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Suit Alleges Past Sexual Abuse at Connecticut Boarding School

May 18, 2017

By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS | New York Times. 

A former student at the Kent School, a private boarding school in Connecticut, sued Kent on Wednesday, alleging that administrators did not do enough to protect her from a teacher who she said sexually abused her in the late 1980s.

The lawsuit comes amid a string of disturbing reports of past abuse at private schools in the Northeast, which for many years handled claims of sexual misconduct by keeping them quiet.

Last month, Choate Rosemary Hall released a report that detailed decades of sexual abuse perpetrated against students by 12 teachers. Soon after, Emma Willard, an all-girls boarding school in Troy, N.Y., released its own report about sexual misconduct. And just last week, the Brearley School, an all-girls school in Manhattan, announced it was investigating allegations of abuse that occurred in the “distant past,” and asked anyone with information about sexual misconduct to come forward. Kent has not launched a similarly wide-ranging investigation.

The former student who said she was abused at Kent began attending the school as a sophomore in the fall of 1987, according to the suit, which was filed in State Superior Court in Litchfield, Conn. There, she met a French teacher named Clyde Douglas Fenner. She was 15 years old at the time, and he was 49 or 50, and married, the complaint says. The woman is identified in the suit, but The New York Times is withholding her name.

The suit states that Mr. Fenner groomed the student, sharing personal details about his life, writing her letters, and taking her off campus. Toward the end of the fall semester, he initiated a sexual relationship. The first time he had “sexual relations” with the student, the complaint said, was on the floor in the Kent French department.

At least two faculty members were aware of the abuse, according to the complaint, but did nothing to stop it.

In May of 1988, “a larger group” of Kent staff members became aware of the abuse, the suit says, and Mr. Fenner was forced to leave the school. He told the student that he subsequently got a job teaching at a school in Evansville, Ind.

According to the complaint, Kent officials did not report his conduct to Connecticut authorities, as state law requires.

Jeffrey D. Cataldo, the chief financial officer at Kent, said that an “important point at this stage is that the teacher named in the complaint has not been employed by Kent School since 1988. And of course, we are studying this claim carefully.”

Mr. Fenner did not return a call seeking comment.

The suit also alleges that the student was subject to shaming and torment by her peers after Mr. Fenner left the school — some called her names or threw soda cans at her — often in the presence of staff or faculty, but that the school did not protect her. During a religious service at the school, the suit alleges, some staff members “openly prayed for Fenner’s well-being” in front of the student. One faculty member called her “a sinner” for committing adultery with Mr. Fenner.

The former student, who is represented by the lawyers Paul Mones and Paul A. Slager, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

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