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California boarding school acknowledges historic allegations of sexual misconduct

One of California’s most elite boarding schools has acknowledged allegations of abuse going back 40 years.

The Thatcher School in Ojai northwest of Los Angeles published a 91-page report on its website detailing allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment, and crossed boundaries by faculty.

Alleged attempts to cover up complaints by former administrators at the school and blame teen victims were also included.

A student who attended the school in the 1980s accused her high school English teacher of raping her several times, starting at the age of 16.

The school didn’t contact the police but instead sent out a male assistant headmaster who allegedly asked the girl if she “enjoyed” the sex, the report stated.

In a subsequent college recommendation letter, the counsellor mentioned her “unfortunate involvement with a faculty member”.

The LA law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson wrote the report, hired by the school in August to handle the investigation. The probe was motivated by the proliferation of the Instagram account @rpecultureatthacher, which describes itself as “a safe space” for those who have been victimized at the school.

The report includes interviews with 120 former students, parents and both current and former members of faculty and staff.

No charges have stemmed from the report, but law enforcement in Ventura County told the LA Times that they are looking into the incidents.

“We are going to look into them on a case-by-case basis,” Sergeant Hector Macias told the paper about the allegations. “We are going to continue to work with the school and their law office in order to vet some of this out and see if the victims are willing to cooperate.”

According to Captain Eric Buschow, investigators are looking into whether the alleged incidents rise to the level of crimes and if teachers and other staff reported the incidents to law enforcement.

Because many of the allegations are from many years ago, law enforcement expects that many of the incidents will fall outside the statute of limitations.

“If that statute has run out, you have cases that cannot be prosecuted regardless of the outcome. So that’s a concern,” Captain Buschow told the LA Times.

Willard “Bill” Wyman, who led the school from 1975 to 1992, was also accused of misconduct. The school hired attorneys in 1992 after a trustee received complaints from faculty and students.

The attorneys found that the former school leader had perpetrated “a pattern of offensive verbal conduct and improper touching” against both female students and staff.

In one of 17 exposed incidents, Mr Wyman allegedly asked two girls to wear “slinky” and “sexy” clothes to a dinner party at his house. He also allegedly touched one student’s backside.

Mr Wyman has since passed away.

Daniel Yih, the chair of The Thacher School’s governing board, wrote in a letter that was published alongside the report that none of those accused still worked at the school.

“To survivors of sexual misconduct and their families in our community, we are deeply sorry,” Mr Yih wrote. “We have learned a great deal about our history over the past several months – much of which has been difficult to confront.”

“The impact on students was profound," trustees said in a statement on the school website. “Many suffered lasting harm not just from the sexual misconduct itself but also from the school’s handling of the misconduct.”

School officials said they would take “corrective actions” to prevent this kind of abuse in the future. They added that a task force would be created for further recommendations on new measures and that a “comprehensive protocol” would be established for reporting sexual misconduct.

The school also said they would increase resources for reporting abuse and improve counselling.

Sexual abuse attorney Paul Mones is representing one of the victims. He told the LA Times that the findings are “unfortunately typical” of private boarding schools.

“Because these are closed environments, where the teachers live on campus by and large, and the students live there, the lines of appropriate behaviour, even the grooming behaviours, are blurred,” he said. “It seems here that the teachers there really were able to operate or run their lives with these students with complete impunity.”

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