St. Paul’s School said Friday that it has settled a lawsuit brought by the parents of a former student who was sexually assaulted as part of a sexual contest among male students known as the senior salute.
The federal lawsuit, filed in June 2016 by the parents of Chessy Prout, contended that the assault was a “direct result of [St. Paul’s] fostering, permitting, and condoning a tradition of ritualized statutory rape.”
In a letter to the school community, Archibald Cox Jr., president of the board of trustees, said the terms of the Concord, N.H., boarding school’s agreement with the Prouts are confidential.
Still, he wrote, “This is a welcomed outcome, as the litigation is costly and disruptive for the school.”
Prout said she hopes the settlement leads to changes at the school, which was founded in 1856.
“It will be tragic if the leadership and faculty of St. Paul’s views this settlement as a legal tactic to put its shameful track record in the past without acknowledging its present issues; my hope is that the settlement motivates everyone involved with the institution to create a culture where student well-being comes first,” Prout said in a prepared statement.
Cox said the settlement was not connected to the announcement earlier this month that Michael G. Hirschfeld, the school’s head since 2010, will step down at the end of the 2018-2019 school year.
“The timing is simply coincidental,” Cox wrote. “We would have been very happy for Mike to extend his tenure at the school.”
Owen Labrie, who was an 18-year-old senior when he was accused of assaulting Prout at the school in 2014, was acquitted of rape in a 2015 criminal trial but was found guilty of misdemeanor sexual assault and other crimes. The jury found that Labrie had sex with Prout, then a 15-year-old first-year student, but that prosecutors had failed to prove he had acted without her consent, as she had asserted. Labrie was also ordered to register as a sex offender.
Labrie is asking the New Hampshire Supreme Court to grant him a new trial, arguing that his legal representation in the trial was ineffective.
St. Paul’s is one of a number of elite New England prep schools that have been rocked by allegations of sexual assault involving students and faculty.
Last May, the school released a report that found that 13 now-former faculty and staff members had engaged in sexual misconduct with students between 1948 and 1988.
The report, by a law firm hired by the school, faulted administrators for ignoring and even concealing the abuse, saying they were often more interested in preserving the school’s reputation than protecting students from assaults and, in some cases, rape by faculty members.
The report prompted the state attorney general’s office to launch a criminal investigation to determine whether St. Paul’s administrators engaged in conduct that endangered the welfare of children. That investigation is continuing.
“It goes without saying that we would like to get this issue behind us as soon as possible and are cooperating fully with the AG’s office,” Cox wrote in his letter Friday.
In March, Prout is due to a publish a book about her experiences, titled “I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope.” It was written with Jenn Abelson, a Boston Globe reporter.
Cox said the book “will likely generate additional publicity.”
“We continue to admire Ms. Prout’s courage and commend her efforts surrounding sexual assault prevention,” he wrote.
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