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Tips did not lead to charges for three Phillips Exeter teachers, attorney says

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 09. 2017 10:07PM

Recently disclosed allegations against three Phillips Exeter Academy faculty members do not rise to the level of a crime but could violate the preparatory school's code of conduct for proper behavior between teachers and students, Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway said.

Last week, her office released more than 1,000 pages of two police investigations involving Phillips Exeter.

The more lengthy of the two dealt with whether the academy and its officials complied with state law that mandates adults to report any abuse or neglect of minors. That New Hampshire State Police investigation included allegations against several individuals that were never made public, including three current instructors.

"When you ask the public for tips, some of the stuff you get is not really a sexual assault," Conway said. But some of the allegations - leering at a naked student, making an off-color remark, leaving the girls' dormitory early in the morning - may violate the school's code of conduct, she said.

"I don't even know if (academy officials) know about these things," Conway said.

According to police records, the allegations involve:

. A religion teacher who was seen by a former security guard in the Weatherow Hall girls' dormitory in the early morning hours in 2013. He said he also saw the teacher allegedly touching several girls' rear ends in 2014 as they climbed the ladder to the academy bell tower, a graduation ritual.

. A math teacher who was reported for making unwanted comments. He spoke about a girl's appearance and her modest clothing and called her slippery. No date is given for those complaints. According to police records, two girls complained about him touching a knee and a shoulder and about unspecified comments in the late 1980s. In 2015, a student told school officials she stopped getting extra help in math after unspecified inappropriate comments, records show.

. An economics teacher who was reported by a female student who was caught nude in a boy's room. The student told school officials the teacher "made her feel uncomfortable by standing there longer than he needed to." She did not respond to a phone call from Exeter police. In another incident, a colleague reported the teacher had "boundary issues" with male students between 2013 and 2014. According to police reports, he allegedly touched boys on the face, called them sweetheart and had boys in his apartment late at night. In an unsigned 2014 letter that appears to be from an academy official, the teacher was told his behavior does not appear to violate boundaries, but he should be vigilant about how that can be interpreted.

. Other allegations involve former or deceased faculty and former students.

Phillips Exeter officials appear to be aware of issues involving the three, according to the police reports.

In their 2016 reports, Exeter police said the cases against the math and economics teachers remained open; the religion teacher's was closed. None of the three responded to a Union Leader email sent to them on Friday.

The Union Leader withheld their names because they are not facing criminal charges and allegations against them could not be independently verified.

School officials declined to answer specific questions about the allegations, citing a policy of not commenting on personnel matters. But according to notes released from a meeting held by principal Lisa MacFarlane with school employees, she said:

"In every case, we undertook our own investigation, and imposed sanctions when warranted, either through an employment action or through the student disciplinary process. Those decisions are kept confidential, but the fact that a given faculty member or student remained on campus should not suggest that no action was taken."

Most of the allegations came from efforts the school launched two years ago after disclosures of sexual contact involving adult faculty and students, some decades old.

Phillips Exeter encouraged people to come forward, and Exeter police received 58 tips; 17 of those tips suggest the academy staff members were aware of allegations of sexual or physical abuse of minors and did not contact authorities.

New Hampshire State Police investigated the nonreporting, but many of the cases could not go forward, Conway said. Some lacked credible evidence or witnesses. In some cases the perpetrator died. And others exceeded the statute of limitations.

"They did a good job digging around. They interviewed as many people as they could," Conway said.

The state police investigation took place during the middle of the U.S. Senate campaign involving then-Gov. Maggie Hassan. The Major Crime Unit included her husband, former principal Tom Hassan, on a list of targets of their investigation, specifically into whether he followed the state's mandatory reporting law, but the documents show nothing was found to implicate him and he was never charged.

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