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Investigation Reveals More Sex Abuse Allegations at Phillips Exeter Academy

Jeff L via Flickr CC

An independent investigation revealed last week that there are more sex abuse allegations against former faculty and staff at Phillips Exeter Academy than previously thought. The allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior involved several students over a period that began in 1966.

Hadley Barndollar has been covering this story for the Portsmouth Herald. She joins NHPR’s Peter Biello to talk about these new revelations.

This transcript has been edited for clarity. 

Let’s go back to the beginning of this story. We first learned about allegations against former Phillips Exeter teacher Rick Schubart in March of 2016. What were those allegations?

Rick Schubart actually admitted to sexual misconduct with two students going back to the 1970s and 80s. They were just publicly announced by the school in March of 2016. He retired in 2011, and was removed from campus housing at the time. But the allegations were never made public. And in March of 2016 he was actually barred from campus and was stripped of emeritus faculty title. So that kind of spun off this whole tumultuous time for Phillips Exeter, per se. 

And after that in 2016 a student at Phillips Exeter was accused of sexual assault, and the school was accused of trying to keep that incident quiet, is that correct?

Yes. And this kind of set off the whole alumni reaction to how the school has been handling alleged sex abuse claims. An academy senior in June of 2016, Chukwudi Ikpeazu, was arrested for alleged sexual assault on a fellow classmate that took place in the school’s church during October 2015. A lot of people will know this as the bread baking incident. Allegedly the victim went to the school’s reverend to tell him about the incident, and he offered that instead of reporting to authorities, that they have him bake her bread as an act of penance in order for her to forgive him. She told all of this to the Boston Globe in many of their investigative pieces. And she said when she did end up going to administration, they characterized her alleged assault as harassment and said they would rather handle the situation in-house rather than going to the police. But she did end up going to the Exeter Police Department and he was arrested in June of last year.

And when that was made public it looked very bad for the school. And so the school chose to hire independent investigators to look into what, exactly?

Well, I think another thing that sparked this was hundreds of alumni signed a petition to the board of trustees basically ripping the school apart for how they’ve been handling these alleged sex abuse cases. So there was a lot of pressure on the Board of Trustees and President Lisa MacFarlane. So they hired these law firms shortly thereafter. They don’t specify exactly when they hired them, but they’ve been working actively for the past year. What we saw last week was a product of those yearlong investigations.

Very quickly, are you able to summarize what the report found last week?

The investigation conducted by international law firm Holland and Knight revealed new sex abuse allegations against five former employees: Donald Foster, George Mangan, Henry Ploegstra, and Eldeff Schwaab. In addition, a new allegation was revealed against Lane Bateman. He was a theatre teacher who was actually sentenced to federal prison for distribution of child pornography back in the 90s. So five faculty members total were named in the new allegations.

Most of the complaints took place between the 1960s and 1980s. Donald Foster was employed at the school through 2011. Three of them have since passed. Mangan has passed away, Schwaab has passed away, and Bateman has passed away. But Donald Foster and Henry Ploegstra are still alive.

So what are alumni saying now with respect to the investigation?

A couple of different things. First of all, many alumni have said the academy is taking steps in the right direction by disclosing these allegations to the public. Before this they were known to try to keep them secret and not let these out to the news media. I had one alumni tell me that they were responding to news stories instead of getting ahead of the news stories. So while they’re saying that the academy is taking steps forward, I’ve had a couple alumni tell me this is only the tip of the iceberg. I‘m looking at a quote right now from one ex-faculty member who I interviewed who said that they need to shine the light down the rabbit hole and see how deep it goes.

I think another important thing to note is they haven‘t specified if the current  investigation is looking at the faculty members that are currently on campus that are alleged to have tried to cover up students from reporting these to the police. I talked to one 1970s graduate who said that he hopes that the investigations are looking at these current administrators. He specifically said that they need to clean house internally before they start to unburden themselves of this historic culture of sex abuse.

Is the school responding in any way to those pointed suggestions or complaints?

I did reach out to academy officials on Friday, and I have not heard back since. I did ask if current faculty were being investigated and I have not heard back. But I will be sure to report back if I do.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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