News

Midstate school investigates claims of sexual abuse

Written by Vicky Taylor/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Aug 31, 2017 7:27 AM
Mercersburg-Academy.jpg

Mercersburg Academy (Photo: Markell DeLoatch/ Public Opinion)

(Mercersburg) -- Franklin County's leading private school is investigating allegations that a faculty member sexually abused a former student about four decades ago.

In a letter to alumni, Mercersburg Academy Head of School Katherine M. Titus said the school has found the accusations against the late Paul Suerken to be "credible," and promised a full investigation.

She and Board of Regents President Deborah Simon also asked alumni to come forward if they were ever affected by sexual assault or abuse by a faculty or staff member while a student at the academy.

Suerken was an English teacher and cross country coach,  dormitory dean and faculty adviser and directed several musical groups at the academy, according to information in his obituary notice.

He died in Erie on March 21, 2010, at the age of 71. He taught at the  private boarding school between 1964 and 1996.

"Because of an ongoing external investigation, we are unable to comment at this time," said Lee Owen, director of news and content at the academy on Wednesday morning.

In the letter to alumni, Titus and Simon said that outside investigation is being conducted by T&M Protection Resources. They direct alumni who might have information about the investigation or who might have suffered abuse themselves to that firm. 

"This may be a difficult and challenging process that will affect our entire school family in various ways," they wrote, promising the academy will pursue the truth "wherever that may lead" and support alumni who might have been impacted by such abuse.

They said the school, its trustees and administration "remains committed to ensuring the health and safety of our students, both past and present, to the best of our ability."

Mercersburg Academy, located on 300 acres in southcentral Pennsylvania at the edge of the town of Mercersburg, is governed by a 30-member Board of regents. It draws students from from 48 countries, including 29 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia. 

Most students board on campus, but some are day students from nearby communities in Franklin County.

Titus and Simon in their alumni letter said the investigation comes at a time when the board and administration were preparing the school's next strategic plan and focused on the future.

They said the school is committed to the welfare of current students while supporting its alumni community. 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and Public Opinion Online.

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