St. Paul’s School admits 13 cases of sexual abuse by former faculty

  • Rector Michael Hirschfeld talks Monday about the investigation into past sexual misconduct of teachers at St. Paul’s School in Concord. Hirschfeld noted that the release of the report could prompt more victims to come forward. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox, Jr. (left) and Dean of School Life Theresa Ferns talk 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)

  • 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)

  • Dean of School Life Theresa Ferns and Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox Jr. talk Monday about the independent investigation into past sexual misconduct of teachers at St. Paul’s School in Concord. ELIZABETH FRANTZ Monitor staff

  • Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox, Jr., 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)

  • 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)

  • Dean of School Life Theresa Ferns (right) and Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox, Jr., talk 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) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/23/2017 12:14:39 AM

An independent investigation into sexual abuse at St. Paul’s School – commissioned by the elite boarding school and carried out by a former Massachusetts attorney general – has substantiated claims against at least 13 former faculty members between 1948 and 1988.

In a yearlong inquiry, the Boston-based law firm Casner & Edwards also looked into 21 other claims that were less clear, 11 of which it deemed “unsubstantiated.”

Teachers, who live on the same West Concord campus as their students, repeatedly took advantage of the teenagers in their care, according to the 71-page report released by the school Monday. Some of the incidents from that period were reported by alumni in 2000 and never properly investigated, the report said.

The allegations, which range from boundary violations to rape, include explosive stories: One teacher, Larry Katzenbach, committed 10 acts of sexual misconduct, according to the report, including multiple sexual relationships with students. One of his students, who claimed he had groped her, reported his behavior to a trusted administrator in 1974 and received the reply, “What did you do to make him (Katzenbach) behave that way?”

In another case, a then-junior had a two-month-long consensual sexual relationship in 1973 with a French teacher, Robert Maurice Degouey. Five years later, after the student graduated, Rector William Oates learned of the relationship, met the male student in Boston and “accused him of ‘boasting’ about a sexual relationship with Mr. Degouey,” according to the report.

The student “said that Rector Oates did not ask him about any of the details of his past relationship with Mr. Degouey, but only expressed concern about how it reflected on SPS,” the report says.

Three other faculty members married female students shortly after their graduations. One of the women killed herself at 19 within months of wedding her 48-year-old former teacher, Terrence Walsh.

The investigators, led by former Massachusetts attorney general Scott Harshbarger, said they didn’t receive any reports of faculty-student misconduct more recent than 1988.

“Whatever the reasons for the absence of reports may be, it is clear to us that, beginning in 1995, SPS leadership began to undertake efforts to establish written policies on boundaries and sexual abuse and harassment, and to educate faculty on mandatory child abuse reporting laws,” the report said, noting that the school “went a step further” after alumni came forward with evidence of misconduct in 2000. “We expect that these efforts led to improvements in adult behavior and in empowering faculty and students to report faculty-student sexual misconduct in any form.”

2000 investigation

Seventeen years ago, a group of St. Paul’s School graduates from the class of 1975 got together after a reunion and submitted narratives to the school of their teachers’ sexual misconduct in the 1970s.

The administration tapped a partial attorney to investigate – not on behalf of the victims or the truth, according to the report, but mainly to protect the elite school’s reputation, assess risks of liability and determine if any current faculty members posed a risk to students.

The lead attorney, Robert Gordon of the Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray, who had an existing relationship with the school, chose to ignore allegations against deceased faculty members, eliminating three of the six cases under investigation.

In the other three cases, one person died, one was fired but given a lifetime annuity, and a third continued to receive his “remaining payout under a voluntary separation incentive,” against Gordon’s recommendation, according to the report.

The men who weren’t investigated in 2000 had accusations against them substantiated in the report released Monday.

“It was not a thorough investigation of the allegations made then,” Rector Michael Hirschfeld said in an interview Monday. “So much of this report actually confirms what those alumni alleged in 2000.”

St. Paul’s requested a new investigation last year into the allegations from 2000, following news reports about Howard White, a former St. Paul’s School teacher who was fired from St. George’s School in Rhode Island for sexual misconduct in 1974. The former Episcopal priest pleaded guilty last week to sexually assaulting a student during trips to Boston in 1973 while working at St. George’s School and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

When the school sought information about alumni experiences with sexual misconduct, the responses were not limited to White.

“We quickly decided to try to get to the bottom of whatever came forward,” said Archibald Cox Jr., the president of the board of trustees.

Transparency effort

At the close of the 2000 investigation, the administration remained tight-lipped about its findings, not even communicating freely to the victims who made the allegations, the report said.

Victims received one of two form letters, saying that the school had “gotten to the bottom of the matter and taken appropriate corrective action,” or that a proper investigation was now “a practical impossibility.”

When the victims wrote an article for the alumni magazine about the investigation, then-Rector Craig Anderson objected, saying, “We live in litigious times, and in a press environment where the virtue of candor is easily warped into the vice of recrimination.”

He added, “it is my judgment that an explicit confession of past sins … would be unjustifiably destructive to the interests of the School.”

The attorneys at the time drafted a “Communication Plan” in case there was public interest in the investigation. “The objectives set forth in that plan were to: protect the reputation of SPS; minimize media coverage; compartmentalize the issue as much as possible; and protect individuals’ reputations.”

Sitting in the campus’s Scudder House on Monday, Hirschfeld and Cox said they imagined they would have acted differently if they had been in leadership positions at the time.

“The way you protect the school’s reputation is by being transparent,” Hirschfeld said. “That’s not what they thought in 2000.”

‘Excavating our history’

Hirschfeld and Cox admitted that the school failed to protect students from sexual abuse done to them by adults entrusted with their care.

They also said that the school failed to adequately investigate allegations that were brought to the attention of its leaders, which has resulted in “damaged trust” at the school.

But they said they’ve tried to turn a corner by committing to boundary training for everyone in the school’s community, by clearly articulating a faculty code of conduct, by reporting inappropriate behaviors to police, and by enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for adults who use their power to harm or manipulate children.

Hirschfeld said six staff members have been fired for personal boundary violations since 2000.

“Since 2000, the school has really done, I think, compared to our peers, a really good job of boundary training, so a lot of behaviors that may have led to something as egregious as sexual assault or sexual abuse have been caught before they rise to that level,” Hirschfeld said.

Still, he added, the dissemination of the report Monday throughout the school community, including to current students, could prompt more people to come forward.

“Some have been questioning why we released the report, and we talked about the importance of excavating our history in order to make sure our present and future doesn’t repeat these same mistakes,” said Theresa Ferns, the dean of student life.

St. Paul’s School was founded in 1856 and admitted girls for the first time in 1971. It now enrolls 531 students from 38 states and 21 countries.

In 2015, recent graduate Owen Labrie was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault and other charges against a freshman girl. Prosecutors said he assaulted the girl as part of game of sexual conquest. School officials have denied they could have prevented the assault but said they have since taken steps to “prevent and reduce risky adolescent behavior.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)




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