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Andover private school says it is investigating ex-teacher

Officials at a private school in Andover disclosed Thursday that they are investigating an allegation of misconduct by a former Latin teacher, who was fired after she admitted to a sexual relationship with a former student that she said began after he graduated.

In a letter sent Thursday to alumni, officials at the Pike School, which educates students in prekindergarten through ninth grade, said lawyers representing the alumnus approached the school in 2011, alleging that “he developed an inappropriate relationship with one of his teachers, Judith ­Elefante, [Judith Chapell, at the time],” in the early 1990s while he was at the school.

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The letter does not state that the relationship was sexual when the student was at Pike.

Elefante later told the head of school, John M. Waters, that she provided only advice and support to the student while he was at Pike, but that “the relationship developed into a sexual one” after he left the school, the letter said.

Waters subsequently fired Elefante.

Attempts to reach Elefante and her lawyer were unsuccessful Thursday night. Elefante has not been charged with a crime.

The alleged victim’s lawyer, Carmen L. Durso, said that the sexual relationship started when his client was 15 and ­Elefante was in her 50s and that she was “grooming” him for that abuse during their inter­actions at Pike.

Durso said he intends to file a lawsuit against the school but has not yet settled on a venue. He declined to discuss details of the case before a suit is filed.

In their letter, Pike officials said the interactions between Elefante and the boy, when he was a student there, allegedly involved “only phone calls and other contact off campus.”

They said that the school has ­received no information suggesting that faculty members or administrators at the time knew of an improper relationship between the two.

Karen Schwartzman, a public relations executive retained by the school, said the one-on-one, off-campus outings were informal, such as trips to get ice cream, which teachers are permitted to take with students.

“Close and supportive relationships between students and teachers at Pike are among the things that make Pike an attractive place for many,” said Schwartzman. “The revelation that one teacher might have gone beyond the bounds in this case  . . . does not cause [Pike] to change a program which is so successful and has been for decades.”

Asked about allowing one-on-one outings between teachers and students, Durso said that if schools have such policies, “you need to couple it with some kind of educational program, so kids understand what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”

In the school’s letter to alumni, Pike officials said they are now “taking steps to provide professional development for our faculty and staff to further heighten their awareness about appropriate boundaries between student and teacher and to ensure that they are as sensitive as people can be to patterns of behavior that might subtly suggest the possibility of an inappropriate relationship.”

The officials added that they looked into the allegations against Elefante when they first learned of them but are now conducting a more extensive ­review and urged alumni to contact Waters if they had any questions or information.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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