That time when Newton’s mayor blew off my email about the Fessenden School abuse scandal

My email to former Newton Mayor Setti Warren, dated May 10 2016. This was two days after The Boston Globe Spotlight team (the same group that uncovered the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal) released a report detailing the decades-long culture of abuse and cover-ups at the Fessenden School in West Newton. Here’s a complete copy of the email:

Dear Mayor Warren,

On Sunday, May 8, the Boston Globe published a Spotlight team investigation into pedophilia at dozens of private schools in New England. One of them, the Fessenden School, is located in West Newton. A group of former students have given statements indicating that not only were they victimized by pedophile faculty at Fessenden, but administrators downplayed their reports and failed to report abuse to police and state authorities, as required by law.

One of the faculty members, an assistant headmaster at the school, was brazen enough to brag in a message to his Harvard classmates that “my life seems to have been filled with 250 boys each year to … put to bed and to love” while another faculty member proudly displayed a Nazi flag and other Nazi memorabilia in his dorm room. A third was the school psychologist — the man whom some of the victims (as well as other confused or struggling young students) may have turned to for help and reassurance. 

Fessenden itself has sent a series of letter to alumni (see links below) admitting that 16 former students have come forward since 2011 to describe their abuse at the hands of “at least five individuals who were members of our community” in the 1960s and 1970s. These numbers do not include victims who reported sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual behavior before 2011 or taking place outside of the 1960s and 1970s.

It is important to note that not one person has ever been investigated for abuse of Fessenden students, or charged with any crime. Pedophile teachers may have been able to commit more crimes against children after leaving Fessenden in the 1970s and 1980s. At least two of them are still alive, enjoying freedom while their victims have suffered a lifetime of pain. I have heard that one former student committed suicide in the 1970s, and his classmates believe that he may have been abused by one of these men.

Further, there is evidence that Fessenden administrators failed to notify police and state authorities of the abuse when they learned of it. Up until the 1990s and perhaps later, the M.O. of the Fessenden administration was to settle claims out of court.

I would like to ask you about what reports, if any, did Newton Police or child welfare authorities receive from students, parents, teachers, or administrators concerning physical or sexual abuse of children at Fessenden’s Newton campus? I realize that state regulations require reports of abuse to be filed with state authorities, but I think it is conceivable that some local residents or students may have first approached the Newton Police.

I would also like to ask if the abuse of children, or the failure of private entities (including Fessenden’s administration, board members and legal counsel) to follow reporting requirements falls under any municipal statutes.

Finally, I would like to ask your administration to make a public statement condemning the great evil that occurred at the Fessenden School … and offering support to the victims as they seek justice.


Ian Lamont

I never received a reply. There was no acknowledgement. There was no statement condemning the abuse. There wasn’t even a note in his newsletter pointing to the Spotlight revelations. I assume that there was no outreach to the legal department at Newton City Hall, or the Newton Police Department.

We now know that during this time period that Howie Leung, a faculty member at the Fessenden Summer ELL program, was allegedly grooming students participating in the Fessenden program. It apparently started in 2015 with a 13-year-old girl, and was about to happen again in the summer of 2016, according to an investigation that took place several years later. This is despite Fessenden’s repeated promises that it had turned a new leaf and was doing everything to protect children under its care. Quoting former Fessenden Headmaster David Stettler in 2011, the safety of students was the school’s “highest priority.”

Here’s the initial report about Leung in the Concord Monitor, dated April 17, 2019:

When he was a teacher at Rundlett Middle School, Howie Leung wrote a letter to a 14-year-old student that police said was “very expressive and emotional.”

“I love you,” Leung wrote, and admitted, “I was pressuring you and you didn’t want to let me down.”

The letter was written to a former Concord student who Leung is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting at Concord’s middle school and at the Fessenden School in Newton, Mass., a five-week boarding camp for girls and boys ages 9 to 15. The letter was uncovered as part of an investigation by police in Concord and Newton.

… The report says much of the abuse occurred while she was an unpaid helper at the Fessenden School, which provides an overnight English Language Learning summer program to help students gain skills in speaking, writing and reading English.

The victim said Leung assaulted her repeatedly in his office, in the tunnels of the school buildings where the campers were playing tag, and in her own dorm room, assaulting her approximately 20 times over the course of two summers, the report said.

leung booking photo fessenden case

Leung was actually caught, investigated, and charged not because Fessenden School reported it, but because some of Leung’s grooming activities took place near Concord (NH) High School. That school district also dropped the ball, and recently settled with victims. But Fessenden is not party to the agreement:

The experiences of both former students were detailed in an investigative report prepared by attorney Djuna Perkins, who detailed years of inaction by school administrators to numerous red flags and boundary violations between Leung and female students.

In the most recent settlement agreement provided to the Monitor this week and dated Feb. 7, the school district agreed to protect the identity of the former student. The payment was made to the student who witnesses said Leung was kissing in a car near Concord High School in 2018. Despite the school district’s internal investigation, Leung was allowed to remain on the job for three and a half more months before any action was taken against him. However, that report led to Leung’s eventual arrest by Concord Police.

The agreement notes that the Fessenden School in Massachusetts is not released from any claims through this settlement agreement. It also specifies that Leung is not released from any claims in his capacity as an individual.

Even though the Concord school district failed to take action for months, investigators in NH apparently notified their counterparts in Massachusetts. In 2019, This led to charges of

aggravated rape of a child with a 10-year age difference, two charges of aggravated indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14, and two counts of aggravated indecent assault and battery on a person age 14 or older.

I wonder now what would have happened if Mayor Warren had done something in May of 2016, after the Spotlight report came out. Issued a public statement condemning what happened at Fessenden over many decades. Directed his law and police departments to examine relevant statutes, and their historical handling of such cases. Maybe even notified Fessenden that it had to do more to ensure no child under its care would ever experience abuse again.

As far as I know, nothing happened. Which is strange, considering his active participation in the discussions just a few years earlier surrounding Steven Chan, a Day Middle School teacher arrested for child pornography. Here’s how the Newton Tab described his address to concerned parents:

Mayor Setti Warren opened by saying that he had just two things to say to parents.

“Public safety is a priority to this community,” Warren said. “We take it very seriously. I believe that he (Chan) should be prosecuted to the extent that the law allows.”

Warren also told the crowd that his [daughter] began kindergarten today.

“I feel confident as mayor that not only will she get a great education, I am confident she’s safe.”

What about the safety of children at Fessenden? Did they not matter?

Or maybe Warren was focused on other things. I’ve written about him before, in connection with reforming Newton’s real estate development, taking control away from city councilors and giving it to a developer-friendly planning department. Over the objections of Newtonville residents and their city councilors, he was instrumental in getting developer Robert Korff of Mark Development what he wanted at the Orr Building on Washington Street in Newtonville, which later became Trio Newtonville. He also made it possible for developer Dinosaur Capital to lease prime land in Newtonville for the equivalent of just over $10,000 per year. Units at 28 Austin Street now require people with incomes measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Warren’s term ended in 2018, and he ended up Harvard Kennedy School, where he is now executive director at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

His successor, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, hasn’t once mentioned the Fessenden School even though the Leung case came to light during her first term.

Leung faces trial in Massachusetts in 2023.

To date, Leung has been the only teacher ever charged with abusing children at the Fessenden School, despite decades of reports and the arrest of two teachers in the 1970s for assaults that took place outside of Fessenden. In the 1970s, Fessenden administrators lied to the media and to investigators about abuse on campus by teachers there. At other times, they never reported claims of abuse to authorities. When the older cases came to light in 2011, Stettler claimed the school had changed, but its failure to monitor one of its employees in the years that followed shows it was lip service.



What did the Fessenden School know about “Howie” Leung?

There is a deeply disturbing report in the Concord Monitor, a New Hampshire newspaper, about how school administrators in Concord had failed to act upon red flags relating to the behavior of teacher Primo “Howie” Leung around students at a middle school there starting in 2015. Leung, who was concurrently a teacher at a summer program operated by Fessenden School in Newton, Mass., was arrested earlier this year and charged with two counts of aggravated rape of a child, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child over 14. Some of these alleged assaults took place at a summer program operated by the Fessenden School.

To date, Leung has been the only teacher ever charged with abusing children at the Fessenden School, despite decades of reports and the arrest of two teachers in the 1970s for assaults that took place outside of Fessenden. At the time, Fessenden administrators lied to the media and to investigators about abuse on campus by teachers there, and at other times never reported claims of abuse to authorities. Since 2011, even though myself and many others have called for an independent investigation about abuse at the Fessenden School, the school and its administrators (including former Headmaster David B. Stettler) and lawyers have striven to cover up reports, downplay allegations, and deflect responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon students.

However, where Fessenden failed, investigators in New Hamsphire persevered and published what they learned. The reporters at the Concord Monitor, Alyssa Dandrea and Jonathan van Fleet, summarized what happened. We now have a better idea of Leung’s alleged M.O., even while the Fessenden School claimed it had cleaned up its act. Here are some excerpts:

The girl, a former Concord student who is now 17, told police she was sexually assaulted by Leung multiple times in 2015 and 2016 at the Fessenden School in West Newton, Mass., which provides an overnight English Language Learning summer program.

In 2015, the girl would have been 13 years old. Think about that for a moment. This is during the tenure of David Stettler, the same administrator who pledged that the safety of students was the school’s “highest priority.”

Concord school officials were alerted Dec. 10 [2018] that Leung had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with an 18-year-old female student, who is a different student than the victim Leung is accused of sexually assaulting. Leung was reportedly seen by other students kissing the senior girl in a car in Concord.

District officials said they did not report the incident with the 18-year-old to Concord police because of the student’s age. However, they did forward the results of their investigation to the Department of Education, which ultimately notified authorities.

Leung remained on the job for 3½ months before he was put on paid administrative leave.

Here, we see that this school took the Fessy path, avoiding notifying authorities and even keeping the teacher on the payroll — and around students — after serious red flags were raised. The difference between Fessenden and Concord, though: Concord at least notified somebody, who eventually dropped a dime.

At school board meetings in recent months, community members said there were many red flags before Leung’s arrest that should have caught the attention of administrators. Parents said he had close relationships with several female students he taught and would bring them coffee or buy them lunch.

Perkins said students should not be permitted to spend “significant time” with teachers whom they don’t have for class, and that students should not be permitted to change their schedules without written permission from their parents. She also encouraged the development of a policy that discourages staff from socializing with students outside of school.

Some Fessenden alumni will remember similar tales from the dark days of Fessenden in the 60s and 70s, when teachers like Arthur Clarridge groomed young boys with offers of car rides and special attention.

In 2014, a Rundlett Middle School student told her friends the way Leung treated some female students made her feel uncomfortable.

The girl, who was in seventh grade at the time, was called into the office the day before Christmas break, accused of spreading “malicious and slanderous gossip” and suspended for three days by principal Sica.

“A sexual predator will use any tools at his or her disposal, including ambiguity of rules, a lack of enforcement of rules, or a charismatic personality to accomplish it,” the report continued.

Sound familiar? Look at the comments by students who were abused at Fessenden and tried to report what had happened. Adults ignored them, and in some cases Fessenden victims were expelled.

District communications obtained by the Monitor in a right-to-know request this summer show that officials were aware of interactions between Leung and the 18-year-old student that included “friendly emails,” the “frequent” presence of the student in Leung’s classroom, Leung’s recruitment of the student to the Fessenden School summer program, and Leung giving rides home to the student and a $200 gift to the student that he said was for her mother.

So the Fessenden program was allegedly used by Leung in cases involving two students. The question I have: How old was the second student when this started?

More importantly, what did Fessenden do when it came to training and monitoring this teacher? Remember, Leung was only charged for alleged abuse at Fessenden after New Hampshire educational officials reported him. The Fessenden School (led by Headmaster Steven J. Armstrong since July 2018) either failed to monitor him, or if they had suspicions, never reported them to authorities.

Two reports about Leung were made to the Concord School District. The longer 100-page report which probably contains additional details about Leung, has not been made public. The shorter 10-page report consists of recommendations for schools to detect predators while improving student safety.

But at least the reports were made. Fessenden has not attempted any sort of independent report. Indeed, of the six points I highlighted at the end of “Headmaster David Stettler’s latest (and probably last) letter to Fessenden alumni“, five still remain true:

  • 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).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There needs to be an independent investigation of what happened at the Fessenden School over many decades and why administrators, Fessenden’s lawyers, and Fessenden trustees failed to monitor staff and report predators to authorities even after reports of abuse surfaced.

Since Leung’s arrest, the Fessenden Summer ESL program has apparently been shut down. The director of that program (who oversaw Leung) is still employed by Fessenden, according to the staff directory.

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




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? [see update, below]

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.”

May 28, 2021 Update: The 2016 Fessenden letter to alumni and parents from former Fessenden headmaster David Stettler referenced “five individuals who were members of our community” who were associated with reported sexual abuse of students in the 1960s and 1970s. The Globe Spotlight report named four of them – Clarridge, Dallmann, Hasbrouck, and Clampit. It’s not clear who the fifth person was, but a March 9, 2017 article in the Berkshire Record, “Berkshire School counselor accused of past sexual abuse” (archive) notes that a Fessenden alumnus had accused former Fessenden faculty member Dary Dunham of sexual abuse in the early 1970s:

A former student of Dary Dunham’s, a current faculty member at the Berkshire School, has come forward with allegations that Dunham sexually abused him back in 1971.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place at the Fessenden School in West Newton, where Dunham was a teacher and coach, while the student-victim [redacted] was just 14.

Dunham resigned from the Berkshire School after these allegations went public. However, after working at Fessenden, and prior to working at the Berkshire School, Dunham was also employed as headmaster of Indian Mountain School in the 1990s and early 2000s. According to Connecticut investigators, Dunham impeded a separate investigation into sexual abuse of students at Indian Mountain School in the 1970s and 1980s. The report in the July 22, 1995 Hartford Courant (archive) makes Indian Mountain sound very much like the environment at Fessenden, where teachers were able to groom and abuse young victims, and administrators actively worked to keep investigators away from campus.

Note that Dunham was also headmaster at Indian Mountain when the school hired a teacher named Robert Stephen Phillips, Jr., who worked at prep schools and youth groups across the country. According to Cheshire Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut, and Derby Academy, in Hingham, Massachusetts, Phillips engaged in “sexual misconduct” of students while employed at both schools. He has never been charged with any crime, and as recently as 2019 was still working with children, according to a former victim who has documented Steve Phillips’ career.

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?.

Stettler’s 2018 letter to alumni

Damage control again, in the waning days of Headmaster Stettler’s administration. Read Headmaster David Stettler’s latest (and probably last) letter to Fessenden alumni.

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

Fessenden School

Fessenden abuse

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