St. Andrew’s School Boca Raton conducting sex abuse investigation; fires headmaster

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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.


Addendum.

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.”

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Faye Burner
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Faye Burner

Charles Browning: Civil defense law firms are employed to defend against liability. Insurance companies pay them to try to avoid or reduce damages. Sexual offenses against students are torts, but also crimes. Allegations of crimes should be handled by law enforcement so that perpetrator s are punished and tagged as predators to protect possible future victims. The interests of the school and the insurance company can be at odds with the interests of the state and future students. If you don't understand this, look at the history of St George's and their "confidential settlements" with victims while predators move on to prey on others. Look at the Catholic Church. It's important to get the interests and money in the open. Bit dog hollers.

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Charles Browning
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Charles Browning

No one is denying that allegations should be handled by law enforcement. You keep trying to hammer this point on here and on Facebook. The law firm discussed in the story is not school counsel. They do not represent the school. They were hired in response to what came out in the Boston Globe article. Their purpose is to serve as an independent entity for victims to report to, safely (for the record, there are no victims currently known and no current suspicions of sexual abuse at Saint Andrew's School). If there is a systemic problem (as there clearly was at Saint George's) then it only makes sense to offer an independent entity so that individuals can report without fear of reprisal and with assurance that their claims will be taken seriously. Many people don't know who to call in incidents like this, so this firm is there to be able to help any potential victims get in touch with the proper authorities—and to have legal counsel themselves. If someone goes to the police, no one is going to try and stop them. This is intended to be an additional venue for the protection of our students and community.

Again, they are not representing the school. This did not come from an insurance company. This move was made after working with a consultant on how to implement best practices in our community for the safety of our students.

The handbook that all employees of Saint Andrew's School abides by requires all faculty with "reasonable suspicion of sexual misconduct" to report to Child Protective Services.

We are in a preventative mode right now. This just happened to correspond with the separation of the headmaster and the school. These are unrelated events. Last night at a parents meeting, the board acknowledged that communication could have been better. The headmaster is under no suspicion of misconduct that I am aware of. These were two coincidental events that got conflated by some individuals and in the press. A statement has been made and sent to various media outlets. They've not published any of this as of this writing.

We are trying to do the right thing to protect our students and community.

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Carolyn Peet
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Carolyn Peet

What does the gay actor/teacher have to do with this story? I don't understand why that is even in there.

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Erik Larsen
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It's the "Endowment for Chaplaincy Development" - not the "Endowment for Chaplaincy Endowment." Also, St. George's School, (not "St. George's Episcopal School")while affiliated with the Episcopal Church - having the Bishop of the Diocese of RI on the Board of Trustees, and having chaplains who are ordained Episcopal priests - is self described as "an independent, coeducational boarding and day school... True to our Episcopal heritage, we welcome students, faculty and staff of all faiths."

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Isabel F. Steilberg
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Isabel F. Steilberg

Founded in 1961 (a segregation academy?) in the "Episcopal tradition". . .day school annual tuition now $22,000+ (pre-K-4) and $30,000+ (9-12). Boarding school: $50,000+. Is this an "Episcopal tradition"????

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Thom Forde
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Thom Forde

I'm not sure of the relevance of these points. Tuition is commensurate with other private schools either secular or denominational across the country. Florida was not really known for segregation academies. The baby boom and shifting populations are likely more reasonable than segregation.

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Charles Browning
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Charles Browning

Gwen Palmer is correct. The School was intended to be an integrated school from day one. It was and still is. (I know this because I am a chaplain at Saint Andrew's.)

Also, some of the comments on this article do not follow the stated comment policy. Suggesting that the school is focused on protecting itself and not working with law-enforcement and that it is an institution rooted in racism is both unhelpful and harmful. Further, both are speculative and intended to inflame, not prompt healthy conversation.

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

From the school's website, under its History section:

" 1959:
In May, The Episcopal School Foundation meets to discuss at length the establishment of a college preparatory boys boarding and day school near Boca Raton, which would have initially an enrollment of approximately 150 students in Form I through Form VI (Grade 7 through Grade 12).

Foundation members stress that the school be open to boys regardless of race and to accept 'responsibility to teach and succeed with each individual boy.' "

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Isabel F. Steilberg
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Isabel F. Steilberg

Maybe not Florida, but the Episcopal Church is known for segregation academies. . .all across the south. Just check the dates of founding.

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

Is this an Episcopal tradition?

Unfortunately, it seems to be.

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Faye Burner
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Faye Burner

I would suggest charges of sexual assault should be reported to the POLICE, not a law firm defending the school. It's a CRIME, not a matter to be brushed under the rug.

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Elizabeth Kaeton
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As I read this article, it appears that there are, so far at least, no actual "charges" of sexual abuse. The law firms are investigating whether or not any sexual abuse occurred.

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Faye Burner
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Faye Burner

Charges are brought by law enforcement AFTER a law enforcement investigation. Allegations should be investigated by them, not by a civil law team trying to avoid liability on the part of the school and school officials.

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