The Most Notorious Prep School Scandals

A Look Into the Less-Than-Perfect World of Private Schools

 

Every school, public or private, has had its share of unpleasant news. With many private schools and boarding schools having histories that span hundreds of years, it's highly likely that in some fashion, each school has some skeletons in its closets. Public schools have scandals, too, but private schools tend to be the focus of the media because of their independent status and tuition rates.

What kind of scandals happen at schools?

Everything from bullying and hazing to sexual misconduct and embezzlement scandals. Each school will handle the scandals in their own way, but the goal is to protect the victims, the other students and faculty at the school, and the school's reputation. 

The most recent headlines have involved sex abuse scandals at private schools, and with many of these institutions dating back hundreds of years, very few have squeaky clean pasts. Many of these scandals that hit the media are the result of past actions being brought to light years later, in some cases decades later. The schools that handle these cases the best are those that provide support for their students and alumni and work to ensure that their campuses today are safe and supportive for students. Background checks, particularly for staff and faculty, are common practice in most schools today.

Even the best schools are sometimes met with controversy.

It's the way a school deals with these crises that is the best measure of its competence. The best ones recognize how important it is to deal with bad news promptly. They know that the Internet, including social media, and cell phones will spread rumors as quickly as you can text your classmates. They also know that members of the media are lurking just waiting for some juicy morsel about an elite school to surface, so they can fan the flames of indignation and mock self-righteousness.

Scandals are not limited to private schools, though, and can be found at schools of all kinds, including public schools and even top colleges and universities. The safety of students is the utmost concern of school officials, and most schools take swift and serious action when transgressions are discovered.

Here's a brief look at some incidents which have occurred in private schools over the years.

  • June 2017: The Boston Globe reported on Phillips Exeter Academy and its protests by students because of the lack of response to accusations of racially insensitive comments by faculty. 
  • May 2017: New York Post published an article about a student at Kent School in Connecticut, who alleged abuse by her French teacher, who she claimed seduced and abused her repeatedly.
  • April 2017: USA Today reported on the investigations into Choate Rosemary Hall and its four-decade long history of abuse involving more than a dozen teachers.  
  • March 2017: ​Philips Exeter uncovered instances of sexual misconduct from five former faculty members.
  • June 2016: Top Administrators Fired at William Koch's Elite Private School: According to the New York Times, Billionaire William Koch fired the head of school at Oxbridge Academy and declined to renew the contracts of the athletic director and the football coach. The moves came after a sexual harassment complaint and an internal investigation into accusations of kickbacks, grade-changing, excessive spending and violations of the rules governing high school sports.
  • May 20​16: Boston Globe Releases Article, Private Schools, Painful SecretsThis article focuses on sexual abuse at private schools in New England. Including Fessenden, Deerfield, St. George's, Taft, Exeter, Thayer, and Concord.
  • May 2016: New York Time Reports on Sex Abuse at Private SchoolsFocuses on private schools in New England, including St. George's, Taft, Exeter, Thayer, and Concord.  
  • January 2016/October 2016: In January, Connecticut newspapers reported on an evacuation of a dormitory at Cheshire Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut, after gasoline was found on campus. No one was hurt and students were allowed to re-enter the dorm that same night. In October, however, reports from local papers revealed that two juvenile boys were arrested for attempting to manufacture bombs in the woods near the main campus. 
  • Headmaster Scandals: This article from Town & Country outlines five private school scandals involving heads of schools. From murder and mysterious finances to drugs and abuse, these ordeals read like a script from Hollywood. 
  • Parents Sue Conserve School Trustees: Read Conserve School Changes From 4 Year High School to 1 Semester Model to understand how the economic downturn of 2009 has wreaked havoc on one private school's endowment to the point where the trustees are changing the school's business model. The parents of current four-year high school students were not happy with that decision and have sued the trustees.

  • Five Hockey Team Members Expelled from Milton Academy: Milton Academy rocked by expulsions is a Boston.com story detailing how five members of the Milton Academy hockey team were expelled for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old sophomore girl.
  • Parents Sue Miss Porter's School Over Expulsion: At a Prep School, the Gloves Are Off details what happened when a prestigious Connecticut girls' school expelled a senior student.
  • School for Scandal: Groton was rocked by accusations of sexual abuse and hazing in a 2002 story reported on ABCNEWS.
  • Rector of St. Paul's School Retires: The Rector of St. Paul's School, Concord, New Hampshire, retired after an outcry regarding what many alumni considered to be excessive expenditures on renovations to the Rector's housing as well as a lavish compensation package for himself and his assistant. In the fall of 2004 St. Paul's also had to deal with a drowning and a hazing incident in addition to all the controversy over excessive spending and the investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general.

  • Sex Scandal Hits Selwyn House: I wrote about this story in May 2008. This incident hit home as this Montreal boys' school occupies the building which was Westmount Senior High School when I attended it in 1960-61.

  • Counterfeit Currency Scheme Uncovered at Lower Canada College: It seems that internet gambling debts forced some LCC students to print money to cover their balance.

  • Academy X: Horace Mann teacher Andrew Trees was fired for his fictional account of life in a private school, Academy X.

  • Death of Student at The Hill School:  Suicide scatters grief and guilt in every direction. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the close-knit world which is a boarding school community. The headmaster and staff dealt with this very sad incident with compassion and sensitivity.

  • Upper Canada College Teacher Found Guilty of Sex Charges: It was a sad day for UCC when former master Doug Brown was found guilty of sexually abusing 18 former students. One of those students released a memoir article in 2013 that appeared on the Toronto Life site.
  • Incoming Students at The Landon School Caught in Embarrassing Activities: Incoming Landon boys apparently were creating a list of girls they knew in a bizarre sort of draft selection process. Naturally the girls' parents were upset.

 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski