A former dean at an exclusive Connecticut boarding school was sentenced Friday to 9 1/2 years in prison for sexually abusing four students.

Robert Reinhardt, former dean of The Gunnery school in Washington, Conn., was sentenced in Litchfield Superior Court under a plea deal. He will also have to register as a sex offender after prison and serve 30 years of probation.

Victims' relatives hugged and cried as Reinhardt, who had been free on bail, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Reinhardt, 46, pleaded guilty in April to three counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of risk of injury to a minor, charges that carry up to 40 years in prison combined. He pleaded to the charges under the Alford doctrine, which allows defendants to dispute the allegations while conceding there's enough evidence for a conviction. The pleas are considered guilty pleas by the state.

"I'm sorry for all the events that have occurred," Reinhardt said without elaborating. It was his only statement inside the courtroom.

Reinhardt had insisted on his innocence and took the plea deal only to avoid a much longer prison sentence that could have been imposed if he went to trial and was convicted, his lawyer, William Dow III said.

Four former students say Reinhardt abused them while they attended the school, often at his on-campus apartment.

One victim said in April that he was stunned and upset by the plea bargain because he thought Reinhardt would be serving much more prison time, his lawyer said. Prosecutors said the other three victims also wanted a more severe sentence but accepted the plea deal because it spared them from having to testify in public at a trial.

Reinhardt resigned from the school in June 2009 after the allegations surfaced and was arrested two months later. He had been on the faculty at the school since 1996 and was named dean in 2006. He had been living most recently in Telford, Pa., about 30 miles north of Philadelphia.

The Gunnery, a residential school in the rolling hills of western Connecticut, was founded in 1850 by outdoorsman and abolitionist Frederick William Gunn. There were 270 students this year at the school, which costs more than $40,000 per year for boarding students.