By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - New Hampshire has opened a criminal probe into the elite St. Paul's School, following a May report that 13 former members of its staff had engaged in sexual misconduct with students in incidents dating back decades.
Officials at the Concord, New Hampshire, boarding school had apologized after the release of that report, which was commissioned after a 2015 trial shone a harsh light on the school's culture.
Among the allegations that surfaced was the practice of the St. Paul's "senior salute," in which graduating students sought out underclassmen for sex. The school has repeatedly denied that this practice was a part of its culture.
The probe will initially focus on whether the school violated state laws by allowing the endangerment of a child or obstructing government operations, state Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said in a statement late on Thursday.
"Protection of children is a paramount priority for law enforcement," MacDonald said. "I am confident that an institution such as St. Paul's School will be fully cooperative with this investigation."
School Rector Michael Hirschfeld vowed in a statement to "fully cooperate" with the investigation.
"We have been in close contact with local law enforcement regarding recent events of concern," Hirschfeld said.
The 73-page May report, which the school commissioned, accused 13 former members of its staff of sex abuse that occurred from the late 1940s through the 1980s. It was based on interviews with alleged victims and witnesses, whose statements St. Paul's said substantiated the claims.
St. Paul's is not the only boarding school grappling with past sexual abuse of students by staff and faculty. Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut said earlier this year that 12 of its former teachers had abused students, and St. George's School in Rhode Island last year disclosed similar abuse in the 1970s and '80s.
Indeed, the former St. Paul's chaplain whose arrest led to the May report went on to work at St. George's. He pleaded guilty in Boston to charges of sex abuse and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In 2015, former St. Paul's student Owen Labrie was sentenced to a year in jail for luring an underage classmate into a sexual encounter.
St. Paul's is one of the nation's top prep schools, and its alumni include well-known business and political figures, including former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)