Phillips Exeter Academy on Friday released three new reports detailing allegations of sexual abuse by 11 former staffers dating back decades, prompting an apology from the elite New Hampshire prep school.
The reports were written following an investigation conducted by two private law firms that also determined administrators at the private school in Exeter, N.H., failed to act swiftly to address complaints.
“We apologize to the entire Exeter community, past and present,” William K. Rawson, the school’s interim principal, and John A. “Tony” Downer, president of the school’s trustees, wrote in a letter to the school’s community.
“On the Academy’s behalf, we accept full responsibility for the harm that has been suffered and for the failures of those whose responsibility it was to prevent and address such harm,” read the letter. “We recognize the enormous violation of trust and the lasting wounds inflicted and endured.”
Kristin Knuuttila, a Boston lawyer who represents some who were victims of sex abuse at the school, said the letter is meaningful because it appears to show that school officials are accepting responsibility and trying to do the right thing.
“The reports are a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure they’re entirely comprehensive,” she said.
Her clients, she said, continue to be “very committed to working with Exeter” and to demanding truth and reconciliation.
The reports named 10 former staff members who were accused of sexual misconduct, while the identity of one alleged perpetrator who was thought to have worked on the school’s grounds crew in the late 1980s could not be established.
The one former staffer who had not previously been named was Barry Pomerantz, a former counselor who is alleged to have kissed a student, the school confirmed Friday night.
In one of the reports, law firm Holland & Knight investigated 26 allegations of sexual misconduct by the school’s faculty and staff against students from the 1950s to the 2010s. In seven of the 26 instances, investigators found that “some or all of the reported sexual misconduct did occur.”
Six alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct were identified in that report, with all but one having been named previously.
In five other instances, Holland & Knight determined that there existed “some level of conduct of a sexual nature or inappropriate attention to boundaries in the form of physical touching of students.”
The firm also identified systemic shortcomings at the school when it came to dealing with allegations of misconduct. Specifically, there was a dual-record keeping system, where the equivalent of a human resources office would have one personnel file for an employee and a “confidential” personnel file was kept by a school administrator. That practice, which existed at least as early as the 1970s and continued into the 2010s, resulted in some administrative staff members “having an incomplete view of the conduct history in the confidential file” in some cases.
The report also pointed out an absence of a clear protocol for sexual misconduct complaints in the past at the school, meaning the school failed “to respond to, investigate, and communicate internally regarding reported misconduct in an effective and appropriate manner and, in certain circumstances, [failed] to report misconduct to the appropriate authorities.”
Another report made available Friday was by the law firm Nixon Peabody. In it, investigators probed allegations of sexual misconduct “in which parties were represented by legal counsel, had previously been investigated by the Academy, or involved a criminal proceeding.” The four alleged perpetrators cited in that report were named previously, the school said.
A third report included a summary of “allegations of sexual misconduct by students against students.” In that report, the school said it received 20 reports of misconduct, 18 of which alleged sexual misconduct and two of which alleged psychological abuse.
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.