Massachusetts School Finds Credible Sexual Misconduct Claims Against Ex-Headmaster

The New York Times reports that the allegations against Robert Ward, the former headmaster at The Williston Northampton School, add to a small but growing number of claims against top leaders at some of New England’s most prestigious prep schools.

The Williston Northampton School, a private boarding school in Western Massachusetts, named this week its former headmaster, Robert Ward, as the subject of credible reports of sexual misconduct that occurred during the 1970s, marking a rare instance of such allegations reaching a prep school’s highest level.

A letter written by school officials on Monday said that an investigator appointed by the school was given four firsthand accounts from credible sources of sexual misconduct by Mr. Ward. He was the school’s headmaster from 1972 to 1979 and died in 1986. The letter, which was sent to Williston alumni and current parents and was posted on the school’s website, did not provide details of the accusations, and school officials on Tuesday declined to offer any further details about what had happened, citing privacy issues.

The letter from Williston was the latest in a crush of revelations detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by adults at New England’s prestigious prep schools. But it was not the first time Williston had examined allegations of sexual misconduct on campus. A 2015 inquiry by an investigator, prompted by claims against a different faculty member, failed to produce any firsthand accounts about Mr. Ward, school officials said.

The flurry of investigations into past abuse at private schools has led to still more investigations, in part because some of those accused of wrongdoing worked at multiple schools.

It was not until Loomis Chaffee, a private school in Connecticut, named Mr. Ward in its own letter earlier this year that Williston officials hired a new investigator to take a look at the former headmaster. Mr. Ward had worked at Loomis Chaffee in the 1960s.

“The four firsthand reports indicate that Mr. Ward violated the standards of professional boundaries, standards that would have been in effect at the time, and standards that are universally understood today,” the letter from Williston officials said. The letter was signed by Robert W. Hill III, the current head of the school, and John Hazen White Jr., the president of the board of trustees.

The NY Times reports that the allegations against Mr. Ward add to a small but growing number of claims against top leaders of schools. Other high-ranking administrators — notably, a former admissions officer at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire — have pleaded guilty to sexual violations. And other heads of schools where sexual abuse has been documented — notably at St. George’s School in Rhode Island — have been accused by some alumni of perpetuating cover-ups, either actively or passively.

But claims that a headmaster has been directly involved in sexual abuse of students are still rare.

In a letter from officials at Loomis Chaffee earlier this year, school officials cited “credible reports” that said Mr. Ward had “sexually assaulted and made advances toward students.” At that school, Mr. Ward had worked as a guidance counselor, English teacher and member of the admissions office in the early 1960s.

Ann Hallock, the director of communications for Williston, issued a written response to questions.

“We are saddened by these findings, but they only strengthen our commitment to the emotional and physical safety of our students today and to creating and maintaining a safe environment in which all students feel completely comfortable reporting any type of inappropriate behavior,” she said. “In deference to privacy issues related to the alumni who came forward, we are not releasing further details about the credible accounts of sexual misconduct that were reported.”

« Back to Our Blog and Resource Center – Boston Injury & Massachusetts Employment Law

Can We Help You?

Call 617.559.1530 or complete the form below.

By submitting this form, Fogelman Law will take no action on your behalf. Submission of this form does not establish an attorney-client relationship.