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N.H. attorney general’s office to oversee St. Paul’s in lieu of criminal prosecution

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald annouces the settlement agreement concerning St. Paul’s School at a afternoon news conference in Concord on Thursday, September 13, 2108. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald speaks during a press conference regarding St. Paul’€™s School in Concord on Thursday.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/13/2018 6:08:25 PM

The state’s Department of Justice will oversee St. Paul’s School for up to five years after a 14-month-long investigation found evidence to support criminal charges against the Concord prep school and unnamed employees.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said during a press conference Thursday afternoon that a multi-agency investigation supported charges of child endangerment against the school, a misdemeanor-level offense, but that his office took an “unprecedented” approach to ensure the safety of current and future students for years to come.

“In this case, parents entrusted their child’s safety and welfare to St. Paul’s School. That school violated their trust,” MacDonald said. “And based on the evidence gathered over the course of the past year, we could have charged the school. But we concluded that the duty to protect students and others at the school would not be advanced by a protracted process that would have resulted in misdemeanor convictions and monetary fines against the school. Rather, we pursued a course of comprehensive reform with the objectives of achieving immediate and meaningful measures to protect members of the St. Paul’s community.”

That will happen, in part, through the work of an independent compliance overseer who will be on the grounds of St. Paul’s campus and report to the attorney general’s office for up to five years.

Interim Rector Amy Richards said the attorney general and school administration are “eager” to have that person in place as soon as possible. That means St. Paul’s could be submitting the names of three possible candidates to the attorney general as soon as Friday.

“Institutions of higher education certainly have Title IX officers, and, for us, this ensures that we are meeting our obligations to our students and that we are a healthy community now and going forward,” she said during an interview on St. Paul’s campus.

On Thursday morning, MacDonald signed a six-page settlement agreement with St. Paul’s Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox Jr. that outlines the responsibilities of an independent compliance overseer, as well as institutes mandatory training for the school’s faculty, staff and students under the state’s Child Protection Act. The school’s senior administrators will also be required to undergo training conducted by the New Hampshire Coalition on Domestic and Sexual Violence on trauma-informed responses to allegations of physical or sexual abuse.

The coalition’s Executive Director Lyn Schollett told members of the press Thursday that the attorney general’s office could have taken a more traditional approach and prosecuted St. Paul’s, but that would have resulted in minimal change for students who study and live on campus. She said the attorney general refused to let St. Paul’s “get away with a mere slap on the wrist for failing its students and its community for decades.”

She continued, “The message to St. Paul’s and institutions across the country is clear: the systemic discrediting and minimizing of victims will no longer be tolerated or swept under the rug.”

The settlement requires St. Paul’s to report alleged abuse of students to the overseer who will be available as needed, 24 hours a day to respond. The overseer will ensure compliance with the agreement and issue a public report on a biannual basis.

MacDonald reiterated that the school must notify the overseer of any reports of abuse before launching its own investigations, and keep a written record of all incidents, as mandated by law.

The investigation into St. Paul’s included the convening of a grand jury that heard from dozens of witnesses as far away as California. St. Paul’s has since waived confidentiality in the grand jury proceedings, and the attorney general will issue a report at a later date. 

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