Former Choate headmasters resign as life trustees following investigation into unreported sexual abuse

Former Choate headmasters resign as life trustees following investigation into unreported sexual abuse

WALLINGFORD — In the wake of a recent investigation indicating several former Choate Rosemary Hall administrators failed to report sexual abuse of children to authorities dating back to the 1960s, former Choate headmasters Charles Dey and Edward Shanahan have resigned as life trustees of the school.

Dey and Shanahan couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

An investigation released by the school earlier this month indicates that Dey and Shanahan were aware of alleged abuses but did not report the incidents to law enforcement or child protection authorities. In some cases, Dey and Shanahan allowed accused faculty members to move on to other schools without informing those schools of the alleged incidents, putting other children at risk, according to the investigation.

The resignations mark some of the first steps in Choate’s effort to move forward.

“We thank Mr. Dey and Mr. Shanahan for their contributions to the school and we believe their resignations are important steps in our community’s healing process,” Choate spokeswoman Lorraine Connolly said in a statement Friday.

The life trustee designation is considered largely honorific and is given to all former headmasters at the school. Life trustees do not have a vote on the school’s board of trustees, but are seen as a resource to the current headmaster and board. Dey and Shanahan were two of eight life trustees prior to their resignations.

Choate leadership began discussing the resignations with Dey and Shanahan in the days immediately following the report’s release on April 13. Alumni began petitioning for the school to remove Dey and Shanahan as life trustees this week. Amy Rabinowitz Huffman, a 1994 Choate graduate, started the online petition. On Friday, she sent the results to headmaster Alex Curtis, board chairman Michael Carr, and associate headmaster Kathleen Wallace. The petition had 445 signatures at the time it was sent.

Dey resigned on Thursday before Choate received the petition, according to Connolly, and Shanahan resigned on Friday hours after the petition was sent.

Dey, headmaster between 1973 and 1991, is retired from education. Shanahan took over as headmaster in 1991 and left in 2011. He is the founding president of Keystone Academy, an elite Chinese boarding school. Both have remained respected in the education community after leaving Choate. In 2010, Harvard’s Alumni Council gave Dey an award for “outstanding contribution to education.”

Many alumni who supported the petition chastised Dey and Shanahan for not reporting the abuse and some threatened to withhold donations until the change was made.

“Charles Dey and Edward Shanahan are a disgrace to the Choate image, and their names need to be removed from such a pristine designation immediately. They are utterly a representation of a failed leadership,” said Liz Sanders, who studied at Choate from 2002 to 2005.

“Those who cover up, ignore, or brush child sexual abuse of any kind under the rug are complicit in the abuse,” said Erin Gill, a 1994 Choate graduate. “It is the job of adults to protect children.”

According to the outside investigation initiated by Choate last year, Dey and Shanahan were made aware of several alleged abuses but did not inform police or DCF until 2010. Several teachers accused of abuse went on to teach at other schools.

In one case, the report states Dey was aware that William Maillet, a faculty member from 1961 to 1983, had invited another teacher’s 12-year-old son to his home, where he made inappropriate advances, which the boy rejected. Dey forced Maillet to resign, but nothing was reported to law enforcement or DCF, according to the investigation.

Shanahan, according to the report, was aware of an incident in which former teacher Jaime Rivera-Murillo was accused by a 17-year-old girl of forcing her to have sex in a swimming pool during a 1999 school trip to Costa Rica. Rivera-Murillo was also accused of touching a 15-year-old student’s breast in the same incident. He denies engaging in any sexual misconduct, the report said. Shanahan was made aware of the alleged incident, but did not inform DCF or police at the time.

Rivera-Murillo continued a career in education after leaving Choate. He worked at Newtown High School from 2005 until 2016, when he left to become principal of Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield. He resigned from Wamogo earlier this month.

Since the 1960s, state law has stipulated that teachers in both public and private schools must within 12 hours report cases when they have “reasonable cause to suspect or believe” that a child under the age of 18 has suffered abuse.

In a statement on Friday, Wallingford police said Choate failed to abide by state statute, which requires “mandated reporters,” those who care for or interact with children, including teachers, to report suspected child abuse or neglect to DCF. The statute has been in place since 1965 and teachers have been classified as mandated reporters since 1967.

The state Department of Children and Families anounced this week that is working with the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney to assess the failure of Choate employees to report abuse.

“Reporting abuse in a timely manner is critically important to protect the safety and well-being of children, and we take any failure to follow the law very seriously,” DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said.

Both Dey and Shanahan’s names still appear in several places on the Choate campus. “Shanahan’s name still appears on campus and is lauded in online literature,” said Tom Collins, a 1994 graduate. “The report and the contact information for victims (to get help), in contrast, are not even on the school’s homepage that I can find.”

Collins said while the resignations are an important step, more needs to be done.

“Whatever policy changes Choate puts or has put in place, the burden of proof is on the trustees and the administration to rebuild trust and ensure the safety of students now and in the future. It is not on the alumni or the press,” Collins said. “Too often, elite intuitions take steps that, while meaningful, are not long-term solutions and subsequently institutions say: ‘We did what you asked, now move on.’ That is a public relations tactic that the school should not engage in.”
Twitter: @MatthewZabierek


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