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St. Paul's School to bring in national anti-sexual violence organization to conduct review

  • The entrance to St. Paul's School in Concord is shown in this Feb. 26, 2016, file photo. AP

  • Dean of School Life Theresa Ferns talks about the independent investigation into past sexual misconduct of teachers at St. Paul's School in Concord on Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 12/22/2020 3:04:33 PM

St. Paul’s School will work with a national anti-sexual abuse organization to conduct a review of its policies, the school told the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office following the abrupt resignation of an independent compliance officer in October.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Deputy Attorney General Jane Young, the Concord private school said it would engage with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) “to review the school’s policies as they pertain to student safety.”

RAINN is a national organization that in part offers consulting services to businesses to improve their policies around sexual violence prevention, according to its website.

As part of a settlement with the state two years ago to avoid prosecution for mishandling reported sexual assaults, St. Paul’s School had agreed to independent, outside oversight of the school’s compliance with state mandatory reporting laws. This month the school agreed to expand the office of the Compliance Overseer by bringing in an additional staff member for support.

Both moves were suggested by the Attorney General’s Office at a meeting with school officials last Wednesday, according to letters released Monday. They come as a reaction to the abrupt resignation of the previous overseer, Jeffrey Maher, who left in October after claiming that the school had retaliated against him for attempting to do his job.

In a resignation letter back then, Maher said that he had been “publicly berated and yelled at” by a senior school administrator for raising concerns about its sexual assault policies. And he said that he had identified a series of “red flags” that suggested the school was not being fully compliant with the 2018 settlement and was questioning certain requirements of the settlement, such as training and partnerships with social service agencies.

St. Paul’s School has denied that it retaliated against Maher and has argued that he overstepped the scope of his responsibilities. The school has maintained that it has stayed compliant with the settlement agreement.

Maher was chosen as the overseer for St. Paul’s School at the end of 2018, following a 14-month-long criminal investigation into the school’s handling of reported sexual assaults. Rather than pursue charges of child endangerment, a misdemeanor-level offense, the school and state prosecutors reached an agreement that was meant to “facilitate the protection of children at St. Paul’s School, and to ensure a system of accountability, oversight, transparency, and training at the school,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Under the agreement, the school agreed to take on Maher for up to five years as an independent compliance overseer who would facilitate student safety, transparency and training at St. Paul’s School and make bi-annual reports to the Attorney General.

In her letter, Young said that the request to add a new staff person was a direct result of Maher’s concerns.

“As Attorney General MacDonald made clear, given the difficulties and resistance Mr. Maher encountered as the Independent Compliance Overseer, this additional human resource ... is necessary to ensure that St. Paul’s School will fulfill the purpose and mission of the Independent Compliance Overseer position as the Settlement Agreement contemplates,” Young wrote.

The school has also agreed to indemnify the new overseer for actions taken in his or her official capacity, which would protect the individual from any legal action by or against the school.

The blow-up between Maher and the school has had another consequence: The Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire has refused to provide an on-campus advocate to the school until a new compliance overseer is appointed, Young said in her letter, citing a letter CCCNH had sent the Attorney General’s office on Oct. 29.

Meanwhile, the search for Maher’s replacement is still underway. In its Dec. 19 letter, St. Paul’s submitted three candidates to the Attorney General’s Office, whose names were redacted from public view.

But the school was slow to do so, according to the Attorney General’s Office. “To date, St. Paul’s School has not submitted to this Office the names of three qualified candidates,” Young wrote in a Dec. 17 letter, a day after the in-person meeting. “As we stressed yesterday, it is imperative that a replacement be identified and installed before students return to campus following their winter break in January 2021.”

The school named its candidates two days later.

The involvement of RAINN adds a new dimension to St. Paul’s School’s reconciliation efforts. According to its website, the organization deploys a “victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to assess programs, policies, services, and trainings that address sexual violence education and response.” That includes on-site visits and “targeted sessions with key personnel.”

In the Dec 19, letter, a lawyer for the school said officials had sucessfully reached out RAINN.

“Vice Rector Theresa Ferns has already been in contact with the RAINN Consulting Services Program Coordinator Teresa Cal, who has expressed enthusiasm to take on this project for SPS,” attorney Michael J. Connelly wrote.

Staff writer Eileen O’Grady contributed to this report.

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