursuing employment at the school.

Ty Fischer declined to read my essay, and I did not speak to him directly about Douglas Wilson as the interview process went on. Members of the board also interviewed me, and on July 26, I was offered a job. I accepted and signed an employment contract on July 27, 2021.

On August 11, 2021, I was fired.

Part 2

On August 11, 2021, I was fired by Veritas Academy after only two weeks of employment.

Why?

I was given two reasons:

  1. I had publicly decried the behavior of Douglas Wilson on my personal Facebook page a year prior.
  2. I had used the pronoun “she” to refer to the Holy Spirit in my essay, “I Survived a Rural Evangelical Daddy Cult.”

The drama over these firing offenses played out over the course of an anxiety-ridden five days, August 6-11, 2021. On Friday, August 6, Bruce Etter, the Dean of Academics–and my boss–called me with some concerns. A parent of one of my incoming students had googled my name. This parent–a local preacher, I was given to understand, though I was offered no other identifying information–had emailed Ty and Bruce a list of six grave concerns about me based on what he had found on the internet.

They were these:

Bruce asked me to respond to all of these questions in an email addressed to both him and Ty Fischer in order to try and resolve the parent’s concerns–which were now also to some degree their concerns as well. I scrapped my plans for the day–which had included making salsa out of my garden tomatoes with my best friend who was visiting from out of state–and spent the entire afternoon and evening writing that email and then engaging in further conversation with Bruce and Ty.

It was excruciating. I felt eviscerated. And I still did what they asked, the best way I knew how. Including agreeing to come in to Ty’s office the next day–a Saturday–to be grilled further upon the matter since my written answers were apparently insufficient.

I agreed, on the condition that my friend could accompany me. She did and can testify to what follows.

On Saturday afternoon, August 7, I sat with knots in my stomach and listened to Ty Fischer tell me how heavy the past 24 hours had been for him, how much the whole matter was weighing him down; how he, too, had grown up in southern Indiana, in the same broad area where a majority of my abuse had taken place, and how this gave him a sense of kinship with me; how my essay, which he had now taken the time to read due to the scrutiny it had incurred since my hiring, had moved him and inspired him to be a better father, himself; how there are, of course, two sides to every story regarding the supposed problems with Doug Wilson; how Ty had heard nothing of certain incidents regarding abuses at Doug’s church, which Ty only briefly allowed me to convey and, therefore, found negligible; and how he, Ty, had personally read all of Ride, Sally, Ride, enjoyed it, could not think of why I would have issues with it–the novel about a sex robot written by a pastor–and concluded that my distaste for it was premature based upon the fact that I had not read the whole thing.

My friend confirmed for me, later, that while we had spent about an hour and a half in Ty and Bruce’s company, I had been allowed to speak for perhaps 20 minutes of that time. Time supposedly intended for a weekend interrogation where I was to give an account of my personal convictions–none of which had any bearing on my professional conduct or suitability for my job.

It became very clear to me, in that conversation, that Ty Fischer’s goal was not to understand me better, or even properly; it was to assure himself that he and I did not see eye-to-eye on two subjects of utmost importance to him: the legitimacy of Douglas Wilson, and my account of a personal experience with the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the conversation, Ty said, “Well, now I feel a lot better.”

My friend took that as a hopeful sign–that the matter had been resolved, and that I would move forward in my employment at Veritas Academy.

My gut told me differently. My gut told me Ty felt better because he had solidified his decision to get rid of me.

The following Tuesday morning, I received a phone call confirming exactly that.

Part 3

With thanks to Rebecca Ashbach for the AI art.

I had been employed by Veritas Academy for exactly two weeks. I had turned my life upside down to scramble to complete background checks, find childcare for my children, begin creating brand new course materials from scratch, research textbooks, attend meetings, and purchase a new professional wardrobe (I had been out of the workforce for years, busily raising my babies). My summer garden had rotted from neglect; I’d had no time to tend it, and I lost nearly the entire harvest. The stress of cross-examining emails and interrogations leading up to my firing ate away at me, and by the time I was dismissed, I was all too glad to go.

Ty Fischer’s phone call on August 10–an apologetic, “we should have figured this out before we hired you” concession and an expression of the desire to protect me from any further aggressive inquiries by concerned parents–was followed by an official letter of dismissal on August 11. Except, there was something strange about the letter:

Ty wrote that he needed to “rescind the offer,” as though I had never accepted it.

But I had.

Weeks before.

I had a contract on the books.

Ty couldn’t even tell the truth about what had happened: that he had employed me, and that now he was terminating my contract.

This, on top of grossly misrepresenting my issues with Douglas Wilson (Ride, Sally, Ride is representative of perhaps 5% of my concerns) or how I have handled myself publicly in addressing them.

This, on top of saying, basically, “I get that you have understandable reasons for practicing your personal faith the way you do, but people here don’t want to be exposed to your experience on the subject, even simply via an article you wrote that they would never have a need to read; and it’s more important to me to keep them happy than it is to stick up for my employee’s right to express her private beliefs outside of the workplace however she sees fit.”

I took weeks to gather myself, to try and recover from sustaining yet another massive blow of institutional abuse and religious trauma. This had been far from my first, and I knew I would need a lot of time to heal.

In the meantime, I waited to receive the one paycheck I was entitled to. That, at least, I figured, was something. Not every shred of the month of applying/interviewing/hiring/working had been wasted, paltry though the pay would be.

Maybe it would help pay for some professionals to come and rehabilitate my wasted garden, at least.

The check never came.

Part 4

It was October of 2021 before I gathered my courage enough to ask Veritas directly for my paycheck. I had spent months processing my emotions, seeking advice from trusted peers and mentors, receiving spiritual counsel from my pastor, and even pursuing legal counsel for what had happened. As one friend pointed out to me, “Steph, that’s religious discrimination!”

Of course, Veritas Academy is a Christian institution. My lawyer confirmed what I suspected: as Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, Veritas was free to fire me at any time, for any reason, and particularly for any reason protected under religious freedoms.

This made sense to me. It was clear that the institution and I needed to part ways; my perspective on a few key things did not align with their values and priorities, and because they were unwilling to allow me to have my own personal point of view on two distinct matters, I knew I would not be safe there. Indeed, Ty Fischer described the idea of allowing me to continue at Veritas Academy as “throwing you to the lions” when he and Bruce Etter, the Dean of Academics, called to tell me I was dismissed. I was glad to go.

But I wondered why I hadn’t received a paycheck, and when I mentioned this to a few friends, they were aghast. “They didn’t even pay you?!”

So I asked my lawyer to look over my employment contract and tell me whether or not I was entitled to any compensation.

She told me in no uncertain terms that yes, of course I was. It was right there in the contract:

My lawyer informed me that, according to the contract, not only was I entitled to two weeks’ pay, I was entitled to a total of six weeks’ pay because the contract’s bi-weekly pay periods began on July 1, 2021, and I had been dismissed on August 11, 2021. Indeed, I remembered asking Pam Carlson, the Director of Operations at Veritas, about that odd wording in the contract when I first started. Would I be entitled to backpay for July 1-26? She had assured me I would, and she also told me they would be happy to roll the compensation from those weeks into my first paycheck.

This aligned with what my lawyer told me: I was actually entitled to just over $2,000 worth of compensation. My lawyer also advised me that I should begin by asking Veritas Academy directly for what I was owed. Wes Callihan, a mentor, friend, and fellow classical educator, told me the same thing.

So I did. This is what I wrote:

I received this response:

Truth be told, at the time, the excuse they gave infuriated me.

I hadn’t worked?

What about every other teacher on the payroll who hadn’t set foot in a classroom for those two weeks, let alone the whole rest of the summer, who had still received their pay?

Did my frantic scrabbling to create a course out of nothing a month out from the first day of school count for nothing? The meetings, the trainings, the professional correspondence, the research?

Apparently not, because none of it ultimately benefitted Veritas. They fired me before they got anything they could actually use out of me.

Whose fault was that?

I went back to my lawyer. She expressed her regrets but told me the truth: while she was confident it was a clearcut case, and I could hire her to pursue the matter in court, even the maximum recompense I could expect to receive would not be enough to cover her legal fees. She told me that, if I wanted, I could represent myself in small claims court and pointed me to the resources I would need to do so. She was very kind.

And, of course, being a yet-again-traumatized victim of abuse, homeschool mom of three small children, and parent of a special needs child, I was in no position to advocate for myself in court while facing people I had trusted to respect me and defend my best interests but who, instead, had betrayed me on multiple levels.

How could a Christian institution so callously discard a human being made in the image of God–the God that the institution was in fact created to honor?

Part 5

I took a few months to process my pain. Veritas Academy had fired me for my personal convictions: my opinion of Douglas Wilson and one singular description of my personal faith walk with God–neither of which were relevant to my professional performance or my conduct in the classroom. Then Veritas had refused to compensate me for my time working for them.

Both actions were unethical, and the latter, according to my lawyer, was demonstrably illegal.

And there was nothing I could do.

Nothing, that is, but tell the truth. Not for myself–because it had already been made quite clear that injustices I had suffered would not be rectified in this lifetime–but for any other vulnerable, unwitting, innocent employee, student, or even parent at Veritas Academy who, I knew, were just as much at risk for being thrown under the bus as I had been.

In fact, I already knew of one person who had been treated in a similar fashion before me by Veritas. A story about a former student who had been terribly maligned through no fault of her own was shared with me during my interview process. Part of why I had accepted the Academy’s offer of employment in the first place was so that I could have some power to prevent such abuse from happening again.

I decided to exercise the one power that remained to me–indeed, the one power they had hired me for:

Write.

I took a long time to draft and revise a five-page letter to the board of Veritas Academy–some of whom, you will recall, I had already met through the interview process. Ty Fischer had told me he had sought advisement from the board before terminating my employment, yet the board had never heard my side of the story. I thought that they deserved to know in order to be fully informed and, perhaps, thus become enabled to make better, fairer, just decisions in the future.

I shared my intentions with a number of trusted friends and advisors, even sending them drafts and asking for feedback. This included my pastors, who validated and supported my efforts.

Here is the final draft, which I emailed to the board of Veritas Academy on April 3, 2022:

A month later, on May 6, 2022, I received their formal response:

Even then, after all my effort, emotional strain, and sacrifice of time and energy, Veritas Academy had no intention of listening to me.

They could not even afford me the courtesy of an apology–not even an acknowledgement–for all the ways they had hurt me the previous summer.

The best they could offer was, “We are sorry if this interaction has added to your pain,” referring, as I understood it, to this, their final response.

I marveled that they could find it in themselves to feel sorry about that after displaying such a striking deficit of Christian charity regarding everything else.

Epilogue

This, then, is the story of how I suffered institutional abuse at Veritas Academy. I can only imagine how many people will attribute my writing this to bitterness, money-grubbing, attention-seeking, or just plain spite. Perhaps some will more charitably see it as my seeking sympathy and consolation as I bemoan or grieve the traumatic loss of a job–not to mention a great deal of faith in humanity–even a year later.

Thankfully, none of those are motivations in my going public. When I realized this a few weeks ago, I knew it was time to publish.

Mary DeMuth, author of We Too and staunch advocate for the abused, once shared some very wise advice–this is my paraphrase: while every traumatized or oppressed person must be able to share their story in order to process, heal, and recover, not every avenue for sharing is safe or helpful.

Broadly plastering my story across the indiscriminate internet from the get-go would have left me incredibly vulnerable to every criticism, judgment, or misinterpretation. Instead, Mary advises survivors to find private, trauma-informed, trusted friends and counselors who can walk through our stories with us to help us pick up the pieces and begin to make sense of things. People who can shelter, protect, validate, and encourage us, restoring our sense of safety, security, and self.

I’m so glad I listened to Mary’s lecture last year, because that is exactly what I went on to do. It made all the difference.

A year later, I am prepared for anyone out there to think what they will of me for this. I don’t mind every ounce of it being made public–which is why I have so thoroughly documented everything for you. I know who my friends are, the ones who will stick with me through this, and I also know that my cause is good and just, regardless of how it might be maligned or misrepresented.

Because my cause is not, and never has been, to receive the rightful compensation that Veritas Academy withheld from me. Even if they offered to pay me now, I would not accept it. I want to be very clear about that.

In fact, I am incredibly grateful to have been kicked out of Veritas and thus found the impetus to leave my classical Christian educator career behind forever. I never want to be a part of this culture ever again. I love Christ. I love ancient lit and language and art and philosophy and history. And I am thoroughly disillusioned and aghast at the Frankenstonian monster the ACCS has made of it all.

A year after my firing, I have successfully launched a new career as a freelance editor. I love my job more than any I have ever had–and that says a great deal, considering just how much I loved teaching. My hourly rate is the highest it’s ever been. I have more respect from my peers–including/especially men–doing this job than I’ve ever had.

So I’m not looking to receive what I’m owed from Veritas Academy. Nor am I looking for notoriety or to “build my platform” at Veritas Academy’s expense. In fact, writing this whole story has deterred me a great deal from my new professional endeavors. If anything, I expect my disclosure to work against my reputation and ability to find new clientele.

So why am I doing this?

Because I believe that the truth deserves to be known.

“Veritas” is the Latin word for “truth.” In the Vulgate–the Latin Bible–Pontius Pilate queries Christ, “Quid est veritas?”

What is truth?

An educational institution that names itself after truth–that postures itself as a purveyor of truth, that gathers in young minds purportedly to steep them in truth, that advertises itself to prospective employees and attentive parents as a beacon of all that is right and good and true–should know what the truth is.

Moreover, they should be able to tell it.

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

These are the words of Christ that prompted Pilate’s question.

The truth is that G. Tyler Fischer, the headmaster of Veritas Academy, sees nothing wrong with something like this (TW: explicit sexual content) being penned by a Christian pastor, as he told me himself when he interrogated me.

The truth is that the board of Veritas Academy officially signed off on stealing money from me when I appealed to them.

The truth is that the leadership of Veritas Academy doubled down on cultic allegiance to Doug Wilson to the point of firing someone who distrusts him enough–with shockingly ample cause–to say so publicly.

Is this the behavior of a Christian institution characterized by truth?

You don’t have to answer that for me. But I hope you answer it for yourself. For your children. For your friends. Your spouses. And, yes, even your superiors.

If this story troubles you, and you wish things were different, there is something you can do. Write to the Board of Veritas Academy. You may address your letter thusly:

Dr. Daniel Spanjer
Chair of the Board, Veritas Academy
26 Hillcrest Avenue
Leola, PA 17540

Be respectful. Tell them you want them to speak the truth. If you are a Christ follower, tell them that you expect them to testify to the truth as he did. Tell them what you hope they would do differently. Tell them how much this matters to you–and how much they matter to you.

Because they are human, too. They are made in God’s image as much as I am.

My goal is not to destroy Veritas Academy. There are good, wonderful, truth-telling, loving people there. I have friends who send their kids there. I have friends who work or have worked there.

My goal is to tell everyone there the truth, as much as they are willing to listen, because I think Jesus came to give them the truth. If I bury and silence my story, I will be a bastion against the truth. If I speak plainly, I may be a conduit.

And I know I’m not the only one who has faced abuse and oppression in this environment. So for the sake of those who cannot speak, I will speak out.

I leave it to you, my reader, to judge righteously.

4 thoughts on “My Full Story of Institutional Abuse at Veritas Academy

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