'No boundaries' for teachers enabled decades of sex abuse at elite Bucks school, report finds

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The Solebury School in New Hope has long been known as an alternative to rigid, New England-style boarding schools.

One woman recounted the dates she had with her gym teacher in the early 2000s, when she was a senior in high school, and the relationship that continued after she graduated.

Another former student said he was anally raped after going off campus with students and a teacher in 1968.

Still another said her language teacher had rented a cottage to have sex with her in the early 1950s.

These and other Solebury School alumni, ranging in age from 27 to 77, described for a grand jury how their lives were changed by sexual abuse at the hands of adults at the prestigious school -- and how administrators tolerated, ignored or covered up the attacks over a half-century, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report capped an investigation that began more than two years ago, and unearthed crimes and conduct that have become all too familiar as prosecutors in recent years have heightened attention to child sex-abuse.

It landed a week after the elite Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy was rattled by two former students’ claim they had been sexually abused decades ago by a teacher there. But in these cases, as in many, investigators are blocked from bringing charges because the accusations fall well outside the current criminal statute of limitations.

The report cited testimony of six alumni who said they were assaulted over the decades. Prosecutors declined to say if they believed there were many more victims. 

The alleged assaults by Solebury teachers, a school volunteer, and a trustee occurred in an informal, "progressive" private-school setting where students called teachers by their first names -- and administrators did not call police when they heard of relationships between faculty and teenagers.

"[My life is] completely different than it would have been," the youngest victim, now 27,  testified about the years-long relationship she had with the school's former gym teacher and athletic director, Lyle Hazel.

Hers is the only claim recent enough to be prosecuted, but the victim told grand jurors she did not want to take it to court. The investigation identified nine adults associated with the school who could have been charged in past years for sexual abuse or for failing to report abuse, though none were, prosecutors said.

"Nobody, not the alleged perpetrators, not the victims, are ever going to get their day in court, and I'm very sorry for that,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said Wednesday. “But that is not a reason to remain silent. The public has a right to know that these abuses are alleged to have occurred."

The grand jury report paints a picture of an elite boarding school -- tuition now costs $35,000 a year for day students and $52,000 for residents -- where rules were loose and relationships were informal: Many teachers live on campus. It was routine for them to take students out on errands or trips. In one alleged incident, a nude model failed to show up for one of the school’s art classes -- so the teacher stepped in and modeled nude for the class, the report said. 

"No boundaries existed between students and teachers," it said, creating an environment that "paved the way for abuse of students."

 The 49-page report noted the school, which now has 220 students, 79 of whom live on its New Hope campus, had recognized the problems under current headmaster Tom Wilschutz and had taken steps to address them. The grand jury recommended more measures, which Wilschutz said school officials will review.

"While it is difficult and painful to read the report, the information that has been compiled adds to our examination of the past and provides insights for the future," Wilschutz said in a statement Wednesday. "We are deeply disturbed that any Solebury student would have been the victim of sexual abuse and we again apologize to those former students who became victims."

Because Solebury is a private school, there is no way to enforce the recommendations, Weintraub said. “I hope and I pray that they will implement every single one,” he said.

 The school had come under the spotlight for sexual abuse in 1996, when teacher David Chadwick was arrested and sentenced to one to three years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a female student. That former student was not interviewed by the grand jury.

The current investigation began in 2014, after Solebury officials spoke with a former victim and sent a letter that summer to alumni, apologizing for abuse they said occurred between the 1950s and 1970s and revealing one of the school's now-dead founders as an abuser.

Four of the accused were interviewed by the grand jury. Other accused perpetrators have died. The victims were groomed and manipulated, often over years, by faculty members who then abused or began relationships with them. The victims reported ongoing trauma.

“The school administrators entrusted with their care provided no intervention, no investigation, and no oversight of those faculty who committed and perpetuated the abuse," the report reads.

A bill passed Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Senate would to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual-abuse cases, meaning future victims could sue at any time. But it is not retroactive, meaning past victims, including those in this case, could not sue for decades-old abuse.

For the 27-year-old woman, the relationship with Hazel "took over her high school experience," her attorney, Marci Hamilton, said Wednesday. She did not graduate from college.

Hazel, who was fired from the school in 2008 for embezzling funds, was questioned by the grand jury but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not answer questions about the woman. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday; his only listed phone number was disconnected. 

The victim who reported the 1968 anal rape, now 62, testified that he’s now  afraid to leave his house, is fearful of the dark, and takes medication for severe anxiety disorder.

A 42-year-old Massachusetts woman who described Solebury as a “free-for-all” said she had a long-term sexual relationship with her 10th-grade English teacher, John Ward Regan, in the 1990s. She claimed the relationship derailed her education and contributed to an eating disorder. Regan, now a college professor in New York, repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during his interview with the grand jury, the report said.

A Stony Brook, N.Y. phone listing for Regan was disconnected Wednesday.

Another victim, a 51-year-old California lawyer, told the grand jury she was kissed by a school trustee and major donor as a Solebury student in the early 1980s. She was allegedly told by the then-headmaster: "Let it go."

The oldest victim, now 77, recounted for the grand jury her relationship with Robert Shaw, a now-deceased language teacher whom the students called "Pop Shaw." When she was 15, Shaw began tutoring her, he said, then taking her on short road trips.

During her junior and senior years of high school — from 1952 to 1954 — he allegedly rented a home nearby to have sex with her.

It continued until the woman broke it off when she was 22. Over the following decades, the woman contacted various school officials, who told her to forget the incident. She was in therapy for most of her life, she told the grand jury. In 2014, she talked to Wilschutz, who removed Shaw’s name and portrait from the campus.

She told the grand jurors:

“I want people to understand — yes, I’m 77, but I want you to understand this has been with me my whole life.”