Last week, the Rumsey Hall School, a coed K-9 boarding and day school in Connecticut, became the most recent private school to disclose the findings of a wide-ranging sexual misconduct investigation. In a letter sent to alumni, parents, and other affiliates, the school’s current leadership described corroborated allegations of abuse levied against three faculty members since the late 1960s.
In the most recent instance, the school admitted to paying confidential insurance settlements to three alumni based on allegations of “inappropriate contact” from one longtime faculty member and administrator. He remained at the school until 2000.
“For those who have suffered past abuse as a result of misconduct, we are profoundly sorry,” read the letter, which was signed by current headmaster Matthew Hoeniger and Nicholas Solley, the chairman of the school’s board. “We hope that, at least to some extent, our process, acknowledgement, and effort to responsively address these issues might provide some degree of support, affirmation and consolation.” The letter also indicates that allegations have been reported to authorities, and the alleged perpetrators have been permanently banned from Rumsey’s campus.
Rumsey Hall’s disclosure follows a spate of similar investigations at elite private schools which have uncovered serious allegations of misconduct and abuse—and, in a number of cases, intentional obfuscation by school leadership. This year alone, private schools in Maryland, New York, and California have all publicly acknowledged investigations that found decades-long patterns of sexual misconduct. Last August, another Connecticut boarding school, Hotchkiss, released a long-awaited report that built upon press inquiries, lawsuits, and a handful of internal investigations that had until then remained secret.
In some cases a school’s top leadership was directly implicated. At St. Anne’s, a Brooklyn private school, an “iconic” headmaster was found to have known about some of the previous allegations against 19 former staffers. In 2018, two investigations of New Hampshire’s Philips Exeter Academy found credible allegations against 11 former staffers, reporting that the school had a long-time practice of keeping two sets of personnel files: One for human resources, and another set of confidential documents only available to the school’s principal or dean of faculty.
According to the Rumsey Hall letter, sent on April 29, the school’s board of trustees wrote to alumni and other affiliates in May of 2017 that it was “undertaking an in-depth review of Rumsey’s policies and procedures for preventing and reporting abuse.” The school retained Shipman & Goodwin, a Connecticut-based law firm that has previously produced sexual misconduct reports for the Greenwich County Day school and Central Connecticut State University. Over the last year, the attorneys interviewed current and former students, who were encouraged to come forward with any information. It’s unclear precisely when the internal investigation was launched, and under what circumstances. Rumsey Hall has not indicated whether it will release the full findings of its report, as some other schools, such as St. George’s and Hotchkiss, have done in the past.
Over the last few years, as elite private schools have begun to reckon with past abuses and the policies that allowed them to go unpunished, there has also been some variation in how and when schools name staffers accused of misconduct. In September 2017, the Department of Education issued new Title IX guidance that allowed individual schools broader leeway in deciding whether to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard of proof, or the more rigorous “clear and convincing” standard in the investigation of campus sexual assault cases. Some private secular high schools receive federal funding and are technically included in Title IX rules. But perhaps more importantly, the new rules represented a lack of standardized guidance for institutions embarking on investigations such as these.
In Rumsey Hall’s case, according to the letter:
Our decision whether or not to name individuals against whom allegations were made was informed by several criteria, including whether, in our determination, allegations could be corroborated or involved multiple victims, whether there was the potential for additional victims, and whether publicly naming the perpetrator would compromise victims’ privacy.
Three faculty members and administrators were found to have engaged in corroborated allegations of misconduct. One is unnamed and was affiliated with the school in the 1970s. Another, Frank Weddell, is alleged to have sexually abused a student in the late 1960s. Robert McGrew, a member of the faculty and administration from 1988 to 2000, was alleged to have engaged in misconduct that resulted in insurance payments to three separate alumni in 2001 and 2016. According to the letter, McGrew declined to be interviewed during the investigation, though indicated through an attorney that he denied the allegations levied against him.
Rumsey Hall’s headmaster, Matthew Hoeniger, verified the contents of the letter, but declined to comment further on the investigation. The previous headmaster, Thomas Farmen, retired in 2016 after more than 40 years with the school.
We’ve included the full letter below.