There is an addendum at the end of this post based on a Thursday, June 2 report also appearing in the Palm Beach Post.
The Palm Beach Post reports,
St. Andrew’s School, a private Episcopal school in Boca Raton, has been rocked by the abrupt departure of its headmaster and the hiring of two law firms to investigate whether any students have been sexually abused there.
Whether the two events are related is unknown, but the timing of the announcements less than a month apart has rattled parents and fueled rampant speculation in school circles.
Coincidentally, a prior headmaster of St. Andrew’s, still active in the school’s alumni relations, is under Title IV investigation for failure to report sex abuse at St. George’s Episcopal school during his tenure there as headmaster, 1984-1988.
Less than a month after its announcement to parent’s of Benedict’s termination,
the school’s board announced to parents that it had retained Holland & Knight lawyers to investigate any sexual abuse complaints.
In that announcement, the school disclosed that it had also hired New Hampshire attorney Beth Deragon, who specializes in defending private schools, to field any reports of “possible sexual abuse.”
The email, copies of which were obtained by The Palm Beach Post, encourages parents to contact Deragon but makes no mention of alerting local police.
Deragon’s webpage highlights her experience with independent schools including “extensive experience conducting internal investigations for private employers and colleges and universities.” Here (PDF) is one investigation she conducted.
One parent has criticized the board, saying the investigation harms the reputation of the school. In its email to parents the board made reference to a Boston Globe article of May 6 by its Spotlight team on sex abuse in elite private schools.
In late April the board and Peter B. Benedict II had mutually agreed to terminate his employment. Benedict became headmaster in 2013. He is on the Board of Advisors of Carney, Sandoe and Associates, an education recruiting firm for independent schools. Benedict is also a fifth-generation member of the board and Vice Chairperson of the Andrus family’s Surdna Foundation.
The Rev. George E. Andrews II was headmaster at St. Andrews from 1989 to 2009. Andrews is under a Title IV investigation for failure to report sex abuse during his tenure at St. George’s Episcopal School. That investigation has been on hold pending the conclusion of a Rhode Island criminal investigation.
As reported in 1993 by the Boca Raton News, while at St. Andrew’s he dealt with sex abuse cases that occurred before and during his tenure at St. Andrews. In 1993 a jury ruled that the school and a former dean were found negligent and must pay a victim $800,000 in damages for rape by the dean’s son. The female victim was a 14 year old student who was living in the dean’s on-campus home at the time of the rapes.
In 2006 Andrews defended the school’s ultimatum to a gay teacher to choose between his job and his acting in plays with homosexual themes. The teacher chose to leave; he now works at another school and has continued his acting. In 2015 the National Association of Episcopal Schools named its Endowment for Chaplaincy Development for Andrews.
Andrews and Benedict were to have made joint appearances at alumni events in New York and Charlotte in early May.
The Palm Beach Post:
The message last month, issued to parents via email on May 17, had declined to say whether there were any specific sex abuse allegations at the school. Instead, it claimed the inquiry was motivated by an article published last month in the Boston Globe about years-old sex abuse cases in New England private schools.
Thursday’s announcement by the school’s board of trustees indicated that the real motivation was “an internal report” at the school revealing “student boundary breaches that occurred over a few years by an employee.”
It wasn’t clear when board members became aware of the employee’s actions. But the trustees said that they then hired the Holland & Knight law firm “to conduct an independent investigation.” Florida law requires any school official who has “reasonable cause to suspect” child sexual abuse to report it to state authorities. The school said that the law firm’s hiring was prompted by the school’s “duty to inquire and investigate.”