'I Can't Help But Cringe': Court Papers Tell a Story of Teacher Charged in St. Paul's Probe
On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office announced it was filing charges against a former teacher at St. Paul’s School in Concord for witness tampering and conspiracy to commit perjury. They are the first charges to be filed in connection with the AG’s investigation into the elite prep school over allegations of sexual misconduct over several decades.
NHPR's Jason Moon has been following the story and has this breakdown of what the charges are, and what they tell us about the broader investigation into St. Paul's School.
The Attorney General's investigation into St. Paul’s School.
St. Paul’s has been in the headlines a lot lately for issues of sexual misconduct.
There was the highly publicized Owen Labrie case two years ago in which a student was accused of sexual assault. And there were allegations from former students against teachers that started to surface in media reports.
The school announced in 2016 that they had hired a law firm to conduct an investigation into these allegations. In 2017, they released the findings of that investigation which found dozens of those allegations to be credible.
That report led to a whole new crop of former students coming forward with even more allegations.
Around the same time last year, the AG announced they were going to conduct their own investigation into the school -- partly based on what was in that report, and partly based on things that came out during the Owen Labrie trial.
The charges filed Wednesday against this former teacher are the first visible results of that investigation the AG started last year.
Charges filed Wednesday: witness tampering and conspiracy to commit perjury.
The AG is alleging that a former St. Paul’s teacher, David Pook, tried to cover up evidence of a relationship he had with a female student while teaching at the school a decade ago.
Pook taught at St. Paul's from 2000-2008 and at The Derryfield School from 2009 until this week. He was respected in education policy circles for his work on Common Core standards and standardized tests. In 2017 he received a National Presidential Scholars Commendation.
In the court documents filed this week, the AG’s office says it has probable cause to believe that Pook's relationship with the former student continues to this day. The name of the former student is being withheld while the AG continues its investigation. Based on the years she attended St. Paul's, she would now be in her late 20s.
The AG alleges that Pook and the former student coordinated their grand jury testimony with each other and shared subpoena documents that are supposed to stay confidential.
The evidence for the claim is a series of emails that the AG obtained as part of its investigation. Several excerpts of those messages were included in an affidavit filed this week.
In one exchange, Pook asks the former student if she wants to do a dry run of her testimony.
In another exchange, the former student writes, “just remember that you don’t know that they talked to me.”
When she testified before the grand jury she told them that she had no contact with Pook since last summer and that they had not been in touch since they were both subpoenaed.
The emails and this testimony form much of the basis for the charges against Pook -- that he encouraged his former student to lie on his behalf and that he was conspiring to lie to investigators himself.
But it’s interesting to note that while the AG clearly states in its affidavit that the former student committed perjury herself in her testimony, they haven’t unveiled any charges against her, just Pook.
Charges against that former student could be forthcoming, or the AG could be considering her a victim, since they allege the relationship began when she was a minor.
What the charges say about how St. Paul’s handled allegations of misconduct.
While these charges are against a former teacher, the affidavit holds clues to what a future case against the school could look like.
In the affidavit, the AG revealed it has internal documents from St. Paul’s from while Pook was teaching there, from 2000-2008.
Those documents show that Pook was reprimanded or warned on multiple occasions about “boundary crossing” with students. In one case he was warned not to go into female students’ dorms as they were getting ready for bed. In another, he was reprimanded for drawing "close to a young lady in the classroom with [his] tongue near her ear as a way to demonstrate some kind of moral dilemma."
Those documents also show that others at St. Paul’s were bringing concerns to the head of the school about Pook. An excerpt of an email to the then-head of the school about Pook reads, “I can’t help but cringe just a little when we so publicly describe him as the master teacher we want all our teachers to emulate.”
But despite receiving those concerns and despite the formal reprimands issued against him, the school kept him on staff and even gave him a raise just five months after being disciplined.
In 2008, the school fired him over his ‘boundary crossing’ issues -- the AG claims that was related to the student in question here.
But the next year, when Pook was applying to teach at the Derryfield School, another prep school in New Hampshire, St. Paul’s misled Derryfield when they called to ask about him. Instead of telling Derryfield about the concerns raised about Pook, St. Paul’s then-rector said Pook was “as good a teacher as we have had here in ten years.”
In a statement released by St. Paul’s Wednesday, the school apologized for this, saying “school leadership at the time should never have given Mr. Pook a recommendation.”
The Derryfield School, for its part, says they terminated Pook on Wednesday when they learned about the charges filed against him. According to the school, he is no longer allowed on campus and has been instructed not to contact students or families.
But the episode is also raising questions about that school’s conduct. The AG says they filed a court motion to release some of these documents to Derryfield in October of last year, to allow the school to "make informed decisions concerning whether Mr. Pook's continued employment with Derryfield is compatible with its obligation to protect the welfare of its students."
Pook's lawyer filed a motion to block the release of that information. It's unclear if that effort was successful, but in a statement from Derryfield released Thursday, they say that they never received the warning.
Still, the school was aware of a subpoena that was issued in August of 2017 for Pook's records at Derryfield. In response to receiving this subpoena, Derryfield says they interviewed Pook about his conduct at both schools. They ultimately decided that "there was no indication that Pook posed any risk to Derryfield students."
The statement from Derryfield goes on to say, "had we obtained any information about safety concerns, we would have acted immediately."
Pook is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on March 15.
No one knows where this is leading, but one thing we can glean from these charges is that the AG is taking the investigation into St. Paul’s very seriously. They’ve summoned a grand jury, they’re issuing a lot of subpoenas, and they’re seizing computers and cell phone records.
It may be that the AG is collecting evidence from cases similar to Pook's for an eventual case against the school itself.