A private Facebook group for the tony town of Duxbury hosts some 12,000 users who typically use the platform to share photos of the sun setting over its oyster-filled bay or inquire about the best local lawn services. But now, as the town reels amid alarming allegations about two of its most prominent high school coaches, the tone of the discussion has turned decidedly grim.
“This is unbelievably disturbing, sickening and sad,” one user posted in response to a recent news story about the men’s hockey coach, also a physical education teacher at Duxbury Middle School, who allegedly raped a student in the mid-2000s.
“This is not what we should be teaching,” said another user, referring to an entirely different scandal, this one about the Duxbury football team using anti-Semitic play calls during a recent game.
“Our little Town has a serious problem!” concluded another.
The outrage in this affluent South Shore enclave came to a head last week after a couple filed a lawsuit alleging that gym teacher and varsity hockey coach John Blake repeatedly sexually assaulted their son, Parker Foley, inside Duxbury Middle School, precipitating a lifelong battle with substance abuse that ended when the 27-year-old died of a drug overdose last fall. Blake had been placed on paid administrative leave in November, but school administrators only publicly acknowledged an investigation into the sexual assault allegations on March 30, after Joseph and Melissa Foley filed a civil suit against Blake and the Duxbury Public Schools. Superintendent John Antonucci announced Tuesday that Blake had been fired.
The allegations marked the second time in less than two weeks that one of Duxbury’s celebrated sports coaches tumbled from grace. Just days earlier, Dave Maimaron, the coach of the high school’s winning football team and a special education teacher at the school, was fired from his coaching role after reports surfaced that his players used Holocaust-related terms as play calls during a March 12 game against North Plymouth. Though Maimaron wasn’t on the sidelines March 19 during a matchup with Silver Lake, the Duxbury schools made no public statement about the controversy for nine days. Until then, it seemed the football season — already moved to the spring due to COVID restrictions — would proceed as scheduled.
The back-to-back episodes have rocked the town and, in the eyes of some observers, tarnished its reputation. Yet, to many longtime Duxbury residents, the handling of the controversies has been disappointing but not surprising, the product of a school administration that too often seems to prioritize secrecy over transparency and action.
“I think that these stories are disturbing, disgusting, and harmful, and I really hope out of all of this comes accountability as well as more transparency to parents and teachers, but I feel like the leaders care so much more about their jobs right now than actually protecting and supporting students,” said Lillian Ciocci, a 2019 graduate of Duxbury High.
Blake maintains he is innocent and has not been charged with any crime.
Kevin Reddington, Blake’s lawyer, said that his client “a thousand percent” denies the allegations in the Foleys’ civil complaint and plans to file a countersuit against them. “This guy is a good guy,” Reddington said of Blake. “There is no case here.”
Antonucci said last week that the schools had been on “high alert” for the past four years because of student and parent complaints about Blake, but that the anonymity of the allegations and a lack of physical evidence prevented the school system from taking formal action.
But the parents of another Duxbury student claim that getting the schools to look into Blake’s alleged behavior was a challenge even when they personally reached out to the administration. The parents, who asked not to be identified, said that in early 2020 their child alerted another teacher that Blake allegedly had made sexually inappropriate comments. But neither Duxbury Middle School nor Antonucci notified them about their child’s report. They only learned about it when their child informed them at home.
“We initiated the call to the school. Only after being pushed by us did the school conduct a minimal investigation by an attorney,” the parents wrote in a statement to the Globe. “Any meaningful investigation of the incident we reported would have included asking at least general questions of the other teachers and students who may have witnessed the incident in the gym class, and were otherwise in a position to have relevant information. And yet, the administration refused to do so. Instead they told us that it was OUR job, as the victim, to bring the witnesses forth to them.”
A spokesperson for Antonucci did not respond to a request for comment about the handling of the 2020 allegation about Blake, referring the Globe to previous statements made by the superintendent.
The Foleys also maintain the administration has been less than forthcoming in their case.
Blake was put on paid administrative leave from his teaching and coaching roles in November 2020, one day after the Foleys came forward to administrators about the rape allegations made by their late son. The administration did not disclose the reason for Blake’s absence due to the pending investigation. In early March, that independent investigation into the Foleys’ claims was completed and found Blake in violation of the school’s sexual harassment policy.
But it was not until March 30, almost three weeks later — and only after the Foley family filed a civil lawsuit against Blake and the Duxbury schools — that the school system publicly announced the investigation and alerted the community about a tip line for anyone with more information. Antonucci said Tuesday that the Police Department has received more than a dozen anonymous tips about Blake since March 30, but that none are actionable from a legal standpoint.
The school’s completed investigation was shared with the Police Department in early April, and the Foley family was given a redacted summary of the report in early March.
“The school had the complete report as early as March 2 yet refused to make public the very statements they made over the past 24 hours,” Joseph Foley said last week, shortly after the administration released its statement. “In fact, for nearly three weeks they worked to prevent anyone from knowing the results of their findings, nor alerted the community of their findings as a public service, nor asked for people to call their hot line and/or the police with information, nor acknowledged Parker’s death.”
When asked if the Duxbury schools would have released a public statement on the investigation if not for the Foleys’ lawsuit, Antonucci couldn’t say.
“I can’t speculate on that. I think that certainly parting company with Mr. Blake there may have been some notification to the public at that point in time, but unless and until then, it did not seem appropriate to explain that,” the superintendent said.
Questions about transparency also have dogged the school administration in regard to Maimaron. His absence from a March 19 football game against Silver Lake Regional High School sparked questions about why the highly successful coach had been sidelined. It wasn’t until two days later — after media reports surfaced about the troubling play calls — and nine days after the game where the words were reported used that the administration released a statement acknowledging that “highly offensive language” was used by its varsity football team, some of it with religious connotations.
The vagueness of the school’s statement left room for speculation, and several Duxbury residents took to social media to decry “cancel culture.” The exact words the players used were not made known until the Anti-Defamation League launched an investigation into the incident on March 23. Bruce Rutter, of Prejudice Free Duxbury, a town advocacy group born out of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, described players saying “Auschwitz,” “gas chamber,” “Hitler,” “dreidel,” and “rabbi” throughout the game. The next day, after the ADL announcement, Maimaron was fired as head coach.
An internal investigation by the school, separate from the ADL probe, is underway. In the meantime, Maimaron remains on paid administrative leave from his role as a special education teacher. The football team is slated to host its rival Marshfield on Friday without its coach of 16 years on the sidelines.
Antonucci maintains that the school has been as proactive and transparent as possible in its handling of both cases.
“Anytime there are crises like this in communities, there is always a call for more information,” he said in a School Committee meeting Tuesday, after announcing Blake’s firing.
“I want to be clear about this information and statements that Duxbury Public Schools has released about both issues are the information and statements that we can release,” he said. “I have a professional and ethical obligation to adhere to laws that protect the privacy rights of students and staff.”
The private Duxbury Facebook group has begun to reclaim some of its normalcy. Baby sitters are needed. The bay looks as picturesque as ever. But residents continue to grapple with how the town can move forward amid the turmoil.
“Coaches, teachers, and school admins should be held to a very high standard, as they are role models for our children and have such an impact on their lives. Athletic director, football coaches, and any teachers or administrators that knew this stuff was going on should all be let go,” said Duxbury resident Siobhan Perenick.
“The time is now for Duxbury to start a new chapter and to be a better place.”
Hanna Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @hannaskrueger.