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New Hampshire attorney general steps in to oversee St. Paul's School

New Hampshire attorney general steps in to oversee St. Paul's School
Elite Episcopal school sidesteps criminal prosecution

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
www.virtueonline.org
September 18, 2018

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Ever since the sexual Senior Salute games exploded in the spring of 2014, St. Paul's School has been dogged by continued allegations of sexual misconduct stretching back decades at the elite school. The Pandora's Box was ripped open.

Most recently, the Episcopal School has not been able to shed the stigma of older predatory upperclassmen preying on younger female students in games of sexual conquest. The 2014 scandal has resulted in an 18-year-old graduate being tried for aggravated felonious assault, sexual assault and the child endangerment of a 15-year-old freshman. Then he was convicted of three misdemeanor sexual assault charges, a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child, and a felony charge of using his computer to solicit the girl.

St. Paul's notorious graduate, Owen Labrie, is now facing completing a 12-month jail sentence in New Hampshire. He unexpectedly spent 10 weeks in jail -- while in solitary confinement the entire time -- for not living up to the conditions of his $15,000 post-trial bond and violating the terms of a court-imposed curfew. Labrie also faces the lifelong branding as a sex offender in the State of Vermont. He is appealing, trying to overturn his jail sentence by claiming ineffective legal counsel by high-priced, high-profile attorney J.W. Carney.

In May 2016 Merrimack Superior Court, Senior Judge Lawrence Smukler, who initially revoked Labrie's bond, reinstated it at the urging of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. State supreme court justices feared that Labrie's jail sentence would be completed before they had a chance to hear and rule on his appeal.

In his latest court date last week (Sept. 13), Labrie's current attorney Jayne Rancourt, argued that the e-mails communications and Facebook posts between Labrie and Miss X -- who has now been identified as Chessy Prout -- were merely characteristic of social media messaging between typical high school teenagers and the communiques don't point to Labrie seeking a hookup for a sexual encounter.

The Senior Salute scandal toppled Owen Labrie's future plans. Originally, he had planned to attend an Ivy League school; he had initially been accepted into the Harvard Class of 2018. He also had his eye on the ministry and hoped to labor in the rural vineyard as a simple country parson. Now he is back in Vermont fighting to clear his name, all hopes of the ministry are dashed.

THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

The high profile sordid Senior Salute saga was just a small tip of the massive iceberg, which has also toppled the school's rector and now, following an exhaustive 14-month investigation into multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by an impaneled grand jury, the state of New Hampshire is stepping in to take complete control of the beleaguered residential co-ed school's reporting of allegations of child abuse and sexual misconduct.

In May, Michael Hirschfield, St. Paul's 13th rector since its founding in 1856, announced he was stepping aside one year earlier than anticipated "for family reasons." His final day at the helm was June 30.

"This has been an unusually painful time for the entire School community and also for my family," he writes in his resignation letter to St. Paul's Board of Trustees. "It is for this reason that I hope you will allow me to step down earlier than I had originally planned."

Michael Hirschfield is the younger brother of Bishop Robert Hirschfield (X New Hampshire).

St. Paul's interim rector is Amy Richards. She will be holding the fort until July 1, 2019, when Kathleen Giles steps up. Ms. Giles will be the first female rector in the school's 162-year history.

Last Thursday (Sept. 13) New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced that St. Paul's School and his office had reached an agreement which would allow the school to forgo criminal prosecution for child endangerment by bringing the school under his legal oversight for a period of no less than three years and possibly up to five years.

In July 2017, the state prosecutors launched a massive criminal investigation into the problems at St. Paul's resulting in the mishandling of sexual misconduct and abuse allegations while failing to mandatorily report those abuses to civil authorities. The attorney general's office partnered with the Merrimack County attorney, the New Hampshire State Police and the Concord Police Department to get to the bottom of things.

"The school's primary focus was protecting its reputation and protecting itself, rather than protecting the children entrusted to its care," Attorney General MacDonald explained during last week's press conference

SIGNED AGREEMENT

A detailed 25-point, nine-page agreement was entered into on September 11 by Attorney General MacDonald and Archibald Cox, the president of St. Paul's School Board of Trustees.

In the public agreement the attorney general agrees not to "prosecute St. Paul's, or its individual agency regarding the handing of past allegations of the physical or sexual abuse of students by faculty or staff, or by fellow students" if the school follows specific state requirements for reporting known or suspected "incidences of child endangerment, physical or sexual abuse, neglect or other criminal or potentially criminal conduct;" maintain record keeping and transparency requirements; conduct mandatory training of all students, faculty and staff as to the requirements of the Child Protection Act statues; be fully cooperative with law enforcement and other state agencies dedicated to protecting children; evaluate, review and revise policies and protocols -- subject to approval by the attorney general -- regarding the documentation of any future allegations of physical and/or sexual abuse; should a future allegation of abuse be made the school is to protect the safety and well-being of the alleged victim, and provide a victim advocate and make transportation available to off-campus crisis center services.

The school is to be responsible for the costs of the implantation of the agreement including reimbursing the state $50,000 to cover the cost of the 14-month grand jury investigation and pay for all costs related to the agreement such as the compliance officer's salary and benefits. The "Compliance Officer" will report directly to the Attorney General's office.

Should St. Paul's renege on its part of the attorney general's agreement, repercussions could include the school facing the criminal prosecution the plea bargained away and the attorney general's office is not barred by the statues of limitations.

The agreement between the private school and attorney generals is historic, groundbreaking and revolutionary. It could very easily be a template for other states to follow to force other private and parochial schools to be accountable and transparent. Public schools already have governmental oversight to help keep them on the straight and narrow.

"The agreement will assure a system of accountability, transparency, and oversight by this office and it will facilitate the protection of children to a far greater extent than a criminal proceeding would," MacDonald explained. "The school can't just say, 'We have a new rector and things will be different.' That's not enough given the steady drumbeat of sexual abuse cases coming out of the last 40 to 50 years."

It is theorized that if St. Paul's were convicted of a series of misdemeanors and made to pay fines, it would not make a lasting impact and the school could fall back into business as usual.

"Based on the evidence gathered over the course of the past year, we could have charged the school. But we concluded that the duty to protect students and others at the school would not be advanced by a protracted process that would have resulted in misdemeanor convictions and monetary fines against the school," the attorney general fleshed out. "Rather, we pursued a course of comprehensive reform with the objectives of achieving immediate and meaningful measures to protect members of the St. Paul's community."

Some attorneys who deal with abuse victims are hailing the agreement. It has been shown that powerful elite schools cannot effectively police themselves.

"I think you can make a very strong and powerful case that, like any other facility that serves children, there's nothing special about these schools," Eric MacLeish noted. "They should be subject to regulation, there should be regulators overseeing them -- not just when there's a crisis, but on a regular basis."

MacLeish is known to have worked with the Archdiocese of Boston in negotiating settlements with Catholic priestly abuse victims before the Boston Globe uncovered that sexual abuse crisis in 2002. He thinks that other state attorneys general will use the St. Paul's agreement as a templet to reign in abusive private school in their states.

FR. WHITE'S WOES

St. Paul's School has as long history of predatory sexual abuse. New England Cable News (NECN) reports that as a result of the New Hampshire grand jury's investigation, there were "substantiated abuse claims against 20 former faculty and staff members" between 1947 and 1999. St. Paul's became a co-educational school in 1971.

"The list includes former teachers, administrators, chaplains and a counselor accused of a range of misconduct from inappropriate touching to forced kissing to one teacher who allegedly took students on several trips to New York City to have sex with prostitutes," NECN reported on Aug. 21.

One of the "chaplains" who was accused of sexual abuse was Fr. Howard White, an Episcopal priest who was finally defrocked by a Pennsylvania bishop.

Fr. White taught Sacred Studies at St. Paul's during the 1967-1971 school years. He then went on to St. George's School, another Episcopal boarding school in Newport on the southern end of Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island. He was fired from the elite Rhode Island school in 1974 for "admitted sexual misconduct, which was not reported to law enforcement at the time."

By late summer 2016, St. Paul's was alarmed by allegations coming out of St. George's concerning Fr. White. St. Paul's launched its own probe into its former chaplain. The school's inquiry was followed up by an investigation by the Concord Police Department.

Little by little the news came out that the priest had been abusing boys while serving in Episcopal dioceses in the states of West Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. It was Bishop Audrey Scanlan (XI Central Pennsylvania) who finally pulled the plug on Fr. White, deposing him in October 2016. Since his retirement in 2006, he was serving as Sunday supply priest in Bedford, Pennsylvania.

After being defrocked, he served time in Massachusetts for confessed five counts of assault and battery charges. Following his release in May, he was immediately extradited to North Carolina to face eight more criminal charges.

As of July, he was in being held at the Haywood County Detention Center in Waynesville, North Carolina under a $1.6 million bond. At one time (1984-2006) Howard White was rector at Grace Church-in-the-Mountains in Waynesville and it is from this time as rector that the new felony charges against him stem. North Carolina has no statue of limitation on felony sex crimes.

The former priest is now 77. If convicted, he could easily spend the rest of his life behind bars.

HAVEN FOR SEXUAL PREDATORS

Former Fr. White isn't the only one to hear the sound of jail doors closing behind him. In August, former St. Paul's teacher, David Pook, pleaded guilty to criminal contempt and witness tampering, which bought him four months in jail and the prohibition from teaching again in New Hampshire.

Pook, who was at St. Paul from 2000-2008, left under "questionable circumstances" including "a boundary violation with a student." He left with a reference in hand, which he used to secure a position at The Derryfield School in nearby Manchester. The co-ed private day school serves grades 6-12.

Prosecutors say that Pook schemed with Stephanie O'Connell, his paramour, to lie under oath. Investigators found that the beginning of their relationship dates back to 2008 when he was still a teacher at St. Paul's and she was a student.

During the grand jury investigation, Ms. O'Connell apparently denied under oath having had any sexual contact as a student or at any time since then with Pook. However, investigators were able to ascertain that the couple maintained a sexual relationship up until the time he was arrested in February, at which time he lost his teaching job in Manchester.

"The state is investigating St. Paul's School for actions of students. The conduct of this defendant and the co-conspirator sidetracked this investigation for months because of their concerted effort to lie," Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said.

She also explained that investigators determined that St. Paul's School violated New Hampshire's child endangerment law in its handling of two abuse cases involving another former faculty member, William Faulkner, a math teacher.

Faulkner taught at St. Paul's for 46 years but was arrested 2010 on charges of endangering the welfare of a student. He was acquitted of the criminal charge of endangering the welfare of a student but convicted of simple assault for touching a female student's shoulder while commenting about her dress.

As a result, the former teacher was fined $1,000, which was suspended on the condition he showed good behavior for one year and pay the student's counseling costs.

However, in 2017, new allegations were levied against Faulkner when a male student accused him of fondling him.

In May, several former St. Paul's students filed a civil lawsuit alleging that the Concord school was a "haven for sexual predators."

One of the predators named was the late Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds. The first openly gay homosexual in the Congress was a teacher at St. Paul's from 1965 to 1969. He later spent 24 years in the US House of Representatives, where he admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old page.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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