Five N.H. Private Schools Included in Spotlight Team's Reporting on Sexual Misconduct Allegations

May 10, 2016

Former students at elite private schools all over New England are coming forward with allegations that teachers and school officials sexually abused them. The schools in question include several in New Hampshire, St. Paul's School and Shaker Road School in Concord, Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, and Phillips Exeter Academy. 

The Boston Globe's Spotlight team has detailed the extent of this problem, not just in New Hampshire but across New England. Globe reporter Bella English joined NHPR's Peter Biello to talk about the allegations made against New Hampshire schools.

NHPR: There are a few New Hampshire schools listed in this report. We can't get to all of them now, so we'll focus on Phillips Exeter Academy, that's the one you looked into. (You can find out about the others here.) But tell us about the allegations leveled against teachers at Philips Exeter Academy. 

English: This did not come to light until just a few months ago, actually. But, what happened - it's an historical incident - happened in the 1970's and 80's. They acknowledged just a few months ago that they had failed to disclose that one of their star teachers and administrators had admitted to sexual misconduct with students thirty years ago. And then when we wrote about this a couple of months ago, alumni reported new allegations about other teachers, and then a second teacher was then fired. So, it's the same old story that a lot of these schools not until they are forced to reveal this misconduct among their staffers do they come out with it. It's not something they do voluntarily. They're more protective of the institution than they are the children they are charged with protecting.

This article highlights private schools. Is there evidence that this kind of abuse is happening more often in elite private schools than it is in public schools?

It's real hard to say how much it happens, we know that sexual abuse is one of the - probably the most underreported violent crime there is, and when you add children to that, that it makes it even less reported. And with private schools, there's no sort of central authority. They don't have to report to anybody, they're all sort of these separate silos. They don't have to license their teachers so there's no central licensing board like their is for public schools. So actually, we have a landmark study that we found in which ten percent of public school teachers have been accused of sexual abuse, and we know that's just the tip of the iceberg.

And some of these teachers moved out of state after the alleged abuse took place, and, as you report, doing so sort of changed the statute of limitations on what they've done. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, statute of limitations is an odd thing and it really differs from state to state. And it's been very controversial because a lot of these child abuse victims - most of them don't come forward until a decade or decades later because of the trauma they've experienced and the fear and the shame they feel. So, if you move out of state to a state that has a more generous statute of limitations, then the clock starts over.

How have the New Hampshire schools responded to these allegations?

I would say they've responded pretty much like the schools in general have responded, and that is not well. We sent a survey to 224 private schools on their experience with sexual misconduct allegations. Only about ten percent chose to reply, so the vast majority ignored it. They are not use to having to respond to anybody, they don't have any sort of central authority that they have to respond to,  and finally, what has forced them to respond are the victims themselves. And these are really, I think, brave women and men who've come forward and told their stories for the first time ever, in some cases. And so, it's the victims really who've brought this to the forefront, not the schools.