The Bishop’s School investigating sexual misconduct reports: Alumni file claims from ‘the turbulent years’

The Bishop’s School has issued a letter disclosing that it has discovered more than a dozen incidents of sexual misconduct, which took place over the span of 30 years, following almost a year of investigation.

In a letter issued to alumni dated July 23, school leadership stated seven alumni had come forward and described 15 separate incidents, five of which were first-hand accounts of sexual misconduct or a “boundary violation” committed by a school employee.

The school has contracted an attorney to handle the investigation and will also be working with the San Diego Police Department.

In a statement to the Light, The Bishop’s School said: “The well-being of our students is our highest commitment. The Bishop’s community is deeply grateful to and admires our graduates for the courage to come forward. If any student from any era has an issue or allegation of this nature we will investigate and involve independent resources, and the appropriate authorities, to learn the facts.”

The school began its investigation in September 2017, when an alumna disclosed her “experience of sexual assault committed many decades ago by a former, now deceased, member of the school staff,” according to a letter from the school.

It went on to state the school had appointed Jennifer Branch, Esq. at Andrews, Lagasse, Branch and Bell, LLP to investigate the report, and encouraged any other victims to come forward.

In response, one such alumna contacted the school and spoke with La Jolla Light on the condition of anonymity. She explained that she engaged in what was then viewed as a sexual relationship with a teacher in the 1980s.

“When I attended Bishop’s, there were multiple students who had relations with faculty. I was not alone,” she said in an e-mail.

Since the initial letter from the school was sent in September, the victim spent nine months in communication with school administrators to provide a thorough report.

As to why she came forward, she told the Light: “What was critical to me as a victim was that I needed to know what the board decided to do to assist the victims and, more importantly, what they are putting in place to prevent it from ever happening again.”

After the September outreach, other victims came forward to share their stories. In July, The Bishop’s School issued a follow-up letter. An excerpt reads: “We thank those who responded to September’s letter. Such care for the community and empathy for classmates is an example for Bishop’s students and alumni. … We are deeply saddened by their experiences and apologize for what occurred.”

The letter went on to say reports were still coming in, some as recently as late June, and that the school would be focusing on the five first-hand accounts. These occurred in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and in each incident, a different perpetrator is named. Two are deceased, and the other three are no longer school employees.

Attorney Branch is in the process of finding where all the alleged perpetrators are working, particularly those who are still working in education.

The alumna who spoke with the Light said she looked up her abuser and found he is teaching at San Diego Community College.

The Bishop’s School Board of Trustees will also be working with the San Diego Police Department to notify them of all first-hand reports of “experiences that would have been a crime at the time of the occurrence, regardless of whether the perpetrator is alive or deceased. The police will follow up with victims as appropriate, and the School will assist the police as they request,” the School said.

“We remain humble in our assumptions about the School’s past and unequivocally encourage any graduate who had an experience about which the School should be aware to contact incoming Interim Head of School Carol Barry or Ms. Branch.”

Barry can be reached at barryc@bishops.com or (858) 875-0721. Branch can be reached at jbranch@albblaw.com or (858) 345-5073.

Turbulent years

The Journal of San Diego History edition dedicated to the 100th anniversary of The Bishop’s School published in 2008 notes that on the heels of The Bishop’s School merging from an all-girls school to a co-ed school in 1972, the school faced “turbulent years.”

“Dorothy Williams, who served as headmistress from 1973 to 1983, guided the school through the turbulent years of the 1970s. According to one faculty member ‘she dealt with discipline problems involving drugs and sex, conflicts with faculty over their roles as authority figures, changes in religious views, constant tensions over curriculum, (and) rebellious student attitudes toward traditions.’ ”

Following Williams’ tenure, Michael Teitelman was appointed headmaster, and is credited with changing the curriculum to expand the Advanced Placement offerings and “electives in almost every department.”

He served until 2009, and was succeeded by Aimeclaire Roche, who was Head of School until just this year.

The month before the September letter was issued, Roche announced in August 2017 that she would be leaving her post after nine years and would be transitioning to a leadership role at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Bishop’s School director of marketing and communications Keri Peckham said Roche’s departure is “completely unrelated” to the investigation.

Head of Middle School Barry was appointed to step in as interim Head of School effective Aug. 1, 2018 and Ron Kim (currently Interim Assistant Head of School at The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks) will serve as Head of School as of the 2019 school year.

Founded in 1909, The Bishop’s School is located at 7607 La Jolla Blvd., and is an Episcopal school. It carries an annual tuition for grades 6 through 12 (including meals) of $36,290, in addition to other expenses.

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