St. Paul’s School compliance officer abruptly quits post

  • Jeffrey Maher Courtesy

  • The entrance to the St. Paul’s School is seen Friday Aug. 14, 2015, in Concord. Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 10/19/2020 5:57:48 PM

The independent compliance officer at St. Paul’s School has abruptly resigned from his position, citing an “intolerable working environment.”

Jeffrey Maher, who reported to the state Attorney General’s Office on matters of student safety, transparency and sexual abuse and harassment prevention training at the private boarding school, submitted his resignation letter Monday morning. He said school leadership was attempting to “limit and curb” his access to information that he believed was necessary to do his job.

“When I persisted in my efforts to execute my assignment, including my obligation to make reports to the Attorney General’s Office, the School retaliated against me,” Maher wrote. “I have been criticized and accused of exceeding the scope of my responsibilities. It would seem such accusations arrive only when I am less than laudatory of the school’s policies and protocols.”

In addition, Maher said he was “publicly berated and yelled at” by a senior school administrator. Later, Maher says school leadership accused him of “coordinating the circumstances” that led to the outburst.

St. Paul’s School denied Maher’s characterizations and said it has honored all of its obligations outlined in a 2018 settlement agreement between the school and the state Attorney General’s office.

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.

At first, conversations between Maher and the school were productive, he reported.

“The settlement agreement required that SPS recognize my independence, cooperate with me in good faith to permit me to fulfill my obligations, and allow me access to all non-privileged documents and records and reasonable access to employees and students,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “Such goals can best be accomplished through trust, authentic communication, and shared understanding. In my initial meetings with school leadership it was clear that we were of similar mind.”

More recently, Maher said he encountered a series of “red flags” that he said raised concern about the school’s commitment to the settlement agreement. Without naming names, he said “school leadership” did not want investigations that could have civil or criminal impacts, and that they questioned many of the requirements of the agreement, including training and partnerships with social service agencies.

Maher also wrote that school leadership kept tabs on whenever he met with an employee and were apprehensive of creating documents that could become a matter of record.

“Mr. Maher’s letter raises very serious concerns,” New Hampshire attorney general Gordon MacDonald said Monday. “We have already engaged St. Paul’s School to immediately address the future of the settlement agreement and the independent compliance overseer function. We will continue our efforts to protect the welfare and safety of those entrusted to the care of St. Paul’s School.”

St. Paul’s School released a statement Monday denying Maher’s suggestion that school leadership is resisting investigations, and said Maher “acted outside the role of the compliance overseer.”

“We are disappointed with Mr. Maher’s resignation and strongly disagree with and deny all of the contentions as expressed in his letter...,” the statement read. “We believe that the school has complied with all of its obligations under the settlement agreement, and will continue to honor these obligations going forward.”

Maher regularly reported the status of the school’s compliance with the agreement in biannual reports to the Attorney General. In his report from January 2020, Maher said the school was doing a better job of addressing complaints, but should improve its policies around investigating crimes and assisting victims.

The report also said the school received 31 incident reports over the last six months of 2019. The incidents, mostly involving sexual or physical assault, occurred on and off the campus. More than half were incidents that happened in the past, but the report did not give a time frame.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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