Two former students of St. Paul’s Episcopal School (New Hampshire) have sued the school for its failure to protect them from sexual predators.
The suit, filed on behalf of two alumni of St. Paul’s and one of their wives, accused Gerry E. Studds, a former United States representative from Massachusetts who had taught at the school, of inappropriate conduct. Mr. Studds died in 2006. … Mr. Studds was not named in the earlier reports released by the school.
The lawsuit described an alleged incident in the late 1960s involving one of the plaintiffs, Keith Mithoefer, when he was a student enrolled at the school and Mr. Studds was a teacher. …
The lawsuit also claimed that Mr. Mithoefer experienced inappropriate conversations or touching by three other faculty members at St. Paul’s. It also said a member of the administration was aware of at least some of misconduct, and suggested that Mr. Mithoefer could only receive his diploma if he kept quiet.
Another plaintiff, George Chester Irons, said that in 1973 or 1974 he and other students were taken to New York City by Coolidge Mead Chapin, an administrator at the school, who ordered them to have sex with prostitutes as he yelled commands. Mr. Chapin was identified last year in the school’s report.
Studds, the first member of Congress to openly say he was gay, was a teacher at St. Paul’s from 1965 to 1969. He later spent 24 years in the US House of Representatives, where he represented the 10th Congressional District covering New Bedford, the South Shore, and Cape Cod.
The House censured Studds in 1983 for sexual misconduct after a former congressional page said he and the congressman had a sexual relationship a decade earlier, when the page was 17. Studds died in 2006 at age 69. His husband couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
“This was an atmosphere of predators and pedophiles,” Mithoefer told the Monitor. “I thought that might have changed, but recent cases tell us otherwise.”
Irons, who graduated in 1976, is a former president of the school’s alumni association and previously served on the board of trustees. …
Irons and Mithoefer have brought 10 civil claims against St. Paul’s including negligent hiring; retention and supervision of faculty/staff; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and vicarious liability. Additionally, Irons’s wife, Barbara Irons, alleges in the lawsuit that as a result of the harm caused to her husband, she suffered loss of his “aid, assistance, comfort, society, companionship, affection, and conjugal relation.”
St. Paul’s had long known of the sexual abuse of students in the care of their teachers and advisers and yet chose to remain silent for decades, further augmenting the psychological harm that alumni like Irons and Mithoefer suffered, the lawsuit says.
The school has issued a statement and apology. It says, in part,
We are truly sorry for the pain they experienced and for any failure of the School to protect them.
Their allegations of faculty wrongdoing are deeply troubling. The idea that the administration knew of and covered up the wrongdoing is disgraceful.
The complaint is here (PDF).
Photo: Gerry Studds