New England boarding schools under scrutiny amid abuse cases

Jun 14, 2016 by

Adrian Hooper Jr.’s parents hoped to secure a bright future for their son when they sent him away to boarding school at age 11. It was the early 1960s, and the Fessenden School in Massachusetts had an impeccable reputation, having educated Roosevelts and Kennedys.

Hooper spent the next three years begging to come home for reasons he didn’t disclose until much later: He and at least 16 other former students say they were sexually abused by teachers when they were middle schoolers in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

At Indian Mountain School in Connecticut, lawyers estimate 50 to 100 middle schoolers were violated by staff members at the prestigious boarding school in the 1970s and ’80s.

Sexual abuse scandals have erupted in recent years at a number of elite boarding schools, including St. George’s in Rhode Island and Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire. But what sets Fessenden and Indian Mountain apart is the age of the students. These “junior boarding schools” accept children before ninth grade, some as young as 10 and 11.

Victims and their advocates say the abuse cases underscore how vulnerable younger children are at boarding schools, where they are often far from home, away from their parents, for the first time in their lives. Several say boarding programs for students so young should be reconsidered.

At that age, Hooper said in a recent interview, “I was still trying to figure out what was right and what was wrong.” He said that in the often stern environment at the school, kids who felt alone and away from their families were drawn to “any teacher that showed any kind of niceness or affection or caring.”

As far as anyone can remember, no one at either institution was ever charged with offenses committed there, and the statute of limitations ran out a long time ago. But investigations by plaintiffs’ attorneys and police substantiated many of the allegations, and the schools have settled with more than a dozen victims.

Similar cases have been reported among the several dozen boarding schools in the U.S. that accept children before ninth grade: A dormitory director in Texas was convicted after five pupils accused him of showing them porn and abusing them. A houseparent at an Ohio school pleaded guilty to sexual battery against a 13-year-old boy. In Minnesota, one teacher was convicted and three others have been accused of abuse at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a school known for supplying hockey players to the NHL.

Source: New England boarding schools under scrutiny amid abuse cases | NewBostonPost

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