Former Fessenden School students allege sex abuse
Four teachers accused; incidents from ‘60s, ‘70s cited
Several former students at the Fessenden School, a prestigious private school in Newton, are alleging they were sexually abused by four teachers during the late 1960s and 1970s, in a significant expansion of claims that came to light in 2011.
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who represents victims of child sexual abuse, said Monday he is preparing to file lawsuits on behalf of two former students against several teachers and their supervisors, and accused Fessenden of “stonewalling these victims for years.”
“It’s inconceivable the administration of this school could not have known” about the abuse, said Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of victims in the clergy sex abuse scandal. “It’s time for them to come forward and be accountable.”
Fessenden officials notified graduates in a 2011 letter that the school had received two claims of abuse, one involving former assistant headmaster Arthur Clarridge, and a second involving a friend of Clarridge’s. Clarridge resigned in 1977 after he was charged in connection with a child sex ring.
In 2010, the school reached a settlement with one student in “the low six figures,” Garabedian said.
After receiving the allegations, school officials combed internal records and found that two other graduates had also filed complaints, one of which involved Clarridge, about alleged abuse that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.
“The school leadership has come to the realization that this intolerable behavior in past decades may have been broader in scope than we once had reason to believe,” Fessenden officials wrote in 2011.
On Monday, the school said it had reached out to graduates three years ago to apologize for “intolerable behavior that occurred in the past” and offer counseling to victims.
“It was and remains our hope that victims would come forward,” the school said in a statement. “Today, we continue to extend our sincere apologies to those whose lives were affected by the actions of a few, and we remain committed to offering confidential counseling and treatment to those who have suffered.”
Garabedian said the lawsuit he is preparing centers on alleged abuse that occurred between 1968 and 1976 and involved male students ages 10 to 14. Another boy who was not a student was allegedly abused by Clarridge at the school, Garabedian said.
Clarridge could not be reached for comment Monday. In 2011, he denied the allegations, telling the Globe he had no inappropriate contact with students.
The planned lawsuits were first reported by the Newton Tab.
Newton police could not immediately say Monday whether any of the abuse allegations at the school had been brought to their attention.
Fessenden, which describes itself as the oldest all-boys, junior boarding school in the country, has about 500 students in pre-K to ninth-grade. Annual tuition ranges from $27,000 in first grade to $38,000 in ninth.
A number of private schools have faced abuse allegations in recent years, often dating back decades. The Landmark School in Beverly last year disclosed that several graduates had lodged sexual molestation complaints, and the Brooks School in North Andover disclosed that a former headmaster had an improper relationship with a student.
Specialists say the spotlight on sexual abuse in the aftermath of the scandal at Penn State University has helped more victims come forward.
John Sweeney, who grew up in Newton, said he was 11 when Clarridge assaulted him in 1969, his first year at Fessenden. Sweeney, 56, said Monday that while he cannot file suit because the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes had expired, he hopes the lawsuits force the school to take account of what happened.
He said Clarridge, who was his dorm master, took interest in him early on, inviting him to ride in his car and watch hockey games in his room.
Sweeney said that Clarridge came to his dorm room one night when his roommate was not there. Sweeney was sick, and Clarridge gave him a nasal inhaler and told him to “breathe in deep.”
Sweeney said he believes he was drugged, and when he woke up Clarridge was assaulting him. Sweeney screamed and Clarridge fell off the bed before rushing away.
Sweeney, who lives on Cape Cod, said he told his mother the next day, but she didn’t believe him. He said he then told the headmaster, who told him he had a “vivid imagination.”
Sweeney said the assault has stayed with him all his life. He has battled drugs, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and has been haunted by nightmares. Now, he wants Fessenden to take responsibility for what happened back then.
“I want Fessenden to admit what they did,” he said. “It’s affected me my whole life. Not just me, all of us victims.”