By Douglas Moser
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — A former Brooks School headmaster had an inappropriate relationship with a student at some point during his two decades at the school and at least one encounter with an escort while traveling on school business, school officials said in a letter sent to alumni yesterday.
Lawrence W. Becker, headmaster at Brooks from 1986 to 2008, had a relationship with a student during his tenure that the school judged to be “objectionable, manipulative, and an abuse of his position,” according to a letter sent out today to Brooks alumni and parents by the current Head of School, John R. Packard, and the president of the Board of Trustees, William N. Booth.
The two officials implored alumni and parents to contact the school with any information “that calls into question Mr. Becker’s conduct and/or oversight during his tenure.”
A spokeswoman for the school said that the relationship matter was handled by the president of the Board of Trustees at the time, publishing executive and two-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes, but no punishment was dealt and the full Board of Trustees was not notified about the relationship at all. The relationship also was not reported to law enforcement or state agencies.
“We have grave concerns about Mr. Becker’s relationship with a student while serving as headmaster,” Packard and Booth wrote. “In our judgment, his conduct in this relationship was objectionable, manipulative, and an abuse of his position.”
An email and a voice message left at Becker’s Bonita Springs, Fla., residence were not returned yesterday evening. Becker and his wife, who had taught French at Brooks School, split their time between Bonita Springs and Sandwich, Mass.
Karen Schwartzman, a public relations consultant with Polaris Public Relations who represents independent schools and was handling this issue for Brooks, would not disclose information about the student, the nature of the relationship, when the relationship took place, or the age of the student at the time.
“I’m going to decline to comment on the details of the student to protect the identity of the student,” Schwartzman said. “It was a long time ago.”
The police were not involved and there was no court case related to the relationship, she said. However, the matter was handled by Forbes, who was president of the Board of Trustees at Brooks from May 1987 to February 1997, and one other board member. No punishment or disciplinary action was handed down.
“I’m not aware that the full board was ever formally notified about this,” Schwartzman said. “I am aware that the chairman of the board took steps to address it.” She declined to specify what those steps were. The relationship was not reported to any state department, district attorney or police agency, she said.
An attempt to reach Forbes for comment yesterday at the New York City office of his financial magazine, of which he is editor-in-chief, was unsuccessful. Forbes remains a trustee emeritus at Brooks, according to the school.
The disclosure of the relationship immediately followed in the letter the revelation of two incidents of alleged inappropriate sexual behavior by Becker, one that happened while Becker was headmaster and one that happened after he had stepped down but that still wound up involving Brooks School.
Last summer, the school received a number of “disturbing emails about Mr. Becker from an anonymous writer,” according to the letter. Becker denied knowledge of the emails’ contents and author, but eventually admitted to school officials in September that he was being threatened by a male escort he had hired in the fall of 2011.
That revelation led school officials to review Becker’s entire tenure, Packard and Booth wrote, including a 2004 incident previously known to school officials where school employees received calls that Becker had hired an escort and “engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior” during a school related business trip.
Schwartzman said Becker was traveling alone outside of Massachusetts during that trip and the escort was not connected to the school.
“Mr. Becker denied the allegations at the time and provided an account of his activities which, we now know, was untrue,” Packard and Booth wrote.
Packard and Booth said the school is taking these allegations very seriously. “Each of these situations is completely inconsistent with the values of the school and, taken together, cause us to be profoundly concerned,” the officials wrote. “In an effort to assess how best to handle this information, we consulted with a highly regarded psychologist with experience in relevant matters. He concurs that this letter is an advisable and prudent step. Thus, we are writing to ask if you have personal knowledge that calls into question Mr. Becker’s conduct and/or oversight during his tenure. A small group of trustees will join the two of us in considering anything you would like to share.”
They urged anyone with any information about Becker’s conduct to email Packard at email@example.com or call 978-725-6239. The group of trustees who will assist them has not been determined, Schwartzman said.
Given the three incidents together and the information the school has, the Board of Trustees felt compelled to fully investigate Becker’s tenure, Schwartzman said. “The worst case scenario would be to know what we now know and do nothing, and find out that someone in our care had been harmed,” she said. “If we are claiming to be taking good care of young people, we need to ask these questions.”
Becker started his career teaching at Hotchkiss School, a prestigious prep school in Lakeville, Conn., in 1964, according to a biography he wrote for Amherst College, where Becker earned a bachelor’s degree in math. Duriring his 22 years at Hotchkiss, Becker worked as a teacher, college counselor, dean of admissions and college counseling, dean of faculty and assistant headmaster.
Brooks School is an elite private boarding school with an enrollment of about 350 students on a 251-acre campus on Lake Cochichewick that opened in 1926. Becker was the third headmaster and was succeeded by Packard.