St. Paul’s School offers details on new claims of ‘student misconduct’

  • Rector Michael Hirschfeld 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)

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

Monitor staff
Published: 6/30/2017 8:32:25 PM

Administrators at St. Paul’s School confirmed Friday they are investigating “concerning” behavior among students.

That behavior was described as a game of sexual conquest by multiple people connected to the school who spoke previously with the Monitor.

In a letter to the school community, St. Paul’s Rector Michael Hirschfeld said seniors reported to faculty their concerns that a group of underclassmen were “writing down their relationships with other students on a fast-food chain crown.”

The report prompted the school to hire an outside investigator to look into the allegations of inappropriate behavior, Hirschfeld said.

“Once school recessed for the summer break and families scattered, the process for connecting with everyone involved has taken longer than was anticipated or desired,” he said. “Once the review is complete, we will proceed according to the findings and School policy. Again, we do not tolerate behavior that violates the School’s code of conduct, and we take seriously our reporting obligations.”

Before Friday, the school had not publicly acknowledged the investigation.

The letter was posted to the school’s website after the Monitor published a story about the new sexual conquest game emerging at the institution. The school did not respond to requests for comment for the story.

While addressing the school’s ongoing investigation for the first time Friday, Hirschfeld critiqued published reports about the game and a reported sexual assault at St. Paul’s prior to graduation. However, Concord police later said some of the school’s assertions weren’t accurate.

Several people connected with the institution said school administrators learned about the game just prior to the June 4 commencement. Roughly eight boys from the same dormitory took part, competing to have their names put on a crown. One boy withdrew from the school after the game came to the attention of school officials.

Around graduation, St. Paul’s altered student photos of an all-boys dormitory in the 2016-17 yearbook by placing a sticker over the bottom half of a page.

Hirschfeld said in a separate statement to the press Friday that “If it is proven there was any improper behavior or that our school’s code of conduct was violated, there will be swift and immediate consequences for those students who were involved. The safety and well-being of all students remains our highest priority.”

Three years ago, the school first came under fire for a different sexual conquest game know as the “Senior Salute,” in which upperclassmen solicited intimate encounters from younger pupils. What was coined as a springtime ritual took center stage in the high-profile trial of 2014 graduate Owen Labrie.

Labrie was convicted in August 2015 of three counts of statutory rape and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, all misdemeanors. The jury also found him guilty of prohibited use of a computer, a felony that requires lifelong registration as a sex offender. His appeal is before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

A year following Labrie’s conviction, Chessy Prout shed her anonymity as the survivor in the St. Paul’s rape case. Prout has since become an advocate for survivors of sexual assault. She is an ambassador for the Washington, D.C.-based organization Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), with whom she launched her social media campaign under the hashtag #IHaveTheRightTo.

In a statement Friday, Prout called upon school administrators and the board of trustees to show leadership and put students ahead of St. Paul’s reputation.

“St. Paul’s School is operating in a bubble of denial, and their students are paying the consequences,” she said. “The adults at the school are allowing this predatory behavior to happen, and the best they can do is try to cover it up with stickers in the yearbook. Real people are being harmed because of the students’ irresponsible and damaging actions and the administration’s inaction.”

Sexual assault investigation

In the days before graduation, Concord police were notified of a reported sexual assault between students that had occurred two weeks prior on the St. Paul’s campus.

Police opened an investigation June 1 after receiving a call from Dean of Students Aaron Marsh that evening. A student reported to a staff member that she’d been sexually assaulted two weeks earlier, according to the Concord police log. The girl said she had been sexually assaulted by another student, and agreed to go to Concord Hospital for a medical exam, according to police records.

Hirshfield at first said he couldn’t pinpoint the investigation.

“It’d be hard for me to guess what specific investigation you’re talking about,” he said earlier in the week.

In his letter Friday, Hirschfeld said Concord police told the school that they have suspended their investigation. Concord police disputed that claim.

“It’s not an accurate statement by them,” Concord police Lt. Sean Ford said in an interview Friday night. “As of right now, the case is active and open. There are still reports being worked on, and interviews and evidence being scrutinized by police.”

The school also hired an independent investigator to look into the report. Hirschfeld said in his letter that the internal investigation is almost complete.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)

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