EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 5, 2013

School leaders kept in dark about investigation of Brooks headmaster

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — NORTH ANDOVER — In at least two incidents involving the former headmaster of Brooks School, the presidents of the Board of Trustees at those times decided not to inform the full board or other school leadership of serious accusations or the results of interviews related to those incidents, according to a school spokesperson.

By contrast, the school’s current Board of Trustees, along with the current Head of School, sent a letter on Thursday to alumni disclosing three incidents of inappropriate conduct involving former headmaster Lawrence W. Becker and asking for information on his past behavior and relationships.

“It was the way these situations were handled in the past, but it would not be the way it would be handled today,” said Karen Schwartzman, a public relations consultant with Polaris Public Relations who represents independent schools, said yesterday. “This culture does not exist today at the school. There is no question that there is a close collaborative relationship between the head of school and the Board of Trustees, and of the degree of involvement of the Board of Trustees in this matter.”

Schwartzman said the action of Head of School John R. Packard and Board of Trustees President William N. Booth in disclosing alleged illicit relationships to alumni was not a change in policy, but rather the product of the outlook of Packard and Booth as school leaders.

“John Packard is a person who feels responsible to the Board of Trustees and benefits from their involvement in matters sensitive and otherwise,” she said. “It would be and it always has been his practice to engage them.”

Becker’s attorney, Joseph B. Green of Kotin, Crabtree & Strong in Boston, released a brief written statement from Becker yesterday in which he did not specifically deny any of the allegations made in the school’s letter.

“The communication to alumni, parents and friends from the School which I loved and to which I devoted myself for 22 years causes me and my wife great pain, sadness and embarrassment,” Becker said in the statement. “In including information about my private life, among other things, and given the current climate in schools today, it encourages serious questions and speculation about my relationships with students over the years. I have worked with thousands of students and faculty members in two outstanding schools for over 4 decades. They know the answers to those questions. I leave the responses to them.”

The letter sent Thursday claimed that Becker had a relationship with a student at some point during his tenure that “was objectionable, manipulative, and an abuse of his position.” The matter of that relationship was handled by the president of the Board of Trustees at the time, publisher and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, a 1966 alumnus of Brooks who served as president of the board from 1987 to 1997.

Schwartzman said the matter was handled confidentially by Forbes and one other trustee, whom she declined to name. Forbes did not inform the full Board of Trustees or other school leaders about the relationship Becker is believed to have had with a student. She declined to provide details about the nature and timing of the relationship.

A voice message left with Forbes’ media handler seeking comment was not returned yesterday.

Forbes, who is currently a trustee emeritus, led the search committee for a new headmaster in 1986 that sorted through 80 to 100 candidates, eventually settling on Becker, who was assistant headmaster at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., at the time.

Messages left with Hotchkiss’ communications office yesterday were not returned.

The president of the Board of Trustees would make the decision whether and how much to tell the full board and other school personnel about allegations and investigations into the headmaster’s conduct.

In 2004, a different trustee president looked into an allegation against Becker of sexual misbehavior. According to Packard and Booth’s letter, school officials that year received calls “claiming that Mr. Becker had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior while traveling alone on school business.”

At least one interview was conducted, during which Becker denied the allegations “and provided an account of his activities which, we now know, was untrue.”

David R. Williams, III, a 1967 Brooks alumnus who was president of the Board of Trustees from 1997 until 2005, would have been responsible for that investigation. Again, the full Board of Trustees was not informed of the allegations, Schwartzman said.

Reached at home yesterday, Williams would not answer questions about why the board was not informed. “The school has a very complete letter there,” he said, declining to comment further.

Brooks School officials decided to review Becker’s entire tenure after Packard received numerous anonymous, “disturbing emails” last summer about Becker’s conduct. Becker first denied knowledge about the content and origin of the emails, but in September acknowledged to school officials that he was being threatened by a male escort he had hired in the fall of 2011.

Green, Becker’s attorney, did not respond to an email sent yesterday asking what information the emails contained, whether there was a police investigation or criminal charges and for the identity of the escort.

It was in the course of that review school officials discovered the allegations of Becker’s relationship with a student. “There were conversations with a small number of faculty and staff people who have been at the school for many years,” Schwartzman said. “That might have been way this came to light, but I’m not going to comment further.”

During Becker’s 22 years leading Brooks, a private preparatory high school with 369 students founded in 1926 and situated on Lake Cochichewick, he oversaw a rise in enrollment and fund raising, the construction of a new library and the creation and expansion of a study abroad program led by former assistant headmaster Richard Holmes.

“Brooks School grew and prospered during Mr. Becker’s tenure, and our alumni from that era have gone on to achieve great personal and professional success,” Packard and Booth, a 1967 alumnus of Brooks, wrote in their letter to alumni Thursday.

Anyone with information or knowledge that calls into question Becker’s conduct or oversight of the school is urged to email Packard at headofschool@brooksschool.org, or call 978-725-6239.

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