A tony New England prep school that has educated the likes of Howard Dean, George H.W. Bush’s father Prescott Bush, and Tucker Carlson is now embroiled in a sex abuse scandal that has been covered up, victims say, since the 1970s. At least 40 former students of St. George’s School in Rhode Island have come forward to say they were abused at the school. The latest known case of abuse allegedly occurred in 2004.
The Associated Press reports that administrators at the $56,000-a-year Episcopal school may face charges for failing to report abuse. St. George’s is conducting its own investigation into the allegations, while Rhode Island state police are “looking into possible sex-crime charges and other offenses.” As the AP notes, there is no statute of limitations on rape in Rhode Island.
The Boston Globe first made the school’s problems public in December, when it reported on the case of alumna Anne Scott. Scott says she was raped multiple times by an athletic trainer named Al Gibbs when she was a 15-year-old student at St. George’s in the 1970s. Scott tried to sue the school in the 1980s, the Globe reported, but the school pushed back, and she dropped the case. (Her lawyer was none other than Eric MacLeish, the man who would go on to represent sexual abuse victims of the Catholic Church in Boston in the 1990s. Billy Crudup played him in Spotlight.)
Now, Scott is suing again, and many more victims are coming forward. St. George’s responded to the growing allegations a week after Scott’s story ran in the Globe with an in-house report about the abuse and an apology to the victims. The report identified three former school employees, including Gibbs, that allegedly abused multiple students in the 1970s and 1980s. A choir director named Franklin Coleman allegedly molested at least six students, and a minister named Howard White allegedly had “inappropriate sexual conduct” with at least one student. Gibbs allegedly abused at least 17 students including Scott. All three employees were either fired or forced out of the school, according to the report.
The AP reports, however, that St. George’s administrators and board members let these alleged abusers go quietly, and that nobody informed the police of any misconduct. One former board member told the AP that Howard Dean’s late father was involved in the cover up:
Dan Brewster, a 1974 graduate, went on to serve on the board of trustees in the early 1990s. He said that then-headmaster [Charles] Hamblet and Howard Dean, a former board chairman and father of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, told him that in some past cases of teachers accused of abuse, the school would quietly let the educator go with a lump-sum payment, a nondisclosure clause and an agreement barring the faculty member from taking a job at another boarding school.
Brewster said that when he asked why the school didn’t notify parents and the authorities, the two men replied that teenagers might be dragged in to testify and that their parents might also bring an “avalanche of lawsuits” against the school. Hamblet and Dean are now dead.
This behavior by administrators and board members appears to have continued up through the 2000s. According to the AP, three students reported to then-Dean of Students Tim Richards that a teacher was touching them inappropriately in 2004. The teacher was simply placed on leave. Richards’ spokeswoman told the AP that he did not contact the authorities because Headmaster Eric Peterson told him that he did not have a legal obligation to do so.
If he is forced to resign, rest assured that Peterson has somewhere to go—Rhode Island NPR reported just this morning that Peterson obtained $190,000 in home loans from St. George’s in 2006 and 2009. He used the money to buy a house on Cape Cod, and in 2011 or 2012, the board even forgave the interest and remaining principal on the loans.
St. George’s spokesman Joe Baerlein told Rhode Island NPR that even though Peterson already has a house on campus as part of his job, the board was happy to offer the loans because they were pleased with his leadership. “The learning experience for the kids at St. George’s was top rate, alumni participation was very strong, the financial and fundraising support was very strong,” he said. Peterson’s current salary is $500,000.