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Officials hid sex abuse at Pa. boarding school

Written by MaryClaire Dale/The Associated Press | Feb 2, 2017 2:28 AM
solebury-school.jpg

The Solebury School in rural Bucks County. (Image via Google Maps)

(Philadelphia) -- Teachers at a Bucks County boarding school sexually preyed on children for half a century while administrators turned a blind eye, a grand jury said in a report Wednesday.

No charges were expected, mostly because the crimes alleged at the culturally progressive Solebury School in New Hope occurred too long ago to be prosecuted.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub compared preying on children at the $55,000-a-year school to "fishing in a barrel" under previous leaders and said they were willfully blind to the situation. One complaint was eligible to be prosecuted before the legal deadline, but the 27-year-old accuser does not want to press charges, Weintraub said.

The report describes nine teachers or officials who engaged in sexual relationships with students at the school from the 1950s through 2005. School leaders repeatedly failed to report the alleged sexual abuse to police or child welfare officials, the report said.

They also failed to discipline the abusers or enforce boundaries at the 90-acre campus, which was described as having a relaxed environment in which students and teachers called each other by their first names, socialized together and sometimes formed close friendships. Some of the perpetrators are dead, and the statute of limitations has run out for others, but Weintraub hopes the report will "expose how these crimes were allowed to occur and how they were concealed for so long."

"This was child predation under the guise of progressive education. It's unconscionable," the prosecutor said.

Investigators called the current head of school, Tom Wilschutz, "blameless" and said he had taken steps to address the problem and urge victims to come forward. But they said "more must be done."

Wilschutz said he was reviewing the recommendations.

"While it is difficult and painful to read the report, the information that has been compiled adds to our examination of the past and provides insights for the future," he said.

Only one Solebury teacher has been prosecuted for sexual misconduct over the five-decade span, the report said. David Chadwick was charged in November 1996 with having sex with a 10th-grade girl. She later told police that school officials knew of the relationship and simply told both parties to end it. She was not yet 16.

Chadwick remained on the job until his contract expired. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to three years in prison. The victim settled a lawsuit with the school for about $750,000, but declined to appear before the grand jury, saying she was still too traumatized.

Other victims did testify before the panel.

-- A retired social worker said a teacher had lured her into a sexual relationship from her junior year until she was 22. Now 77, she said she has been in therapy most of her life.

-- A student in the 1960s said a male teacher took him to the home of a school volunteer who drugged and raped him, causing injuries that required surgery. He continues to suffer from severe anxiety.

-- A 27-year-old former student said she started having sex at age 17 with a married teacher who had pursued her since her junior year. The relationship continued for two years after high school, and the teacher continued to contact her through 2011. The teacher was fired in 2008 for embezzling money from the school. The former student does not wish to pursue criminal charges.

Solebury has about 230 students in grades seven through 12, and 70 faculty and staff members, said spokeswoman Holly Victor. It charges up to $55,000 a year for boarders and $39,000 a year for day students, according to its website.

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