Prep school alumni call for more action on sex abuse report

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Alumni from a prominent New Hampshire prep school on Wednesday called for a more thorough investigation into decades of sexual misconduct and details on administrators who mishandled abuse claims.

The letter from Phillips Exeter Alumni for Truth and Healing or PATH follows two reportsreleased by the school last month, in which 11 former staffers are accused of sexual misconduct involving students. The reports also found that school administrators failed to act on complaints of abuse and, in several cases, never recorded the complaints in personnel files — an omission that allowed some to move to other institutions.

The group, devoted to holding Phillips Exeter Academy accountable for past abuses and ensuring victims are assisted, is calling on the school to hand over all evidence collected in the investigation to an independent third party and for that person to release a comprehensive report. It wants Exeter to investigate cases of student-on-student abuse and remove any administrators found to have mishandled abuse claims.

“We feel that the reports are not comprehensive enough,” said Julia Gray, a 1997 graduate who was sexually assaulted on campus by a young man who was not a student. She reported it to the school but felt authorities did not take her assault seriously.

“They did not fully report out on the content of the investigations of all the stories and reports they got from survivors,” she said.

A site PATH set up for anonymous complaints has logged nearly 70, including 40 involving student-on-student abuse, Gray said.

Exeter’s reports examined 28 allegations, 26 involving sexual misconduct by faculty on students and two involving failure of staff to respond appropriately.

The alumni group has a petition that went online Friday and details a series of actions it wants the school to take. It has 275 signatures.

Bill Rawson, Exeter’s interim principal, said the petition shows a “fundamental lack of trust” in the school and a misunderstanding of its response to the abuse claims.

Still, Rawson said the school, located in the town of Exeter, would review the group’s concerns.

“We have been and remain committed to a thorough discovery of our past, support for those who have been harmed, and the undertaking of appropriate corrective action and communication,” Rawson wrote. “We believe PATH’s letter reflects some misunderstandings regarding the investigations that were conducted, and the Academy’s response to what it learned from those investigations.”

Exeter is just one of several prep schools across New England rocked by sexual misconduct claims involving former staffers. The claims have resulted in reports finding abuse going back decades, lawsuits by former students and criminal charges against faculty.

St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire released a report last month detailing abuse by 20 former faculty members and administrators. On Sept. 13, the state attorney general’s office announced an agreement with the school related to its own investigation of the abuse claims. In lieu of child endangerment charges against the school, a monitor will be appointed to oversee St. Paul’s handling of sexual abuse claims for the next five years.

The revelations that prompted the Exeter investigation emerged in 2016 after teacher Rick Schubart was forced to resign in 2011 after admitting sexual misconduct with students dating to the 1970s. A month later, Steve Lewis was fired amid allegations of sexual misconduct with a student decades ago. Both were named in the report.

Last year, Arthur Peekel pleaded guilty to charges that he assaulted Lawrence Jenkens, who visited Exeter as a youngster in 1973. Peekel moved to Illinois, where he was named Teacher of the Year in 1992. He retired from Rolling Meadows High School in 2004.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t name people who say they’re victims of sexual abuse, but Jenkens said he wanted to discuss his case publicly.

Gray said the goal of her group was not to attack Exeter over the sexual abuse allegations. Rather, she said the group wants to work with the school to get to the bottom of the allegations in a transparent fashion, which would rebuild trust among students, parents and alumni.

“We have previously been in collaborative conversations with them on dealing with issues of sexual misconduct so I don’t think any of our recommendations will come as a surprise to the administration and trustees,” Gray said. “But the point of the petition is to show organized support from the greater Exeter community surrounding these recommendations.”

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