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St. Paul’s School removing former rectors’ names from campus buildings

St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.
St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File/Globe staff

The names of two former heads of the elite St. Paul’s School will be stripped from buildings on its Concord, N.H., campus in the wake of allegations the men overlooked sexual misconduct on their watch.

Bill Oates’s name will come off the school’s performing arts center and Bill Matthews’s name will be removed from its hockey facility, according to an e-mail to the school community sent Saturday by Archibald Cox Jr., president of St. Paul’s board of trustees.

Oates was St. Paul’s rector from 1970 to 1982 and Matthews from 2005 to 2011.

Cox said in a phone interview Sunday that removing the former rectors’ names “was a very difficult decision.”

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“We felt it had to be done,” said Cox, a 1958 St. Paul’s graduate and son of the Watergate prosecutor, another St. Paul’s alumnus. “It’s too bad. There’s no winners here. These were both important figures and will remain so.”

The father of a woman who was sexually assaulted on campus as a 15-year-old freshman said his family finds no comfort in the announcement.

“The school, from my perspective, is trying to move on from an inconvenience that has been caused by the bubbling up of all these past bad acts — instead of trying to do any kind of real self-reflection in terms of the horrible things that have happened to too many children under their care, and trying to put a real end to it,” said Alex Prout, a St. Paul’s alumnus whose daughter Chessy Prout exposed the school’s underground culture of sexual licentiousness when she came forward about her 2014 assault.

Alex Prout said in a phone interview that he, Chessy, and his older daughter, also a St. Paul’s alumna, have been removed from school mailing lists and found out about Saturday’s announcement when it was forwarded to them. The school has made no effort, he said, to involve survivors of sexual assaults in efforts to change the campus culture.

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Alex Prout called for “honest engagement with survivors” and for “a full and transparent accounting of what has happened in the past, what the school has done to cover these things up, and consequences for those responsible.”

“If the school can’t be a safe place for its students, it no longer has a right to exist,” he said.

Cox said Sunday that the school had made a difficult decision in keeping with its mission.

“We put honesty, integrity, and ethical values first,” he said. “We put safety of children first. If there’s any winners here, I think it’s those values. It’s those things that are most important.”

In Cox’s e-mail to the campus community, he said Oates, who died at 98 in 2015, and Matthews are “beloved figures in our community.”

Cox did not specify any allegations against either man but referenced “instances of decision-making at odds with our responsibility to place student safety and well-being first” and “the Rectors’ failures to protect and safeguard children.”

Cox wrote, “School leaders have the obligation to receive information about difficult matters with openness and accountability. School leaders must provide honest information, including honest references, so as to ensure the safety of children at all times.”

Matthews gave a favorable job recommendation for David O. Pook, a St. Paul’s humanities teacher from 2000 to 2008 who was accused of having a sexual relationship with a student but denied it.

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In a March 2018 e-mail to the campus community, Cox said Pook was fired “for repeated boundary crossings” and he “should have been dismissed earlier from the school and should not have been given a favorable recommendation when he left St. Paul’s.”

St. Paul’s officials told the Derryfield School in Manchester, N.H., that Pook was on personal leave and never disclosed they had fired him for inappropriate behavior, according to court records. Pook was hired and worked at Derryfield for nearly a decade.

Matthews could not be reached for comment on Sunday. The Oates family did not respond to inquiries.

St. Paul’s, which was founded in 1856 and began admitting girls in 1971, has been heavily scrutinized since the 2014 arrest of Owen Labrie for assaulting Chessy Prout. Labrie was acquitted of rape but found guilty on lesser sexual assault charges and a computer charge. He was released from jail in July.

The case brought international attention to the St. Paul’s tradition known as the Senior Salute — a competition among senior boys to hook up with as many female underclassmen as possible — and to sexual misconduct by faculty and staff.

A 2017 internal review found 13 former staff and faculty members engaged in sexual misconduct with students between 1948 and 1988. A second report later that year added allegations against an additional five faculty members.

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New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald launched a criminal investigation in 2017 that led to Pook’s arrest last year for attempting to cover up his relationship with a former student.

The school agreed last September to put the attorney general’s office in control of reports of child abuse on campus after MacDonald’s investigation found that St. Paul’s violated New Hampshire’s child endangerment law in its handling of Pook’s case and that of a former math teacher.

Another report last year covering 1967 to 2008 substantiated new allegations against 10 former faculty members, including the late Massachusetts congressman Gerry E. Studds.

Two alumni who attended St. Paul’s in the 1960s and ’70s filed a lawsuit last year accusing the school of negligence for sexual assaults they allegedly experienced.

Michael G. Hirschfeld, the school’s rector since 2010, stepped down last year amid the scandal.

In the first six months of this year, one rape and one incident of “non-consensual sexual contact” were reported at St. Paul’s, according to a report released in August.

An earlier version of this story was not clear about the offense of a teacher who was fired by St. Paul’s “for repeated boundary crossings.” David O. Pook was accused by investigators of having an affair with a student, but he denied the allegation. Pook pleaded guilty in court to witness tampering and contempt of court for telling the former student to lie to a grand jury about their relationship.

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.