Spotlight: More abuse at Fessenden and other schools. But why no official investigation?

Boston Globe Spotlight report Fessenden School Newton Massachusetts

The Boston Globe Spotlight team — the same group of investigative journalists who opened up the decades of abuse and coverups involving the Catholic Church — published a story in this morning’s Boston Sunday Globe that details the horrors and sickness that pervaded the Fessenden School in West Newton as well as many other prep schools across New England.

The response from the prep schools was not surprising: Only 10% responded to a Globe survey about their experiences handling reports of sexual abuse. The schools clearly want this story to go away. They don’t want to deal with the negative publicity, the lawsuits, or the questions about policies relating to screening teachers, reporting abuse to authorities, or helping former students who have been victimized.

Readers of this blog know that 5 years ago the Fessenden school admitted a pattern of “inappropriate sexual behavior” involving faculty and staff that started in the 1960s and extended right through to the 2000s. The 2011 letter named one faculty member, Arthur Clarridge, who along with another named James Dallmann, were arrested in 1977 for crimes against children that took place outside of campus, and suggested that Clarridge may have abused a student. No other names of abusers were revealed in the 2011 letter by current headmaster David Stettler. The comments at the end of my 2011 blog post detailed not only names, but claims that inappropriate sexual behavior took place over a much longer period of time (one former student indicated it started as early as the 1940s) and involved many more staff and faculty members.

Several victims of the abuse at Fessy were brave enough to step forward and tell the painful and explicit details of the sexual assaults. The Spotlight article added two more faculty names to the roster:

Of the 17 total alleged [Fessenden] victims, four settled claims, nine continue to pursue them, and four filed no claims, according to a school spokesman. The accused former employees include assistant headmaster Arthur Clarridge, teachers James Dallmann and Claude Hasbrouck, and school psychologist Mickey Clampit.

Clarridge made no secret of his preferences. This is the update he sent his Harvard classmates sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, when he was at Fessenden:

Fessenden assistant headmaster arthur clarridge harvard class report

The Globe Spotlight report included one former student’s descriptions of Hasbrouck’s Nazi paraphernalia and sexual abuse. Hasbrouck died in 1997.

As for Clampit:

Two other former Fessenden students told the Globe that Clampit abused them, too. One, who said Clampit fondled him at school and on a trip to Arkansas and Mexico, sent the school a letter demanding compensation for the abuse through attorney Mitchell Garabedian in 2015. The other man, who settled a claim against Fessenden in the 1990s, said Clampit was among four people there who abused him.

Clampit, who left Fessenden in 1976 and whose license to practice psychology in Massachusetts expired in 1996, could not be reached for comment at any of his known addresses or through his family. But his niece, Michelle Clampit of Los Angeles, said she never heard such accusations about him and was puzzled why they were surfacing now.

Note that Clampit was responsible for screening incoming students in private and counseling existing students if they reported abuse or other problems. Think about that for a moment. Fessenden’s gatekeeper and guidance counselor — the trusted adult a confused or abused student might turn to after encountering Clarridge, Dallmann, or Hasbrouck — was himself a child predator, according to several former students.

I would like to add a correction here to the Spotlight Team: Clampit did not leave in 1976. He was still at the school in the early 1980s. I know this because he screened me in 1979 or 1980 at his office in one of the upper-story dormers in the administration building and one of the commenters on the other blog post who worked at Fessenden from 1979 to 1986 said she and her colleagues knew of Clampit his behavior:

Does anyone out there remember Mr. Mickey Clampitt? He was the school psychologist/test administrator, and lived in an apartment on campus next to the “learning center.” He would hand out “creepie crawlies” (!) , little plastic bugs, to boys and would proceed to “tickle” the boys with them. The boys would squirm and giggle as Mickey, obviously enjoying the whole affair, held the boys close to his body. Well, you get the picture. Not exactly rape, but clearly NOT OK., and possibly the tip of the proverbial iceberg…as is obvious from reading this blog.

The 2016 Fessenden Letter

Just before the Spotlight article came out, Stettler sent another letter to alumni, dated May 5, 2016 (see below). Like the 2011 letter, it was timed to blunt the shock of the negative news coming from the media (although the headmaster claims in his latest letter that the 2011 information was “proactively shared”). The 2016 letter says “the School has received reports of sexual abuse involving at least 16 former students and one non-student by at least 5 individuals who were members of our community.”

Note that the 2016 Fessenden letter acknowledges “at least” 5 individuals, but the Spotlight report only names 4. Who is that fifth person?

The letter goes on to say that instances of abuse were reported to the school’s administration in the 1960s and 1970s but the school “according to these alumni, failed to take appropriate action.”

The school’s latest response? A symbolic one. “The school has removed the name of Robert F. Coffin, headmaster from 1967 to 1980, from the Fessenden ice rink,” Stettler wrote.

If you’re shaking your head in disbelief, I don’t blame you. Fessenden’s headmaster has tacitly admitted there was a nest of pedophiles at the school, and the school’s response is to remove a long-dead headmaster’s name from the hockey rink.

It’s absolutely pathetic and infuriating.

Why hasn’t Fessenden been investigated?

As you digest this information, there are several important facts to keep in mind:

  • Not one Fessenden faculty member or staffer has ever been charged with abuse of a Fessenden student.
  • Not one Fessenden administrator or trustee — from the 1960s to the current timeframe — has been fined or charged for failing to notify local or state authorities of abuse, as required by law.
  • Because the people who reportedly committed abuse against Fessenden students were never charged with a crime, they were potentially able to move on to other schools or professions or neighborhoods and commit more vile acts against other innocent children.

I raised this question in my original blog post in 2011, and I will raise it again here:

Why hasn’t Fessenden reported incidents involving sexual abuse or assault of children to the police and DAs office, not just to satisfy the minimum “required documentation” rules, but to help authorities prosecute anyone who has broken the law?

I welcome your comments below.

A note about comments: Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the author of this blog and the hosting service are not liable for comments left by readers. Per the Digital Media Law Project, “Immunity covers defamation and privacy claims, as well as negligence and other tort claims associated with publication.”

About: My name is Ian Lamont. To contact me, please email ianlamont -at- yahoo dot com

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Fessenden’s 2016 letter:
Fessenden letter from headmaster David Stettler, p1

Fessenden letter from headmaster David Stettler, p2

Fessenden School and St. George’s: A tale of two investigations

Alumni of a prestigious New England prep school come forward, relating their experiences decades ago of being molested by faculty. The school conducts an internal investigation, admits that students were abused, issues an apology to the victims and makes counseling available to them.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same playbook used by the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts after a sexual abuse scandal came to light. However, this isn’t the Fessenden School. It’s St. George’s in Rhode Island. And unlike Fessenden, St. George’s is being forced to go much further. Not only are Rhode Island state police investigating St. George’s, the school is working with victims on a separate independent investigation. The New York Times reports:

St. George’s School, an elite Rhode Island prep school embroiled in a widening sexual abuse scandal spanning decades, said Thursday that it would commission a new, independent investigation into allegations of misconduct against former staff and former students.

The investigation is to be undertaken by a third party to be chosen with the approval of a group of victims who have been critical of the school’s handling of the matter.

The school and the victims group, which calls itself “S.G.S. for Healing,” said in a joint statement that the investigation would be independent, comprehensive and not limited “in scope or time period and will be conducted in a manner sensitive to victims who may have already provided information.”

The Rhode Island State Police are conducting a separate investigation. And the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has restricted a retired priest from his duties after the priest was named Tuesday by lawyers for former students as having molested three boys at St. George’s in the 1970s. … (more)

The contrast is striking. The police are investigating St. George’s, and the school has agreed to an independent investigation that will look into allegations going back to the 70s and possibly much earlier. Meanwhile, the Fessenden School, Fessenden Headmaster David Stettler, the current and past Fessenden board of directors, and Fessenden’s legal counsel have done everything they can to make the ugly stories and lawsuits about pedophile faculty go away. It’s been this way for years. Only recently has a crack begun to open, but the school continues to fight, delay, and deny.

I have confidence the truth about Fessenden will come out in civil lawsuits. But what really needs to happen as soon as possible is a criminal investigation by the Newton police, the Massachusetts state police, or the Middlesex County D.A., as well as a totally independent investigation, funded by the school but not run by its lawyers, administrators, or directors. The truth must come out, and people guilty of abusing students–as well as administrators, directors, or other parties who either attempted to cover it up or failed to notify authorities–need to be tried in court. If they are found guilty of crimes, they need to be sentenced to jail. The school needs to come clean, acknowledge exactly what happened, and examine the factors that led to young boys being abused and the promotion of a sick, broken culture. Only then can the real healing begin, and safeguards put in place so something like this never happens again at Fessenden or any other school.

Lives were ruined. Yet Fessenden and the people who committed pedophilia or allowed these acts to take place continue to evade scrutiny and accountability. This must change, and the situation at St. George’s shows a way to move forward.

Fessenden School abuse scandal: It gets worse

(UPDATES: Fessenden is finally being sued over this terrible affair. Details at the bottom of this post. See also the stories that alumni from the 1940s-1980s have left in the comments section below, and check out the follow-up blog post prompted by the 2016 Globe Spotlight team investigation) I don’t tell people too much about my middle school experience. I attended a private school in Newton, Massachusetts, called the Fessenden School, which is currently embroiled in a terrible sexual abuse scandal. I’ll talk about my own experience first, before getting in to contents of a letter I just received from Fessenden. The scandal goes much further than the initial reports of a single pedophile assistant headmaster at the school. And just to be clear, I am not a victim of abuse at the Fessenden … but some of the victims and their stories are described in the linked articles as well in the comments.

I attended Fessenden in the early 1980s. I hated it. It was the type of place where put-downs and other small cruelties reigned, and kids’ personality flaws were amplified. A strict social hierarchy emerged, with the jocks and some of the cruelest kids at the top, and the frailest and neediest kids on the bottom.

One recollection comes from the very first day I stepped into the school. I was visiting as a precursor to applying, and another boy took me around. He was friendly enough, but then while we were walking down one of the basement hallways between classes he suddenly attacked another student. It was clear there was some history between them. They began to fight, and in a few seconds they were writhing on the floor, wrestling each other. In less than a minute, my guide came out on top, brushed himself off, smiled like it was no big deal, and continued the tour.

I was baffled by this, but didn’t say anything. Maybe this was normal behavior for middle-school aged kids, I thought. Indeed, once I began attending the Fessenden School I got tangled up in similar fights from time to time (once I was even egged on by other students in the big room outside the headmaster’s office). I am not a fighter, and never got into physical fights before or after attending Fessenden. But at that school, things were different.

I did not understand it at the time, but the fights, bullying, and other physical and mental put-downs were actually part of the deep-rooted culture of the Fessenden School. It had been stewing for decades. As described in the letter below and in the comments section of this post, some especially dark, sick episodes involving abuse had taken place, leaving scores of victims who are still haunted to this day. While there was somewhat of a house cleaning in the late 70s preceding my arrival and during my first two years there, the Lord of the Flies culture continued to fester.

Fessenden School abuse scandal
Fessenden School

Some Fessenden teachers were good, but there were a few who participated in the cruelty-based social structure. I remember one time being picked up by my lapels and screamed at by a teacher with his face just inches away from my own, for making the mistake of visiting one of my friend’s dorms during the day. He was the beloved “house master” of one of Fessenden’s dorms, and this was how he informed me that visitors were not allowed during the day. I was shocked and absolutely terrified.

I remember the morning in 1981 or 1982 when Fessenden’s headmaster (Mr. Burnham) announced in a grave tone that a relatively new teacher had been dismissed. The reason? As I recall, the teacher had been caught serving alcohol to a student in his quarters on campus. Think about that for a moment. A teacher at Fessenden, serving alcohol to a boy who was at most 15 years old (Fessy only went up to 9th grade). Besides the hiring, training, and policy issues that allowed this to happen, what sort of culture had to be in place for a teacher to think that it was OK to invite a boy to your room and give him beer or booze?

A lot of the boys (there were no girls) at the Fessenden School were children of the wealthy, who were parked there by their parents who were seeking some sort of Americanized version of a British boarding school, with apple-cheeked young preppies marching around in blazers and ties. As a day student who lived nearby, I didn’t have to deal with the sleepover aspect of the Fessy experience. But it was pretty sad, especially for some of the youngest boys. If they were lucky, they got to go home for the weekend. If they weren’t so lucky, they were there seven days a week. Every weekend, I would see small packs from this group walking down to the local village center to buy candy and magazines. My parents, who still live in the area, tell me that the same sad ritual continues.

I have only a few positive memories of the school. There was a winter nature trip to Western Mass. with a small group of students led by a wonderful teacher named Mr. Olsen. There was also a hands-on experience learning about computers and programming from Mr. Carey, our British computer science instructor and a roomful of Apple II+ and Apple IIe computers. That sparked an interest in technology that continues to this day (I am a publisher of how-to guides about LinkedIn, Google Drive, Twitter, etc.).

But most of my time there was not fun. After 8th grade, I couldn’t stand Fessenden anymore, and happily returned to the Newton public school system. I haven’t had any contact with the Fessenden School or my classmates for over 20 years. As a parent, I would never consider putting my own kids through such an experience, even before the news that just came to light.

Fessenden School abuse scandal hits the local media

A few days ago, there were some reports in the Boston Globe about abuse carried out by one of Fessenden’s assistant headmasters, Arthur Clarridge, in the mid to late 1970s. That was bad enough, but the letter I just received from the current Fessenden headmaster David Stettler (reproduced below) is positively horrifying. It’s not just a case of one bad apple for a few years in the 1970s, but a pattern of alleged abuse and “inappropriate sexual behavior” at Fessenden School or involving Fessenden students starting in the 1960s, continuing through the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. As recently as the late 2000s, a teacher was apparently engaged in sexual contact with a just-graduated student, and was fired in June 2010. Fessenden’s response? Informing the parents, and filing the “required documentation” with the state. It’s only after the Globe report that the school has begun to let everyone else know about the investigations, and to offer counseling to anyone who was victimized.

It’s too little, too late. In my mind, a hierarchical school culture that is buttressed by cruelty and physical bullying, aided by successive administrations who wanted to sweep allegations of abuse under the rug, led to repeated incidents of this nature, and needless emotional trauma for the victims. Although Fessenden undoubtedly wants this news to disappear, they should be doing everything in their power to:

  1. Determine which faculty, staff, and students were responsible for sexually abusing other students
  2. Report the incidents to the police and DAs office, not just to satisfy the minimum “required documentation” rules, but to help authorities prosecute anyone who has broken laws relating to abuse or sexual assault
  3. Re-examine the cultural aspects that allowed this state of affairs to persist for decades, with an eye toward developing a plan to make concrete changes that will not only protect students, but also help them thrive in a way that truly brings out the best parts of their character and the best elements of the community.

Fessenden School lawsuit

UPDATE December 2014: The Newton Tab reports that attorney Michael Garabedian, who represents victims of abuse at the Fessenden School, is taking the school to court. According to the article:

“Garabedian said he represents six adults who say they were sexually abused by Fessenden employees both on and off campus between 1968 and 1976. The victims were between 10 and 13 years old at the time of the alleged assaults.”

The article also quotes the attorney as saying:

“Their procedures in the past failed children,” Garabedian said. “They should be sitting down with victims to help them heal and learn how those failures took place. As educators they should be learning from their mistakes.” Garabedian said Fessenden has made “empty gestures” toward his clients in addressing their allegations.

The 2014 Newton Tab article can be read here. The Boston Globe also has an article. The timeline of the Fessenden School lawsuit is not certain.

Note that the timeline of abuse started in the 1940s, according to alumni who have left comments on this blog. Please scroll down the page to see their stories. I also encourage readers to share this post via Facebook, Twitter, and email, so other victims/survivors/witnesses can learn about the case.

Spotlight team investigation of Fessenden and other New England prep schools

On May 8 2016, the Boston Globe Spotlight team published an investigation of rampant sexual abuse at Fessenden and other New England prep schools. There are many stories from some of the brave former Fessy students who stepped forward. See some of the data from the report and my reaction on Spotlight exposes more abuse at Fessenden and other prep schools. Why no investigation?.

The 2011 letter from the school can be viewed by clicking on the images below:

Fessenden School

Fessenden abuse

A note about comments: You are solely responsible for the comments that you leave on this blog post. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the author of this blog and the hosting service are not liable for comments left by readers. Per the Digital Media Law Project, “Immunity covers defamation and privacy claims, as well as negligence and other tort claims associated with publication.”

About: My name is Ian Lamont. To contact me, please email ianlamont -at- yahoo dot com