Former St. Paul’s student settles claims of sex abuse with school

  • St. Paul's School in Concord, Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 2/21/2019 6:58:14 PM

A former St. Paul’s School student who says he was sexually assaulted by an administrator decades ago has settled with the institution, resolving part of a civil lawsuit filed last year.

George Chester Irons, who graduated in 1976 and previously served on the school’s board of trustees, and his wife, Barbara Irons, reached a confidential agreement with the Concord prep school in January. However, similar claims brought forward against the institution by alumnus Keith “Biff” Mithoefer – who jointly filed with the couple in May – are still pending.

While neither side can discuss the case, George Irons said by phone Thursday that he is hopeful more victims will come forward and hold the school accountable.

“It is my opinion that the St. Paul’s School Board of Trustees is beginning to recognize and finally accept responsibility for the incalculable number of children who were sexually abused by faculty members and administrators while they were students at the school,” Irons said. “The damage to the children who are now adults is a lifelong sentence of health and relationship issues that permeates every aspect of their lives. In my opinion, it is a school legacy of sexual abuse, betrayal, denial and cover-up that is as horrific as it sounds.”

Efforts to resolve the Merrimack County Superior Court case without a jury trial began this past summer, prompting multiple motions from St. Paul’s attorneys who sought more time to answer the lawsuit. To date, the school has not answered the 22-page complaint filed with the Concord court on May 1.

In a statement to the Monitor, St. Paul’s School said, “The Irons complaint has been resolved to our mutual satisfaction. The Mithoefer complaint remains open.”

Together, the alumni brought 10 civil claims against St. Paul’s including negligent hiring; retention and supervision of faculty/staff; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and vicarious liability. Additionally, Barbara Irons alleged that as a result of the harm caused to her husband, she suffered loss of his “aid, assistance, comfort, society, companionship, affection, and conjugal relation.”

In their claims, George Irons and Mithoefer said St. Paul’s had long known of the sexual abuse of students in their care, and yet chose to remain silent for decades while continuing to employ faculty and staff known to prey upon students.

Irons alleged that St. Paul’s breached its fiduciary duty by rehiring and continuing to employ Coolidge Mead Chapin, who had a long-standing history of taking students off campus without their parents’ permission. That included to brothels in New York City where students were sexually abused as Chapin directed them on how to engage in sexual acts with prostitutes whom he paid.

“Although the lawsuit has been amicably resolved, it doesn’t change the fact that I was brutally raped as a 10th grader,” Irons said Thursday. “It has had lifelong consequences for me and the school needed to be held accountable because they employed this sadistic sexual deviant for over four decades, from 1935 to 1980.”

Chapin, an alumnus employed at the school, cultivated personal relationships with students who came from a place of wealth and influence. He was known by students as the “toad,” and oversaw “The Tea and Toast Group” that included students, primarily athletes, known as “toadies,” the complaint notes.

Mithoefer said he was sexually assaulted by multiple St. Paul’s staff members, including Gerry Studds who taught at the school from 1965-69. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, was censured more than a decade later for sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old congressional page.

An investigation commissioned by St. Paul’s in 2016 substantiated accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse against 20 named faculty and staff including Chapin and Studds. A total of 67 victims of sexual abuse have come forward to tell their stories to the Boston law firm Casner & Edwards, which has released three reports detailing claims of faculty-student abuse. The school continues to retain the firm for that work.

St. Paul’s is now under the oversight of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office after a 14-month-long criminal investigation found evidence of wrongdoing. An independent overseer has been tasked with ensuring the school’s compliance with New Hampshire’s mandatory reporting laws.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)


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