Published On: Thu, Feb 2nd, 2017

Grand Jury: Solebury School Allowed Sexual Abuse of Students for 50 Years

[Warning: This report contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse that are extremely disturbing]

A Bucks County Investigating Grand Jury report detailing sexual abuse of Solebury School students that spanned a half century was made public Wednesday in Doylestown.

The report describes sexual offenses from the 1950s through 2005 “enabled by a campus environment free of student-faculty boundaries and perpetuated by a culture of concealment among Solebury School’s past administrators.”

The assaults occurred on or near the private school’s 90-acre campus outside of New Hope, as well as at locations as far away as New York City, according to the report. The statute of limitations bars prosecution in all but one case, and the victim in that case declines to pursue charges.

Despite the inability to prosecute, District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub on Wednesday praised the grand jury’s work, calling its extensive recommendations necessary to prevent future scandals at Solebury School and similar institutions.

“Although we are unable to proceed against the perpetrators, some of whom are deceased, it is important to expose how these crimes were allowed to occur and how they were concealed for so long,” Weintraub said.

“We send our kids to school to learn, and we trust that they will be safe. Solebury School violated this social compact for over 50 years. Its prior administrations practiced willful blindness while its teachers took advantage of the parents’ trust and violated the children in their care. Preying on these children was like shooting fish in a barrel,” the district attorney said.

Solebury School is a college preparatory school for grades 7 through 12 with boarding and day students. Grand jury witnesses described a relaxed, informal learning environment in which students called teachers by first names, formed close friendships with them, and socialized freely with faculty and administrators.

The grand jury found that while many Solebury School students received an excellent education from the school’s unconventional approach, others fell victim to “select faculty members who groomed, manipulated and sexually abused them.

“Certain administrators did nothing to protect these students or support them once the abuse was revealed,” the report said. “These students remember Solebury School as a place where they suffered trauma and emotional wounds that profoundly affected their future relationships and decision-making in life.

“The abuse they experienced was compounded by the knowledge that it could have been stopped if those select school administrators intervened or investigated when the abuse was ongoing,” the report continued. “Unfortunately, the school administrators entrusted with their care provided no intervention, no investigation, and no oversight of those faculty who committed and perpetuated the abuse.”

Not until Solebury School’s current headmaster, Tom Wilschutz, learned of the abuses, urged victims to come forward, admitted the school’s guilt and instituted new policies was anything done to protect students, the grand jury found.

While Wilschutz “is blameless and has taken some steps to correct the problems,” the grand jury said, “more must be done.”

The school’s informality allowed students and teachers to mingle inappropriately while administrators turned a blind eye. “This environment paved the way for abuse of students,” the report said.

As allegations of sexual misconduct piled up over decades, the school repeatedly failed to report them to police or to Bucks County Children and Youth Services, the grand jury found. Only once in the five decades examined by the grand jury was anyone from Solebury School prosecuted for sexual abuse.

In November 1996, teacher David Chadwick was arrested by Solebury Township police and charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child under 16, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors. The victim, a former student, alleged that she and Chadwick had a sexual relationship throughout her 10th grade year in 1993-1994.

The victim told police that school administrators knew she was having sex with Chadwick, but did nothing beyond telling the two to have no further contact with each other. The school never alerted police or child-protection workers, allowing Chadwick to finish the school year until his contract expired. .

Chadwick pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one to three years in prison. The victim sued the school and received a settlement between $700,000 and $800,000, the grand jury reported. The victim, identified as J.M. in the report, declined to appear before the grand jury, saying she still was traumatized.

The grand jury also summarized testimony from these victims:

  • C.T., a retired social worker who said a teacher lured her into a sexual relationship from her junior year until she was 22.  Now 77, she said the sexual abuse required her to be in therapy for most of her life, and damaged her professional and personal life.
  • P.R., a student in the 1960s who said a male teacher took him off campus to the house of a school volunteer who drugged and raped him, causing rectal injuries that required surgery to repair. Now 62, he suffers from multiple phobias and takes medication for severe anxiety disorder.
  • D.C, a retired attorney who said she was 14 when a teacher drove her off-campus to the home of a second teacher, who had sexual intercourse with her. On another occasion, she said, another teacher tried to enter her room late at night by pretending to be a student, but she refused to open her door.
  • M.A., a student in the 1980s. While working on a tulip farm near the school, she said, she was forced to her feet and kissed by the farm’s owner, who was a school trustee and a large financial donor. She reported the incident, but Solebury School’s headmistress refused to act, citing the man’s influence.
  • R.D., a student in the early 1990s who said a teacher molested her at age 15 at the school prom. She said that after her 10th grade year, she and the teacher engaged in a sexual relationship at his apartments in Solebury and New York City that went on for years. She said she developed an eating disorder, struggled in college and had unhealthy relationships with men as a result.
  • M.B., 27, who said she began a sexual relationship at age 17 with a married Solebury teacher who had pursued her since her junior year. The relationship continued for two years after she graduated, she said, and the teacher continued to contact her until 2011. The teacher was fired in 2008 for embezzling funds from the school.

In each case, the former students said that administrators at Solebury School knew of the illegal relationships, but refused to discipline the teachers or notify police.

Although M.B.’s case is recent enough to be prosecuted, she testified that she does not want to relive the abuse and testify in open court. The Commonwealth will revisit her case if she reconsiders.

The grand jury said that it found each of the victim witnesses to be credible, and identified nine adults associated with Solebury School who could have been prosecuted had their crimes been more recent. Several of those called to testify invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination; others were deemed not credible by the grand jury.

In July 2014, at Headmaster Wilschutz’s direction, the school used a mass mailing to tell the community of the allegations against the school, acknowledged that the school was at fault, and encouraged additional victims to come forward.

Wilschutz also has implemented stronger policies for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct to police, parents and Childline, and has implemented annual instruction and training in setting boundaries with students.

The grand jury recommended stronger changes such as drug and alcohol testing for faculty and staff, zero-tolerance campus drug policies, hiring added security for boarding students, and immediate termination of a faculty member when there is a founded allegation.

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