Elite prep school principal: Sex abuse claims 'dark moment'
CONCORD, N.H. >> The principal of an elite prep school dealing with a series of sexual abuse allegations acknowledged Friday it represented a "dark moment" but said the school will emerge from the crisis strong and healthy.
Phillips Exeter Academy Principal Lisa MacFarlane spoke to The Associated Press following revelations last month about former teacher Rick Schubart. Schubart was forced to resign in 2011 after admitting sexual misconduct dating to the 1970s and was barred from campus after more misconduct surfaced in 2015.
The school, which was founded in 1781 and is the alma mater of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, said earlier this month that a second teacher, Steve Lewis, recently was fired for having sexual encounters with a student decades ago. Exeter police said additional investigations are ongoing.
Schubart has not responded to several attempts to reach him for comment, and Lewis can't be located.
MacFarlane said the Exeter community is "a really strong one" and the school is "not alone among schools in having a dark moment in a long history."
"What we are focused on is being as thoughtful and committed as we can to understanding that moment, to making any changes we need to," MacFarlane said. "We are not alone in that. I am confident that the Exeter of today and tomorrow will be strong, healthy and vibrant."
Since the revelations became public, Exeter has hired two law firms to examine abuse allegations: one to investigate the cases involving Schubart and another to examine the school's handling of misconduct allegations levelled at faculty members.
The abuse allegations also could have political ramifications because the husband of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan didn't disclose them publicly when he was principal. Hassan, who's running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte, accepted money from Schubart and listed him as a supporter of her 2012 gubernatorial campaign even after he left the school, a fact Republicans seized on as evidence of poor judgment.
Hassan has apologized and donated $1,000 to an organization dealing with domestic and sexual violence. Her husband, Thomas Hassan, has been censured by an international boarding school association for not disclosing Schubart's wrongdoing before the former teacher was given an award in 2012.
The school is talking with prominent victims' assistance organizations about establishing a partnership to address the needs of victims, MacFarlane said. Last week on campus it hosted a play "that deals with these issues and required the entire campus to go and see it," she said.
Since arriving in September, MacFarlane has brought in the Prevention Innovation Research Center, which works to eliminate relationship violence and stalking, to do a comprehensive survey of the student body of more than 1,000 students in grades 9-12. The goal, she said, was to "understand what our students today are thinking, feeling, talking about, doing."
MacFarlane said it was too early to determine whether the school has or ever had a problem with sexual abuse beyond a few cases. She urged anyone with relevant information to step forward.
She noted the school had received support from parents of current students and there had been no change in enrollment patterns.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.