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Sex abuse claims dark moment, says prep school principal

CONCORD, N.H. – The principal of an elite prep school dealing with a series of sexual abuse allegations acknowledged Friday that it represented a “dark moment” but said the school will emerge from the crisis strong and healthy.

Phillips Exeter Academy Principal Lisa MacFarlane spoke to The Associated Press following revelations last month about former teacher Rick Schubart. Schubart was forced to resign in 2011 after admitting sexual misconduct dating to the 1970s and was barred from campus after more misconduct surfaced in 2015.

The school, which was founded in 1781 and is the alma mater of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, said earlier this month that a second teacher, Steve Lewis, was recently fired for having sexual encounters with a student decades ago. Exeter police said additional investigations are ongoing.

Schubart has not responded to several attempts to reach him for comment, and Lewis can’t be located.

MacFarlane said the Exeter community is “a really strong one” and the school is “not alone among schools in having a dark moment in a long history.”

“What we are focused on is being as thoughtful and committed as we can to understanding that moment, to making any changes we need to,” MacFarlane said. “We are not alone in that. I am confident that the Exeter of today and tomorrow will be strong, healthy and vibrant.”

Since the revelations became public, Exeter has hired two law firms to examine abuse allegations: one to investigate the cases involving Schubart and another to examine the school’s handling of misconduct allegations levelled at faculty members.

The school also is talking with prominent victims’ assistance organizations about establishing a partnership to address the needs of victims, MacFarlane said. Last week on campus it hosted a play written by teenagers from New York “that deals with these issues and required the entire campus to go and see it,” she said.

“We are so deeply saddened and remorseful for what has happened in the past. We admire the courage of survivors who have come forward,” she said, acknowledging the abuse allegations are “painful for us to look at but necessary.”

She said the school is engaging outside experts to help and many changes have been in the works for some time because of allegations at Exeter and other schools.

Since arriving in September, MacFarlane has brought in the Prevention Innovation Research Center, which works to eliminate relationship violence and stalking, to do a comprehensive survey of the student body of more than 1,000 students in grades 9-12. The goal, she said, was to “really understand what our students today are thinking, feeling, talking about, doing.”

MacFarlane said it was too early to determine whether the school has or ever has had a problem with sexual abuse that goes beyond a few cases. She urged anyone with relevant information to step forward.

“We are committed to learning as much as we can about that past,” she said.

She noted the school had received “wonderful, thoughtful support” from parents of current students and there had been no change in enrollment patterns.


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