A 14-page report released Wednesday by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office provides an overview of the sexual assaults, harassment, abuse and hazing reported in the six months since St. Paul’s School came under government oversight and includes recommendations for how the institution can strengthen its reporting procedures.
Of 33 disclosures made by current St. Paul’s students, four are described as “suspected sexual activity” involving one or more people under the age of 16. Additionally, there were two reports of non-consensual sexual contact, with one citing an allegation of rape.
The school received several reports of abuse, bullying and harassment between Jan. 1, 2019, and June 30, 2019, that occurred off-campus or prior to students’ time at St. Paul’s. St. Paul’s also documented five instances of historical abuse or hazing after alumni came forward in that same time period.
The report’s author, Independent Compliance Overseer Jeff Maher, cautions that the six months of data in his first report is limited in scope and seeks to provide baseline information that could aid in identifying trends to better inform future education and prevention strategies at St. Paul’s. The outcomes or findings made as a result of those disclosures are not discussed, in part, to protect the privacy of those involved, he said.
“This report is not intended to be a dispositive as to the state of St. Paul’s handling of sexual misconduct disclosures,” Maher wrote. “Rather, it captures a portrait of one aspect of what must be an integrated and redundant system designed to safeguard student wellbeing.”
Maher, a former Title IX coordinator at Keene State College and retired Nashua police captain, was chosen as compliance overseer of St. Paul’s in late December and began the job Feb. 4. His appointment came on the heels of a 14-month-long criminal investigation by the attorney general’s office of St. Paul’s School, which found evidence to support charges of child endangerment.
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald announced in September 2018 that he would not pursue criminal charges against St. Paul’s but rather assign an independent overseer to the campus for three to five years to ensure the school’s compliance with mandatory reporting laws. MacDonald said at the time that the agreement would provide a mechanism of enforcement, a recourse for victims and began the process of “comprehensive reform” at an institution with a long and established history of sexual abuse.
“As the school body has evolved over time, so too has the St. Paul’s School understanding and response to matters of sexual misconduct,” Maher wrote. “Within St. Paul’s School there is a belief among students, faculty, and staff that the school culture has undergone a seismic shift over the past five years. Less clear, however, is if this belief has gathered traction beyond the grounds of St. Paul’s.”
Maher chose to focus his first report on the Concord prep school’s internal and external reporting obligations and protocols, including mandated reporting of certain incidents to the state’s Division for Children Youth and Families, Concord police and the attorney general’s office. The school is required to report to at least one of those external agencies when it learns of violence, hazing, abuse, neglect, theft and destruction, Maher summarized. However, St. Paul’s has agreed to broader reporting requirements, to include reporting of all instances of suspected sexual assault.
The settlement between St. Paul’s and the attorney general’s office requires St. Paul’s to report all suspected instances of student abuse to Maher who is available as needed, 24 hours a day to respond. Further, the school must notify Maher before launching its own investigations, and keep a written record of all incidents, as mandated by law.
Maher wrote that information about external reporting requirements is accessible and prominently featured in staff and faculty handbooks. Further, he said, the school has demonstrated it will take corrective disciplinary action when an employee does not follow those procedures. Maher advised that more work is needed to ensure that even the newest employees are aware of their obligation to report instances of abuse so it doesn’t always fall to people in key roles within the institution.
In compiling the data for his first report, Maher adopted the same method used by the FBI Uniform Crime Report and the Clery Act Annual Security Report in that he counted only the most serious offense when more than one offense was alleged at the same time and in the same place. While the report primarily documents instances of sexual misconduct, hazing and abuse, it also includes four instances of theft, the discovery of drug paraphernalia on campus and references a time when a student was unaccounted for during a daily check-in.
Under current practice, all reports ultimately make their way to the school’s dean of students to be preserved in a working spreadsheet. Maher said a review of the school’s internal record-keeping shows the challenges inherent in maintaining such a database of letters, screenshots, emails and other forms of communication. For example, he said, not every report in the master spreadsheet has a corresponding case file. He said the current system doesn’t meet the needs of the school, something that St. Paul’s is aware of and working to correct.
With the release of the report, St. Paul’s School Rector Kathleen Giles remarked Wednesday on how Maher has extended himself to members of the St. Paul’s community and taken the time to get to know them.
“In this first report to the Attorney General, Mr. Maher’s observations and recommendations offer us many opportunities to continue to build and reinforce a healthy school culture and to make sure that our mindset, policies, and practices reflect the priority of student safety and well-being,” Giles said in a statement.
“We embrace these opportunities and these recommendations, and we will continue to align our ongoing work with these expectations as well as with evolving best practices in training and support offered by community-based and national resources now engaged with our school,” she continued.
MacDonald further commended Maher for his work and for his commitment to fulfilling the terms of the agreement between the attorney general’s office and St. Paul’s.
“This bi-annual report delivers on the Agreement’s intended purpose – bringing unparalleled transparency that will lead to continued improvements aimed at student welfare and safety,” he said.
(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at [email protected])