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St. Paul’s, Concord police taking note of new campus crime deal

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

  • St. Paul’s School Rector Michael Hirschfeld during an interview with the Monitor in spring 2017. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/23/2017 11:52:28 PM

St. Paul’s School and Concord police are taking note of a new written agreement reached by Phillips Exeter Academy and Exeter police that spells out the protocol for reporting campus crimes, including sexual assaults.

The Concord prep school first reached a memorandum of understanding with Concord police long ago. However, the last time a St. Paul’s rector and city police chief signed a renewed agreement was five years ago this month.

Current St. Paul’s Rector Michael Hirschfeld said school officials revisit the 2012 memorandum with Concord police annually even though the dated document may suggest otherwise.

“From the school’s perspective, it’s a pretty successful document which is why it really hasn’t been changed,” Hirschfeld told the Monitor. “I don’t suspect that the revision of the 2012 document will be radical in any way.”

But no matter what path the revision process takes, Hirschfeld said St. Paul’s is open to new ideas and “happy to borrow best practices” from other institutions, like Phillips Exeter.

Concord police Lt. Sean Ford echoed that sentiment, noting that there could be some positive takeaways from the Exeter agreement, and that it’s important for St. Paul’s and Concord police to consider those moving forward.

Both St. Paul’s and Phillips Exeter made national headlines in recent years for their handling of sexual misconduct allegations against students and former teachers. The boarding schools also independently hired law firms to investigate claims brought by students against former faculty and staff spanning decades.

The latest memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached between Phillips Exeter and Exeter police incorporates reporting requirements set forth in three statutes: the Child Protection Act, the Safe Schools Act, and the Student Hazing law. In contrast, the current MOU between St. Paul’s and Concord police cites just the Safe Schools Act, which law enforcement officials and advocates say has “a glaring omission.”

Under New Hampshire’s Safe Schools Act, schools are not legally required to report misdemeanor-level sexual assault to police; the law only references felony-level sex crimes. However, the act is in direct conflict with the state’s Child Protection Act, which mandates the reporting of suspected instances of child abuse and neglect.

The MOU between Phillips Exeter and Exeter police closes that gap.

“The MOU outlines the duty of all adults, and underscores PEA’s commitment to immediately report any act of sexual assault, regardless of the possible legal classification of the act or the time the act occurred,” officials wrote, using the acronym for Phillips Exeter Academy.

Hirschfeld previously told the Monitor that “anything we think that might be sexual assault is reported to Concord police.”

But the agreement still leaves some discretion to school officials. For example, one crime handled on a case-by-case basis is misdemeanor assaults. While parents will be notified in all cases, the agreement reads, “Simple assault is an area where there can be reporting to law enforcement or school disciplinary action.”

Decades ago, the Concord prep school didn’t adequately report instances of sexual assault to authorities, but communication has improved over the past couple of years, Ford said previously. One disagreement that persists is over the level of involvement school officials can have when an investigation is pending, he noted.

St. Paul’s has historically hired a private investigator to look into allegations of sexual misconduct, and, in some cases, that occurred before the school notified police.

In contrast, Phillips Exeter has agreed not to conduct internal investigations unless it is cleared by the Exeter Police Department to do so. The agreement stipulates that school officials will immediately report to the state’s Division for Children, Youth and Families and/or the police as appropriate.

The new MOU signals not only an enhanced partnership between Phillips Exeter and Exeter police, but collaboration with Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which has 13 member crisis centers. Phillips Exeter has a separate MOU with Seacoast-based crisis center HAVEN to provide counseling and support services to victims.

The coalition and law enforcement will lead annual training for Phillips Exeter’s faculty and staff on reporting requirements and victim support services. Additionally, students will learn about sexual violence, dating violence and consent during educational sessions held at least once a year.

St. Paul’s worked with the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire in Concord on a few occasions to provide training to some school staff, said Paula Kelley-Wall, the center’s executive director. Since then, school officials have had preliminary discussions with the crisis center about a new community-wide prevention curriculum, but the program has yet to get off the ground.

“We were looking to St. Paul’s to be a leader in implementation,” Kelley-Wall said.

The opportunity to do so, though, remains open.

“We’re willing to work with them at a pace and in a capacity that they’re willing to work with us,” she said.

Phillips Exeter is beginning the final year of a three-year consulting agreement with the Prevention Innovation Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, which develops best practices for preventing sexual abuse. The new memorandum is a byproduct of that work, officials said.

Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the coalition, commended the work of Phillips Exeter and its community partners in a statement last week.

“We recommend other schools in the Granite State take note of the comprehensive approach taken by PEA as they serve as a model for prevention and response to suspected child abuse and campus-based sexual violence,” she said.

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