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February 16th, 2017

Grand Jury: Solebury School in Pennsylvania Failed to Protect Students from Sex Abuse

The Solebury School, a private school in Pennsylvania, has been under a microscope since 2014 amid allegations that school administrators turned a blind eye to pervasive sex abuse of students by teachers and other school employees.

The Solebury School is a co-educational private school located about an hour north of Philadelphia. It is located in New Hope, Bucks County. The school is a boarding school as well as a usual day school. Of the over 200 students at the school, roughly 70 are full time boarders. Tuition rates at the school start at $35,000 per year for day students and over $50,000 for boarders.

The investigation that began in 2014 isn’t the first one. In 1996, a teacher at the school was charged with sexually abusing a 15 year old student. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced. According to a Philly.com news report, the school did not report the abuse to law enforcement when the abuse was initially reported. Rather, the school conducted its own investigation. The teacher left the school and obtained a teaching job elsewhere; the student also left the school. See philly.com, Solebury School failed to act on initial abuse rumors.

Grand Jury: 50+ Years of Student Sex Abuse at Solebury School

In 2014, the Solebury School issued a public letter revealing that former students had reported sexual abuse by teachers from the 1950s-1970s. After the letter was issued, additional alumni came forward with similar reports of abuse. A grand jury began investigating shortly after. Last month, the Bucks County Grand Jury issued its report.

In its 50 page report, the Grand Jury issued serious rebukes of Solebury School. After having considered testimony from multiple victims as well as current and former school employees, the Grand Jury found that over a period of over 50 years (1950-2005), the school fostered an environment where students were groomed for sexual abuse by teachers. Students and teachers often lived on campus and there were no boundaries. Students often spent time with teachers outside of class, including weekend trips away.

Related: Evidence Required to Win a School Sex Abuse Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

According to the report:

“[U]ntil the present Headmaster took control, and instituted new policies in 2012, the school’s leaders did nothing to protect students in their care. Not a single teacher was contemporaneously or formally investigated by the school for the allegations of sexual misconduct…

It is abundantly clear that the loose, unstructured informality of Solebury School created an environment where no boundaries existed between students and teachers, and select administrators did not supervise or monitor the faculty. This environment paved the way for abuse of students.”

In addition, the report found that the steps the school had taken recently weren’t enough:

“[A]dditional steps must be taken to alleviate the problems. While [the current Headmaster] has instituted written policies informing teachers and staff of their duty to report potential abuse, administrative oversight of the faculty must be increased. More must be done to properly supervise teachers and staff to ensure that there are clear boundaries and appropriate conduct between teachers and students.”

Despite these findings, the criminal statute of limitations prevents all but one of the cases from being filed. The youngest victim, who is now 27 years old, has chosen not to proceed with a criminal case. The civil statute of limitations may still allow victims to bring civil lawsuits.

Unfortunately, this situation is nothing new for Pennsylvania. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the same pattern across the state. A school or church fails to act on reports of sex abuse, thereby allowing perpetrators to claim additional victims. The Solebury School case is just another example of how sex abuse in institutions occurs and recurs.

Stay tuned. Our crime victim injury lawyers are keeping an eye on school and church sex abuse cases in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area. Visit the school abuse law library for more info.