Headmaster David Stettler’s latest (and probably last) letter to Fessenden alumni

Fessenden alumni received the following letter from outgoing Fessenden School headmaster David Stettler earlier this week (scroll below to see it). It’s the latest attempt at damage control that attempts to sound sincere while neglecting to mention several key facts about the Fessenden abuse scandal:

  • For many decades, Fessenden failed to protect students from child predators who were employed by Fessenden school as faculty or staff.
  • These predators committed sickening acts of sexual and physical abuse, scarring their victims for life. You can read some of the accounts written by former Fessenden student victims here.
  • When students and alumni reported abuse by these predators to administrators, they were ignored or kicked out of school.
  • Predators were allowed to remain at the school, and in many cases were able to abuse children for years.
  • When predators left the school, future employers (including other prep schools across New England) were not notified of the reported incidents, opening up the possibility that the abuse continued at those schools.

Like the Boston archdiocese of the Catholic Church, senior administrators failed to report abuse to the authorities for investigation and potential prosecution over a period spanning seven decades (from the 1940s until the beginning of the present decade). The Newton Police Department and Middlesex County District Attorney’s office never had an opportunity to investigate cases, because they didn’t know about the abuse. The case that was investigated in the past year which (mentioned in Stettler’s letter, below) refers to a current Fessenden faculty member.

When the Suffolk County DAs office in 1977 investigated a Boston-area pedophile ring that included two Fessenden faculty members, Fessenden administrators led by then Headmaster Robert Coffin claimed that no abuse of students had taken place on campus:

Headmaster Coffin's statements to the Boston Globe in 1977

This was a lie, and as a result of the statements by administrators to authorities and parents, no investigation was initiated at the school. Had they done so, they would have uncovered prosecutable cases of child sexual abuse involving not only the two faculty members (who resigned) but also other members of the Fessenden faculty, as described in this 2016 Boston Globe Spotlight investigation. Some of these faculty members were employed by the school into the 1980s.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • David Stettler only told alumni about some of the earlier cases in 2011, and only because the Boston Globe had just reported some of the cases. In other words, it was damage control, not an effort to promote transparency or justice.
  • No Fessenden administrator, board member, or legal counsel has ever been cited for negligence in failing to report abuse of children at the Fessenden School.
  • The child predators were able to get away with their crimes for years at Fessenden, and possibly continue their activities after they left. They got away with these sickening crimes, scot-free.
  • The victims were left without support, ashamed of what had happened to them and traumatized by the abuse. Many have been unable to come to terms with what they experienced, and as adults became addicted to drugs or suffered problems relating to people. Some committed suicide.
  • There has never been any independent investigation into what happened from the 1940s through the 1980s and how the school handled those episodes (the “comprehensive, detailed, and impartial investigation” he refers to below relates to a current member of the Fessenden faculty).
  • No Fessenden faculty member has ever been prosecuted for sexual abuse of Fessenden students.

I was hoping David Stettler’s final letter to members of the Fessenden community (including alumni and current Fessenden parents) would have announced that the Fessenden School was finally announcing an independent investigation involving not just a current faculty member but also the evil child predators who freely abused Fessenden students from the 1940s through the 1980s, and got away with their crimes.

Now, it looks like Stettler’s legacy will be remembered as the Fessenden headmaster who could have done more to uphold justice for all of those who had been wronged and bring together a wounded community, but failed in the end.

To read more about this terrible affair, read these posts:

Fessenden School abuse scandal: It gets worse

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

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

The May 8, 2018 letter from David Stettler

Dear Members of the Fessenden Community,

One of my first communications to the Fessenden community, when I arrived as Headmaster in the fall of 2011, was a letter sharing our concern that sexual abuses that occurred at Fessenden in the 1960s and 1970s were broader in scope than previously acknowledged. The Board of Trustees and I believed that it was time to shine a light on this issue that has too often, and for too long, been hidden in societal shadows. From time to time over the past seven years, I have followed up to share with you what we had learned. As I approach my retirement from Fessenden, it feels appropriate to update you again.
Upon the release of my 2011 letter and subsequent interview and article in The Boston Globe, a number of alumni from the 1960s and 1970s came forward to tell of the abuses that they had suffered. Some chose to communicate with me directly, and some contacted us through an attorney. Some preferred to keep their stories private, and others shared openly with the news media. We have respected all of their decisions regarding how they have chosen to address the memories and aftermath of the abuses they suffered. And we have strived throughout to deal honestly, respectfully, and transparently with this history, while still respecting the confidentiality of the survivors.
One alumnus from the class of 1973 who chose to share his story openly with the news media has recently sent a letter by email to many members of the Fessenden community. You may have received his letter. In it, he details the abuses that he experienced when he was a student at Fessenden in the early 1970s. While we support his choice to disclose his story and share his desire to shed light on an awful chapter in Fessenden’s history, we did not supply him with the contact information for members of our community. I want to reiterate my deepest apology to him and others who were abused by those who were supposed to be caring for them. We continue to offer mediation, potential settlement, and free counseling and treatment to all of our alumni who were subjected to abuse.
Abuses from the 1960s and 1970s:
In October of 2011, I wrote a letter to the community and shared it with The Boston Globe. I offered to be interviewed by The Globe because of the desire to open public dialogue about the history of abuses. As a result of the letter and front-page Globe article, numerous alumni came forward to share their stories with me. The volume of stories and the repetition of perpetrators’ names leave no room for doubt that these abuses in the 1960s and 1970s took place. Therefore, for those former students of that era who contacted us through an attorney seeking financial remuneration for their suffering, we have participated in mediated financial settlements.
Throughout these past seven years, we have made no effort to cover up or hide any information about abuses that the survivors wanted to make public, and we have not asked for a confidentiality clause in any of the financial settlements with survivors. Fessenden alumni remain free to share their stories as a path toward healing and in order to shed light on this topic—that is what we set out to accomplish when we made our concerns about past sexual abuse public in 2011.
Allegation of abuse in the late 1990s:
In June 2017 and in December 2017, I wrote to you about an allegation of abuse dating to the late 1990s. This allegation is separate and unique from the era of the 1960s and 1970s, because it is from a more recent time frame and involves a present Fessenden employee. Therefore the Board and I believed that it could be and should be handled in a different manner.
When we received this allegation, we immediately notified state authorities, placed the staff member on administrative leave, and barred him from campus which required him to move out of his campus home. The School cooperated fully with the police and District Attorney’s investigation and also retained an independent law firm that was given free rein to conduct a comprehensive, detailed, and impartial investigation. In an effort to carry out the most extensive investigation possible, the School sent a correspondence to approximately 11,000 alumni, alumni parents, current parents, employees, former employees, trustees, and former trustees encouraging them to contact the law firm if they had any knowledge pertinent to the allegation.
The investigation by the District Attorney and the police found no corroboration of the allegation. The independent counsel’s report determined that the allegation was unsupported. The employee has categorically denied that any misconduct occurred and cooperated fully in all investigations. Given the conclusions reached from these investigations, the School determined that the staff member should return to Fessenden. To avoid the disruption and costs that are associated with any litigation, the School entered into a mutually agreed upon settlement with the claimant. The School did not ask for confidentiality as part of the settlement agreement. Prior to finalizing the agreement, the School was assured by the claimant’s attorney that the claimant understood that the employee might return to the School.
Throughout these seven years, the Board and I have endeavored to act with honesty, compassion, and respect. We recognize that not everyone has agreed with each and every decision that we have made, but we have tried to do our best. Similarly, we have made every effort to assure the health and safety of our students today by implementing best practices that promote healthy relationships that are aimed at protecting students from harm. In my earlier letters to the community, I have described the education of our students, employee screenings, mandatory employee training, policies, procedures, protocols, and practices that are currently in place. We are resolute in our commitment to the well-being of our students.
David B. Stettler
Head of School