CRIME

5 former New Hampshire prep school staffers accused of abuse

An outside investigation into sexual assault allegations at a New Hampshire prep school has identified five former staff members accused of abuse, the latest evidence that the problem at the prestigious institution dates back decades and was more widespread than previously thought.

Phillips Exeter Academy disclosed the information Thursday in a letter to the school community. It brings to eight the number of ex-employees accused of sexual misconduct at the school.

The Holland & Knight investigation, the law firm commissioned by Phillips Exeter several months ago, identified four teachers, including a drama teacher, and a psychologist who allegedly engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior involving a total of eight students from 1966 to the 1980s.

"We have grieved as we learned that former students were harmed by some of the very people who were charged with the responsibility of keeping them safe," said Nicie Panetta, president of the school's trustees, in the letter to the Exeter community sent Thursday. "We sincerely apologize to those who were harmed and deeply regret their suffering."

Two of the accused — psychologist Eldeff Schwaab and teacher George Mangan — have died.

Two others were barred from the Exeter campus and, in one case, stripped of his faculty emeritus status. One of them, Henry Ploegstra, an English teacher accused of inappropriate sexual contact with three students between 1966 and 1980, denied the allegations in a letter.

Contacted at his Michigan home Thursday, the 82-year-old Ploegstra said he did not want to comment.

A fifth former staffer, Lane Bateman, a drama teacher from 1980 to 1992, also has died. Bateman had been sentenced to five years in jail on child pornography charges. He also was accused of secretly videotaping students in dorm rooms and bathrooms.

Exeter Police Chief William Schupe told The Associated Press the department was provided with the cases last year. He said they didn't pursue three of them because the suspects were deceased and the two others were closed because the victims didn't want to pursue charges.

Last year, Arthur Peekel pleaded not guilty to charges that he assaulted Lawrence Jenkens when Jenkens visited the school in Exeter as a youngster in 1973. Peekel left the school soon afterward and went on to teach in Illinois, where he was named Teacher of the Year in 1992. He retired from Rolling Meadows High School in 2004.

The Associated Press generally doesn't name people who say they're victims of sexual abuse, but Jenkens said he wanted to discuss his case publicly.

Concerns about sex abuse at Exeter were first raised following revelations last March about former teacher Rick Schubart, who was forced to resign in 2011 after admitting sexual misconduct dating to the 1970s. Then, in April, teacher Steve Lewis was fired amid allegations he had sexual encounters with a student decades ago.

The string of abuse claims at Exeter and at several other prep schools in New England, including St. George's School in Rhode Island and St. Paul's in New Hampshire, has raised concerns that the schools failed to take allegations seriously in the past or bungled their investigations.

Since the allegations surfaced, Exeter has undergone what it has described as "an intensive self-examination" that included the investigation by Holland & Knight as well as a second investigation into the handling of the Schubart case by the law firm Choate, Hall & Stewart. It also offered victims counseling and created a position, director of student well-being.

The Schubart investigation determined that the school appropriately reported the two cases of misconduct — one involving a student in the 1970s and another of a student in the 1980s — to the authorities and undertook its own investigation. But the school failed to look for other victims or encourage them to come forward.

"Choate Hall found that in the period from 2011 through the conclusion of its review, PEA did not have sufficiently robust governance processes in place to ensure that sexual misconduct, like the Schubart matter, would always be addressed appropriately," according to the Exeter letter.