Will The Thacher School shut down? Elite institution apologizes for past sexual abuse
VENTURA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: The Thacher School, one of California's most prestigious private boarding schools, has produced a bombshell study detailing four decades of alleged sexual misbehavior by faculty and staff, including the repeated rape of a 16-year-old student.
The report comes after rising cases of sexual abuse of minors are making headlines. On June 17, three new accusers spoke up against a New Jersey teacher who raped students and groomed them to gain sexual favor. In April, lurid details arose of David Clinkett who made a teen shave his pubic region and laughed when she performed oral sex on him.
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An outside legal firm created the 91-page report after a months-long inquiry, and it was uploaded on the Thacher School's official website on Wednesday. The exclusive $64,000-a-year boarding school, sprawled on 427 acres in Ojai, California, located some 80 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, is the alma mater of the 'City on a Hill' actor Jonathan Tucker. Other notable alumni include 'ER' actor Noah Wyle, aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes, and playwright Thornton Wilder.
The Thacher School, among California’s most elite private schools, acknowledged Wednesday decades of allegations of student sexual misconduct, harassment and “boundary crossing” by faculty members at the $64,700-a-year Ojai boarding academy. https://t.co/kk0PfaDw9A pic.twitter.com/MfVYjtA3f4— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) June 17, 2021
Will Thacher School be shut down?
Although many of the incidents documented in the report occurred decades ago and are likely beyond the statute of limitations, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office told the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story first, that it was reviewing the allegations. "We are going to look into them on a case-by-case basis," Sgt Hector Macias said. "We are going to continue to work with the school and their law office in order to vet some of this out and see if the victims are willing to cooperate."
The school learned of suspected sexual misconduct from multiple alleged victims, including through the Instagram account @rpecultureatrthacher, where alumni have been anonymously sharing their accounts of abuse, according to the report, which was put together by the Los Angeles-based law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson in the summer of 2020. To protect the privacy of the alleged victims, the report does not name them, but it does name six accused faculty members, none of whom has yet been charged legally.
The most serious allegation was one against a former English teacher who had raped a 16-year-old multiple times in the 1980s. When the abuse was discovered by the school, an assistant headmaster was claimed to have questioned the victim if she 'enjoyed' the sex, a psychologist advised the girl's family against filing criminal charges, and the accused instructor left, only to return to campus for an event decades later. The popular English teacher and boys' lacrosse and baseball coach came to teach in the school in 1985. The victim, identified in the document as 'Student A', said the teacher touched and kissed her inappropriately, and raped her one night on a camping trip during her sophomore year.
"I bled for an entire week after the first time I was raped. I was alone in the woods with my classmates with no comfort or support," the victim wrote in an unsent letter to then-current Head of School Michael Mulligan. 'When I tried to get away from him or showed any interest in a boy my age he would either tell me horrible lies about the person or he would try to publicly humiliate me in front of other students to remind me who was in charge," she said, adding that the teacher proceeded to rape her multiple times a week throughout her sophomore year and into her junior year.
The report identified six alleged perpetrators and recounted accusations of abuse & misconduct — and alleged efforts by former school administrators to cover up complaints and blame teenage victims.— Melissa Gomez (@MelissaGomez004) June 17, 2021
By @brittny_mejia, @MattHjourno, @latimesharriet & me https://t.co/w6pVy4OoDl
Principal asked students to dress 'sexy'
According to Student A, the teacher became violent during her junior year, tossing her across the room with such force that she lost consciousness, and also introducing her and other pupils to narcotics "as a way of having control over us...". She added that she was held responsible for the popular teacher's departure and was retaliated against by his colleagues and friends, who assumed the relationship was mutual. To add salt to her wounds, Student A's college letter of recommendation even went so far as to mention her "unfortunate involvement with a faculty member," but applauded her for demonstrating "resilience" and a "sense of responsibility."
Willard Wyman, the school's head from 1975 until 1992, was also accused of inappropriate behavior toward female students and staff, including insulting statements and touching. The principal invited students to dress in "sexy" attire for a dinner party at his home and placed his hand on a teen's bottom. Wyman died in 2014.
In a separate letter accompanying the study, Daniel Yih, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, apologized to the sexual abuse survivors and their families. “To survivors of sexual misconduct and their families in our community, we are deeply sorry,” Yih wrote, “We have learned a great deal about our history over the past several months — much of which has been difficult to confront.”
The school said it will adopt a number of "corrective actions" to address and prevent future sexual abuse. Among the steps taken are the revision of rules and processes, the improvement of training and education, the implementation of general methods to limit the danger of sexual misconduct, and the strengthening of oversight.