On April 13, Choate Rosemary Hall announced that at least 12 former teachers had sexually assaulted students in a decade-long pattern of abuse and misconduct.
Nancy Kestenbaum of Covington & Burling LLP, a former federal prosecutor, led a investigative team that spent seven months reviewing 23,000 pages of documents and interviewing more than 100 students, faculty, alumni, and trustees. The result was a 48-page report released on Thursday to Choate’s board of trustees.
The alleged abuse highlighted by the report ranges from inappropriate touching and kissing to sexual intercourse and rape. It delves into details of many different cases. In one case from the early 1980s, a young female student contracted herpes from an English teacher. In another episode, a Spanish teacher is said to have raped a 17-year-old student after drinking heavily with a group of students.
At the time of the assaults, no teacher misconduct was reported to the police. Although some teachers resigned after being confronted, multiple teachers went on to work at other schools after leaving Choate. For instance, French teacher Björn Runquist worked at the Kent School until 2013 after sexually abusing a student at Choate in 1992.
“The detailed content of this report is devastating to read,” Choate board member Michael J. Carr wrote in a letter to the school’s community. “One can only have the greatest sympathy and deepest concern for the survivors. The conduct of these adults violated the foundation of our community: the sacred trust between students and the adults charged with their care.”
Choate has released the full investigative report in a “commitment to transparency.” They are just the latest in a string of more than five dozen private schools in New England that have recently faced accusations of sexual harassment.
In the past several decades, Deerfield has received claims and suits alleging misconduct by three former employees: art teacher Robert Bliss, math teacher Peter Hindle, and English teacher Bryce Lambert. The school admitted inappropriate conduct by Hindle and Lambert, but did not maintain accusations against Bliss, instead agreeing on a settlement of almost $100,000.
In response to the recent news, Head of School Dr. Margarita Curtis affirmed Deerfield’s responsibility to remain proactive and transparent in hopes of preventing such issues in the future. In a statement to the Scroll, Dr. Curtis wrote: “The safety and welfare of students must be paramount for all schools, and the recent report from Choate reminds us of the need to be vigilant. We believe transparency is the best way to address the past and ensure greater safety for students moving forward. It is essential that every school give comfort and support to those who have been affected, and do everything possible to ensure that such abuses never happen again.”
Amie Creagh, the Assistant Head for Student Life, described the extensive protocols in place at Deerfield to prevent sexual abuse and provide platforms for students to safely report issues “if [they] ever have a concern that sexual abuse is taking place.” The Deerfield Student Handbook outlines these protocols, including that the Dean of Students is legally obligated to go beyond the bounds of the Academy and report any instances of sexual abuse to the Department of Children and Families in Greenfield. According to Ms.Creagh, the administration’s “primary responsibility” is to ensure that “students are physically and emotionally safe.”
Ultimately, Ms. Creagh hopes that students and faculty are inspired to take action after hearing news of the events at Choate and other boarding schools. “You can’t do nothing,” she stated. “You’ve got to do something, and whether that’s talking to an advisor or seeking out someone in the student life office… we as a school must respond, but we hope that students know what to do if such an occurrence were to come to pass.”
Ellie Koschik ’17, the leader of Deerfield Students Against Sexual Assault, a student organization founded in 2015, believes that Deerfield should focus on preventing sexual abuse. She stated, “I think that Deerfield administrators should be educated in how to look out for these kinds of assaults and inappropriate relationships and how to deal with them if they do arise. Often times, these incidents come out decades after they happen because schools keep them quiet, and as a school I think we should admit that these things happen and learn how to prevent them.”
Koschik ’17 also described how members of the Deerfield community must be honest about the reality of sexual abuse at boarding schools. She explained, “It is important to realize that while we hope that no teacher at our school would act in such a way, it could easily happen. There are no cameras, no way to hold people accountable for many of their actions. I think all boarding schools can learn from this in that it is better to be open about what is going on at each respective school, even if it may hurt its reputation.”
Ms. Creagh affirmed the necessity for students to remain mature and empathetic towards Choate. She stated, “It is tempting to want to say that this is just another reason we hate Choate…[but] we all have experienced moments in our school’s histories that we wish we could change, and none of us live in a glass house with that. As long as we are all trying to be the best we can be, and learn from our mistakes, which I know Choate is trying to do… I would hope that we can continue to be fair-minded, empathetic, and not see it as an opportunity to condemn human beings for the faults of those who at one point represented the school.”