"St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., has been embroiled in damaging reports of sexual abuse for years."
September 13th, 2018
BOSTON — Responding to reports of sexual abuse and misconduct over a matter of decades, the state of New Hampshire on Thursday opted not to prosecute former employees of St. Paul’s School, one of the most prestigious prep schools in New England, and instead assigned an independent monitor to the campus for up to five years.
Several analysts called the agreement groundbreaking because it places a private school under government oversight and said it could serve as a model for other states on the issue of school sexual abuse.
Gordon J. MacDonald, the New Hampshire state attorney general, entered into the agreement with Archibald Cox Jr., president of St. Paul’s board of trustees. The school has been embroiled in damaging reports of sexual misconduct for years. A lawsuit earlier this year, filed on behalf of two alumni of the school, called St. Paul’s a “haven for sexual predators.”
Mr. MacDonald had announced in July 2017 that he was starting a criminal investigation into reports of sexual abuse committed by teachers decades ago and stories about a sexual ritual among some students that figured in the rape trial of a former student in 2015. The attorney general and a grand jury received thousands of pages of documents and heard testimony from two dozen witnesses.
But Mr. MacDonald said on Thursday that pursuing criminal charges would have led, at most, to misdemeanor convictions and monetary fines; instead, his office wanted to develop what he called a “course of comprehensive reform.”
Jane Young, deputy attorney general, said the agreement would be “a model that schools across the country could follow.” She said the office was not aware of any similar measures in other states, adding that the person appointed to oversee St. Paul’s will be “selected by this office and will answer to this office.”
A lawyer for students who have reported abuse at St. Paul’s and other prep schools said the decision not to pursue criminal charges made sense because more students can benefit from oversight going forward.
“This is really unprecedented,” said Eric MacLeish, the lawyer.
“Such settlements are usually reserved for civil rights abuses occurring at state institutions. There were simply too many situations where St. Paul’s violated the mandatory abuse reporting laws and other student safety laws.”
He added that the agreement could lead to a national discussion of whether private schools should be licensed on a regular basis by state child protection agencies.
The person assigned to monitor St. Paul’s will have office space on the Concord campus, as well as access to school records and the ability to interview students and personnel. The school is to pay for the so-called compliance overseer and to provide space for a victim advocate, who will also be available to students through a crisis hotline.
“Today marks a change,” said Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “This agreement is focused on the safety of children and not the reputation of the institution.”
She said that what schools have been doing until now “clearly has not worked” and that the settlement provides a road map for schools that are committed to providing a safe learning environment.