Spurred by growing allegations of sexual misconduct at private schools, two groups that represent more than 1,000 of the institutions released recommendations Wednesday for preventing the abuse of students by teachers and other staff members.
The draft report is believed to be the first comprehensive review of procedures to curb sexual misconduct at the schools, many of them boarding facilities whose missions often encourage close interaction among students, faculty, and staff.
Many proposals focus on boundaries between students and adults, such as refraining from the exchange of personal information, and the scope and duration of off-campus trips. The recommendations would bar teachers and students from shared sleeping accommodations during outings and set clear guidelines on physical contact.
The draft also urges strict background checks on all hires at the private schools, regardless of position, in an effort to keep sexual offenders from finding new jobs that could put them in close proximity with students.
“This is the first time we’ve come together as an industry to look systematically and comprehensively at the issue,” said Pete Upham, executive director of the Association of Boarding Schools, one of two national organizations that assembled a task force to examine the issue.
The National Association of Independent Schools also participated in the study, which is expected to be finalized this fall after educators, alumni, child advocates, and others have had an opportunity to comment on the recommendations.
The report was released on the same day that Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island announced “shameful news of additional credible allegations of sexual abuse by two former members of the monastery.”
School officials said in a letter to the school community that Father Bede Gorman, who died in 1985, and Father Geoffrey Chase, who is in his 80s and has not lived at the school since 2002, committed “known instances of abuse” between 1959 and the early ’80s.
Attempts to reach Chase were unsuccessful.
“Our hearts break for these victims and their families. Their trust and faith in the sacred mission of Portsmouth was violated,” the letter read. The school’s Board of Regents ordered that Gorman’s name be removed from athletic fields, the squash center, and two annual prizes named in his honor.
The task force that released its recommendations Wednesday began work in 2016, following a Boston Globe Spotlight report that at least 67 private schools in New England had faced accusations since 1991 that staffers sexually abused or harassed more than 200 students in cases going back decades. The number of accused schools now at least 110.
At least 90 lawsuits or other legal claims have been filed on behalf of alleged victims, and at least 37 school employees were fired or forced to resign because of the allegations over the years, according to the Spotlight report. In addition, nearly two dozen eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted on criminal charges of abusing children or related crimes.
The Spotlight team later reported that educators accused of misconduct often found new jobs at other schools.
Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, sat on the 11-person task force that developed the recommendations. She cautioned “there is no single magic bullet that will prevent child sexual abuse,” but predicted they will be “a huge resource to private, independent schools across the country.”
Bernier said that clear guidelines should be set for behavior that is not illegal, such as giving a student a ride or exchanging e-mail addresses.
The recommendations encourage school officials to develop “expectations and guidelines regarding physical contact, including the use of physical discipline or corporal punishment; physical play like roughhousing, tickling, or wrestling; hugging, touching, or sitting on laps; and similar contexts.”
The report also said that staff members should “clarify reporting expectations” of suspected abuse and practice their responses to sexual abuse.
Investigations that have been commissioned by some private schools in recent months found that schools often failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse or misconduct when they were reported to school leaders.
“School heads, the board, and other key stakeholders should prepare for addressing such events by practicing related scenarios in advance. Schools that have practiced what they would do in the case of an allegation, including identifying reporting protocols, are better prepared to respond when a crisis does occur,” the report said.
The draft report said that, in recent decades, “more frank discussions of abuse and its effects have led to a decrease in the rates of child abuse as well as a greater percentage of incidents of abuse being reported.”
However, its authors said, “some schools have navigated incidents of educator sexual misconduct in ways that have further harmed survivors and failed to protect future students from abuse.”
Schools in some cases had not “developed proper response and training protocols,” the report said. “In others, administrators failed to recognize warning signs, set appropriate professional boundaries, or act on information that may have led to more immediate and effective responses.”
The report also found that “misguided concern about community disruption, the reputation of the school, or personal loyalties . . . took precedence over caring for abuse victims, protecting students, and preventing future abuse.”