St. Paul’s argues judge should dismiss civil claims brought by ex-student

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

Monitor staff
Published: 6/21/2020 7:43:05 PM

St. Paul’s School says it bears no liability for the alleged harms suffered by a former student who reports that his English teacher sexually assaulted him on campus in the 1970s.

The Concord prep school is asking a judge to dismiss all civil claims filed by “John Doe” this past February in Merrimack County Superior Court. In response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the school repeatedly deny many of the allegations brought by John Doe, arguing that they are without sufficient knowledge or information at this time to provide a further response.

The former student accuses St. Paul’s of continuing to employ teacher Steven David Ball, even though at least two students and one faculty member reported to administrators instances of sexual misconduct in the early 1970s, before the man says he was victimized. The lawsuit says that John Doe had long suppressed memories of his own abuse at age 17, but that survivors’ stories shared publicly in recent years caused those decades-old memories to resurface.

The school acknowledges to the court that it previously failed to investigate reports of sexual abuse by faculty and staff, but it does not remark specifically on the case at issue.

According to the lawsuit, John Doe did not report his abuse to then-Rector William Oates or another administrator because he feared “negative consequences” for accusing a faculty member of sexual misconduct.

St. Paul’s hired Boston-based law firm Casner & Edwards to conduct an independent investigation in 2016 following news reports about Rev. Howard “Howdy” White, a former St. Paul’s teacher who was fired from St. George’s School in Rhode Island for sexual misconduct in 1974. He was later convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Since the law firm’s work began, attorneys have documented claims spanning six decades of the school’s history. A total of 67 victims of sexual abuse have come forward about inappropriate touching, sexually suggestive comments and rape committed by 20 named faculty and staff and more employees not identified. Victims, who remained anonymous in the reports, also went on to publicly sue the institution.

In more recent years, St. Paul’s says it has focused on survivor outreach and the development of new programs aimed at improving school culture and regaining lost trust.

“SPS is committed to supporting those members of its alumni who are survivors of sexual abuse that occurred while they were students at the School, and to enhancing the health and safety of the SPS community by providing robust and frequent boundary training to students, faculty and staff and maintaining a zero tolerance policy for adults who use their power to harm children,” the school’s attorneys wrote in their response to John Doe’s lawsuit.

John Doe is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages. He accuses St. Paul’s of negligence; negligent hiring, retention, training and supervision; breach of contract; breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; breach of fiduciary duty and fraudulent concealment.

The lawsuit recounts how Ball offered John Doe “extra help” in response to a failing grade on an English assignment. John Doe said he was invited to Ball’s faculty apartment on campus, where Ball “sat directly next to John and caressed John’s shoulders and back multiple times during the meeting.”

John Doe said he continued to receive poor grades on English assignments, and that Ball misused his supervisory powers to commit further acts of abuse. During their third meeting, he alleges that Ball groped him and grabbed his crotch. He said he ran away “scared to death.”

Ball was an English teacher at the school from 1963 to 1999. At the time the Casner & Edwards report was released, he was believed to be living in France.

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