The New Hampshire attorney general’s office turned down a lawmaker’s request to investigate Phillips Exeter Academy’s handling of sexual misconduct scandals involving its teachers.
Attorney General Joseph Foster, a Democratic appointee of Gov. Maggie Hassan, said that the state would allow the local authorities to take the lead on investigating several confirmed allegations of sexual misconduct between students and teachers at the $50,000 per year boarding school.
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"At this time I see no active role for my office," Foster said in a May 2 letter.
New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn said Foster may not be in the best position to objectively make decisions involving the Hassan administration. Hassan’s husband Tom was the principal at the academy when sexual misconduct first came to light and has apologized for his "inadequate" handling of the scandal. Horn said Foster should have recused himself from responding to the request for an investigation, as he has done in other cases.
"Like Richard Schubart, Attorney General Foster held a leadership position on Maggie Hassan's 2012 campaign and he has had a close personal and political relationship with the governor dating back to their time in the New Hampshire State Senate," Horn said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon. "The attorney general has recused himself from other investigations where his political ties to the governor created conflicts, and there are serious questions about why he didn't take a similar course of action when making this decision."
Republican state Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’brien, a victim of sexual assault, requested that the state Department of Justice take a lead role in addressing sexual misconduct at the tony boarding school. The school has called its response to past scandals "insufficient" after the Boston Globe brought them to light in March.
"Multiple reports of sexual abuse and misconduct at Phillips Exeter Academy have raised several questions about transparency, accountability, and safety at the school," she said in an April 20 letter. "As a survivor of sexual assault, I respectfully request that your office immediately begin an investigation into the Phillips Exeter administration’s handling of these sexual assault cases."
The Globe’s Spotlight team revealed on March 30 that Principal Hassan forced teacher Rick Schubart to retire in 2011 after the history instructor admitted to having a sexual relationship with a student in the 1970s. Schubart was allowed to maintain ties to the academy until he confessed to a second misconduct accusation in 2015.
"In 2011 school officials falsely claimed that Schubart was retiring for ‘personal and medical reasons,’ rather than disclosing the true nature of his departure, thereby putting the school community and student body at risk," O’Brien said. "The aforementioned facts strongly suggest that Professor Schubart not only received special treatment from school administrators, but that his sexual misconduct may have been deliberately covered-up."
Hassan never informed the community of the misconduct and did not speak up when his wife named Schubart to a campaign leadership committee or when the Association of Boarding Schools gave the instructor a teaching award in 2012. Tom Hassan apologized for his handling of the scandal, but insisted he hushed it up in order to protect the victim’s privacy. Gov. Hassan has maintained that her husband never told her about Schubart’s abrupt dismissal, but apologized for failing to vet him.
The governor’s office has said that any investigation into the charges should be made by law enforcement and handled independently.
"The governor’s heart continues to go out to the victims and to the entire Phillips Exeter Academy community, and she continues to believe any allegations must be thoroughly investigated by law enforcement and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," the governor’s spokesman said in a statement following Prudhomme-O’Brien’s request.
The governor’s office did not respond to Washington Free Beacon request for comment.
"The protection of sexual assault victims and particularly young people is a priority for my office," Foster said in his response. He pointed to an annual conference that the department holds to highlight this commitment, but said the matter should be left to the Exeter police department and county attorney’s office.
"I personally spoke with Chief Shupe at the beginning of last week to assure myself that he had the resources necessary to do the job," Foster wrote. "I’m confident that office will take appropriate actions should there be grounds for a prosecution."
Several other former students have come forward with allegations of misconduct in the wake of the Globe’s story. The school has passed on all of these new allegations to the local police department and fired one teacher. No charges have been brought against any teacher because all of the allegations date back several decades and the statute of limitations has expired.