Headmaster leaving after prep school sex abuse investigation

AP News
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Posted: Jun 07, 2016 9:12 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The headmaster of a prestigious boarding school has announced his departure days after state police concluded an investigation into dozens of sexual abuse allegations there with no criminal charges.

The St. George's School Board of Trustees announced Tuesday that headmaster Eric Peterson won't seek to extend his contract, which ends June 30, 2017. Peterson has been headmaster of the Episcopal school in Middletown, near Newport, since 2004.

In an email to the school community, board chairwoman Leslie Heaney expressed profound gratitude for Peterson's leadership and briefly addressed the abuse scandal.

"Throughout this transition, the school's commitment to addressing past instances of sexual abuse and to supporting our survivor community will remain steadfast, as will our efforts to advance educational innovation, support our faculty and challenge our students," she wrote.

Police investigated dozens of former students' allegations of abuse by employees and classmates but announced Thursday they couldn't proceed with criminal charges. Among the reasons they cited were the statute of limitations and different laws when the abuse occurred.

An independent investigation of the abuse by a Boston law firm is expected to conclude later this month.

The police investigation spanned as far back as the 1970s and as recently as 2005.

Peterson was told by multiple victims about sexual abuse, starting in 2004, the year he became headmaster, but the school did not report it to authorities until November. The school acknowledged in December that it repeatedly failed to notify authorities about abuse, and it apologized.

Peterson did not directly address the scandal in his own email to the school community, but he acknowledged that recent months had been challenging for the school. He did not detail his plans but said the decision came at a "logical point" for him and his family, and he said he was hopeful the timing would allow for a thorough search to find his successor.

Abused former student Anne Scott, who leads the survivors' support group SGS for Healing, said if a child at boarding school is raped or assaulted by an adult she naturally turns to the school's leader's for help.

"I welcome a coming era at independent schools, where its leaders can act — boldly, swiftly and clearly — in support of survivors," she said. "It makes a world of difference for justice and healing."

Victims' lawyer Eric MacLeish said Peterson was one of many school leaders who "chose silence about decades of sexual abuse at St. George's over outreach, compassion and assistance to alumni victims."

"As someone who went to St. George's," he said, "I hope that the next head of school approaches this crisis with a complete open heart to the survivors we represent and understands the devastation and trauma that these life-altering events caused."