ANDOVER — Just a week before the start of classes, Phillips Academy Head of School John Palfrey dropped a bombshell Tuesday by announcing, in a press release and a three-page statement to alumni, faculty and staff, that a private law firm hired by the school last year had uncovered five cases of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1970s and ‘80s.
The detailed statement, released to The Eagle-Tribune at about 4 p.m., indicated three former teachers at the school engaged in sexual misconduct with students. One of the teachers has since passed away, the other two have been banned from campus. Neither the sex nor the age of any of the victims has been released, Palfrey said, in an effort to protect their privacy.
The teachers uncovered in the investigation by the Sanghavi Law Office of Brookline include the following:
n H. Schuyler Royce. He was found to have engaged in multiple incidents of sexual misconduct toward a student in the 1980s while a faculty member at the school. During the investigative process, the school also became aware of additional concerns related to Royce’s behavior toward other students. Royce died in 1991.
n Alexander Theroux, former writer-in-residence from 1979 to 1983. He was found to have engaged in sexual misconduct toward a student in the 1970s, and the school also received multiple concerns related to Theroux’s behavior toward other students during the process, according to Palfrey’s statement. Theroux denies the allegations, Palfrey said. He has been barred from campus and from school events. Theroux, who lives on Cape Cod, could not be reached for comment.
n Stephen Wicks, who retired from the school in 2010, allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct toward a student in the 1980s, according to the report. Wicks has also been barred from campus and Andover events, and his emeritus status has been removed, according to the statement. Wicks did not return an email seeking comment.
Their names have been passed along to the state Department of Children and Families, as required by law, Palfrey said in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune Tuesday evening. He said he was not aware of any criminal actions being taken against the two men.
He refused to discuss whether or not there were civil lawsuits pending or threatened although he did say in his statement that payments have been made to some victims of sexual misconduct at the school in past years.
In addition to the three teachers named in the statement, there have been at least two other incidents of sexual misconduct uncovered by investigators.
Palfrey said there were a small number of cases dating from the 1980s in which the school previously had learned of sexual misconduct or boundary violations by faculty members.
“As appropriate and on a confidential basis, Andover has taken personnel actions in response to these earlier findings and, in some cases, compensated survivors,” Palfrey wrote. “We have made Sanghavi Law Office aware of the facts of each of these cases.”
It remains to be seen whether more victims will come forward.
Palfrey acknowledged that in the 238-year history of the school there have likely been other cases of sexual misconduct.
In the 1990s, it was revealed that long-time English teacher David Cobb had been involved with amassing a huge child pornography collection. He served 11 years in jail in New Hampshire. More recently, in 2012, the former medical director of Phillips, Dr. Richard Keller, was arrested for purchasing child pornography. He was sentenced in 2014 to six years in jail.
Palfrey, who has served as head of school since 2012, said he is under no illusions about the breadth and depth of the problem facing Phillips or other public and private schools regarding this issue.
“The case with Dr. Keller happened the first day of school when I started,” he said. “Then I started asking people to come forward. I would rather know about it, and deal with it.”
He added that there may be more cases in the future.
“There are more than those” uncovered by the investigators, he said. “There are more cases, one can conclude. I’m afraid that’s a reality. I do acknowledge there are more cases than we have identified, which is the nature of these investigations. I’m confident, there have been more people harmed than we know.”
Palfrey said while the most recent investigation started about a year ago, the school has been looking into this issue for several years.
He has kept alumni and staff abreast of the situation in a series of statements on the school’s web site.
Two letters were released in the spring – on March 25 and May 9 – by Palfrey addressing growing concerns regarding sexual misconduct at private, secondary schools, spurred by articles in multiple publications. The letters encouraged those with concerns or information about such instances at Phillips to contact the school.
Several New England schools have been implicated in an ongoing series of scandals, including the St. George’s School in Rhode Island.
According to an April 2016 story in the Boston Globe “an initial investigation by St. George’s last year found that 26 students were abused by six staffers. But more than 40 alleged victims have now consulted with attorneys Eric MacLeish and Carmen Durso, who are representing some of them. None have filed lawsuits.”
Palfrey said publicity surrounding other cases at other schools contributed to the proactive approach to the problem being taken by Phillips.
“We were urging people to come forward,” he said. “We were trying to do due diligence. We are trying to move forward in a way that is focused on our students today. It is important to understand your past and put it behind us while offering support to the survivors as well as one can.”
In the statement he praised the victims for coming forward.
“It took tremendous strength and courage for alumni who suffered past mistreatment to share their experiences with us years later,” Palfrey wrote. “I admire the compassion and empathy displayed by those who came forward to share concerns of which they were aware. Most of all, on behalf of the Andover community, I extend my deepest apologies to all who have been affected, directly or indirectly, by these transgressions that occurred on our campus.”
He added, “We recognize that these matters do not reflect all harms suffered by students on our campus due to misconduct by adults or by other students. We will maintain records for all those concerns that have been raised, including those for which Sanghavi Law Office did not have sufficient information to make a judgment at this time, or where their findings did not meet the threshold of public disclosure described above. We are prepared to revisit any and all concerns in the future.”
The letter reiterates a commitment to a “full examination of our past” and encourages people to come forward if there is information they feel compelled to share. Palfrey also wrote that the school has heard “few reports of any kind from the period before or since that time.”
That being said, Palfrey wrote that “we take nothing for granted” and are open to hearing from alumni from any period.
“For those who have suffered past abuse, I hope that this process provides, at the very least, acknowledgement of, and apology for, the harm they have endured,” Palfrey said. “I also hope that all who have shared concerns feel heard by the school. Everything we have learned over these past several months will help inform Phillips Academy’s policies and practices for years to come.”
Andover School Committee member Paul Murphy, a math teacher at Phillips and an alumni, said he could not comment and that Palfrey has instructed the faculty that all press inquiries are to go through the school’s director of communications.
For more information on how to make a report, either confidentially or by name, through an independent third party: https://www.andover.edu/About/Newsroom/Pages/Commitment.aspx.