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    Two prep school teachers ousted over misconduct

    Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, as seen in 2010.
    Handout/2010
    Northfield Mount Hermon School, as seen in 2010.

    Concord Academy and Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill have each ousted a teacher after they acknowledged sexual misconduct with students dating back decades — the latest upheaval in the wake of a Globe Spotlight report on sexual abuse at private schools in New England.

    The schools, among at least two dozen to launch independent investigations of sexual abuse this year, also reported that investigators found credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving other faculty as well, most from decades ago.

    “There were a number of inappropriate relationships between adults and students, relationships that left lasting harm,” Rick Hardy, Concord Academy’s head of school, wrote in a letter to the school community on Wednesday.

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    Concord Academy English teacher Parkman Howe sent a separate letter saying that he was asked to resign and remove himself from campus because he had kissed a student twice more than 30 years ago.

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    “This behavior was inappropriate, and I recognized that it must never happen again. I have never, since these incidents, had any inappropriate relationship with a student,” Howe wrote.

    Howe, who was hired in 1979, declined to comment through a school spokeswoman.

    The school would not provide the total number of allegations or the names of other teachers accused of sexual misconduct. Howe was the only faculty member accused of “inappropriate conduct” who still worked at the school, said Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Concord Academy.

    Although some of the relationships were described to the school as consensual, Hardy wrote, “let me be clear that a romantic relationship, whether physical or emotional, between an adult and student can in no way be ‘consensual’ and under no circumstances is it acceptable.”

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    In other cases at Concord, faculty made unwanted advances or developed “overly close and plainly unhealthy relationships with students.” Concord’s investigation, conducted by former state attorney general Scott Harshbarger, began this spring after a former student — and current Boston Globe employee — accused a teacher of sexual misconduct in the early 2000s. That teacher, who was placed on leave and denied the allegation, decided not to return to campus. The school said it could not substantiate that accusation.

    File/2000
    Students at Concord Academy in 2000.

    Although Harshbarger could not substantiate all allegations brought forward to the school, Hardy said, “we can say that in most cases they were credible, and that we believe them to be true.”

    In May, the Spotlight Team reported that at least 67 private schools in New England have faced accusations since 1991 that staffers sexually abused or harassed more than 200 students. Many former students came forward with new allegations and the count now stands at more than 100 schools, where more than 300 former students say they faced sexual abuse or harassment. At least 24 private schools in New England have launched investigations this year into sexual misconduct by staffers.

    On Tuesday, Peter Fayroian, head of the Northfield Mount Hermon school in Western Massachusetts, sent a letter to the school community saying that he recently fired longtime teacher Gary Partenheimer over an allegation of misconduct with a student more than 30 years ago.

    A three-month investigation by a law firm hired by the school found six other credible allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers stemming from incidents between 1976 and 1991, according to Fayroian.

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    The letter did not specify how many teachers were involved, but said that all but one of the faculty members “were separated’’ from Northfield Mount Hermon shortly after school officials learned of the incidents. The remaining teacher was disciplined and allowed to stay, but left the school over a decade ago. Fayroian didn’t identify any of the teachers.

    A seventh incident came to light earlier this month after a former student contacted Fayroian to report an allegation regarding Partenheimer. A teacher at the school since 1977, Partenheimer is the former chairman of the religious studies and philosophy department.

    “After speaking with her and with Mr. Partenheimer, who did not deny the allegation, I determined the allegation to be credible,’’ Fayroian wrote, and he fired the teacher. “While we have no evidence to suggest any misconduct has occurred since that incident, NMH cannot continue to employ anyone we believe is guilty of such a serious violation of the trust of our students.’’

    Fayroian and Partenheimer could not immediately be reached for comment.

    The investigation for Northfield Mount Hermon was conducted by Jackson Lewis, a law firm that specializes in workplace law, and included an examination of old files and interviews with alumni.

    Both Concord Academy and Northfield Mount Hermon said they reported all allegations to the appropriate authorities. In many cases of sexual abuse at private schools, the Globe found, statutes of limitations make it difficult for authorities to pursue criminal cases and for survivors of abuse to sue schools.

    Fayroian said he spoke in person with all the alumni who came forward with allegations. “These were emotional, heartbreaking conversations,’’ he wrote. “I apologized for NMH, and thanked them for their courage.’’

    Todd Wallack of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jenn Abelson can be reached at jenn.abelson@globe.com