parable (părˈə-bəl) n. a simple story which illustrates a truth or teaches a moral lesson.
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Once upon a time, back in the 1990’s, a serial child molester roamed the campus of the New England boarding school, Lawrence Academy of Groton, Massachusetts. Once his pattern of behavior became clear to a few students, they confronted this man, a groundskeeper named Peter Regis, in his shop. The older of the two students stood at age 16 with shaking hands and said, “Your behavior is wrong and you have no right to act that way.” Luckily, for that moment anyway, Peter Regis hung his head in silent agreement and nodded.
Faculty heard of the abuse and confrontation, and these two students were called into the headmaster’s office. There, they were ordered to give a report to a worker from child and family services with the headmaster and assistant headmaster present. After answering questions, the students were excused and no further contact was ever made regarding the incident.
The older of the two students was a boarding student at the time, living in Dr. Green dormitory. Following this meeting, Peter Regis soon began to stalk her in her dorm, circling the front lawn in his tractor in the early morning hours, looking up at her window. This student soon went to the headmaster, Steven L Hahn, to ask what would be done. Surely, they too wanted all students to be safe. But, he said essentially, “Nothing”.
Peter Regis again stalked the student in her dorm. The student had to wait for him to leave before she could safely start her school day. The student again went to Steve Hahn urging him that something be done, and again, he essentially said, “Nothing will be done”.
By the end of that year, the student was informed that there would be no financial aid available for her return. The financial aid was still available for her sibling, who was allowed to return. The leaders of this school decided to keep the child molester, Peter Regis employed – and to remove this one student who continued to speak up.
This student spent her junior year at public school, and Peter Regis continued to roam the campus, without consequence. Nobody of conscience understood why. The student’s parents eventually pleaded with the school that she be let back in for her senior year to graduate. The student was permitted back on certain conditions; that she accept special restrictions, such as not being allowed to leave campus during the day. Amidst all this, the student decided that as soon as she was 18, she would run away from home.
This student barely graduated from Lawrence Academy in 1996 and left for the west coast just weeks later. Peter Regis remained employed and living on campus.
In 1997, the student realized that, with her younger friend also now graduated, kids were going to come in every year and not know there was a child molester on campus. So, she went all the way back to the headmaster’s office in Massachusetts that spring to talk about what could be done. Steve Hahn still essentially said, “Nothing”.
The student wrote letters from the west coast, urging him to remove the child molester and protect young people. In 1998, Peter Regis was still employed and the student returned again to the headmaster’s office. Steve Hahn gave the impression of caring about the situation and feigned willingness to consider right action. Nothing was done.
In 1999, the student returned to the headmaster’s office again for the same purpose. Again, nothing was done. In 2000, the student once again sat with Steve Hahn in his office, expressing her concern about the safety of new, unsuspecting students. Steve Hahn listened, but again, nothing was done.
By 2001, the student developed severe abdominal pain which eventually required surgery on the west coast. She had been engaged in therapeutic counseling since 1998. Through surgery, she was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease endometriosis. Knowing that other kids could still suffer in the same way was tearing her up inside.
That same year, she received a standard publication from Lawrence Academy in her mailbox. It spoke of a request for alumni to share their input about the school. Oh, yes, she had things to say! She immediately walked into her home and called Steve Hahn. She said she would write editorials to the Boston Globe and the Lowell Sun. She was done. In a series of phone calls, the student and Steve Hahn negotiated that she could come back and speak to the school.
Steve Hahn then called her home in early December to “talk about content”, but the student was already on her way. She was driving from the west coast all the way to Massachusetts, in time to give her speech that early winter. Upon learning that he could not reach her (in the days before cell phones) and restrict what she would say, Steve Hahn decided only then to let Peter Regis go, on “permanent long-term disability”. The student got this news just days before her speech in the auditorium.
On December 10, 2001, this student told her story to hundreds of people gathered there, and encouraged all students to speak their truth, no matter who or what they were speaking it against.
. . . She would learn many years later as an adult, that headmaster Steve Hahn was actually telling his co-workers that he had “no idea why she was coming”. He even tried to discredit a 23-year old by saying she was “unstable”. . .
Want to hear her tell it? Visit this page, to listen and read along.
Steve Hahn ended his tenure as headmaster, rather abruptly, the following year in 2002. He went on to serve as headmaster of a private school in another state.
* Total number of times the young students approached school leaders to do the right thing before the child molester was finally removed = 7 *
After this reckoning, the student returned to her life on the west coast and attempted to enroll in school. Only, her health continued to suffer; she struggled with disturbed sleep and abdominal pain. She had a second surgery at age 27, this time to remove significant growths on her ovaries. She had lost work and fallen into debt. Her relationship with her family was strained, as they had not been supportive during the incidents at Lawrence Academy. She could barely visit the east coast without recurrent trauma.
See, once she was safely far away from there, she just kept running. Every year or less, the student would pack up her life and drive around the country until she felt safe again. Twelve times she crossed the country by car, from 1997 to 2007. Occasionally, in the midst of running, she would face the irrational concern: what if she ran out of roads? It was here she re-learned instinct and safety. Made a commitment to living without fear. Here, she discovered places of true health and reoriented to a world that made sense.
Eventually, she would always find the strength to revisit that place, to address this situation she always knew was wrong. The student would return, again and again, to the source of what set her to running in the first place. She would keep returning until things were right.
In November 2016, her friend from Lawrence Academy – the same one who stood beside her as they confronted the chid molester – sent her the article titled, “Lawrence Academy Asks Sex Misconduct Victims to Step Forward”. Funny, she had been stepping forward since 1994 . . . The student immediately began researching the Boston Globe’s database and soon retained attorney Mitchell Garabedian to represent her in a case.
Mitchell Garabedian sent a letter in 2017 to Lawrence Academy demanding $2 million in settlement.
His approach, as he explained it to the student, would be to scare the school into settling, with the threat of suing the perpetrator (which was still a viable legal option) and creating a negative press campaign. He said the student would have to undergo extensive psychiatric evaluation, to somehow arrive at justice. She was pressured into making a case for her own in/sanity to continue forward. Someone at Garabedian’s office even said to her, “No offense, but you sound really together – and that’s going to make it a tough sell, as a case.”
Now, the student wanted justice, but this all began to feel less and less ethical. She cared about how they got there. On this suggested path, she could only see more damages and no guarantee of acknowledgement or any positive change at the school. She wondered about what would happen to kids after her… If she got massive settlement by this road, how would school officials treat the next kid who spoke up about the bad behavior of staff?
The student proposed a Restorative Justice approach, and Mitchell Garabedian was not willing to consider it. Communications lessened and she soon released the attorney, deciding to move forward on her own. With a higher goal in sight, the student chose to step off the litigious path. If her representation didn’t actually represent her, she would represent herself. She contacted new headmaster, Dan Scheibe, and Paul Lannon (attorney for the school) to achieve settlement on different, healthier terms.
She worked with a man named Saroeum Phoung from Point One North to create a template for alternative resolution. He did beautiful work with both the student and the school in preparation. After all was arranged, the student flew from the west coast to Boston for a Restorative Justice Circle in early 2018. She arrived in Littleton, Massachusetts after midnight, eagerly awaiting sleep. That night, she found a sealed envelope with Lawrence Academy letterhead waiting for her at the hotel registration desk. Having endured a challenging day of travel, she waited until morning to open it.
The letter was from Headmaster Dan Scheibe, informing her that the Restorative Justice Circle had been cancelled – but would be “happy to meet with her” in the office. The student was outraged! She immediately began scrambling to reassemble all players who had agreed to be present. She even found facilitators on very short-notice. They had now missed a whole day that was scheduled for achieving resolution.
After this ordeal, the student met with Steve Hahn, Paul Lannon (attorney for the school), Dan Scheibe and Libby Margraf on March 1, 2018. She noticed right away that Dan Scheibe continually spoke of a “disagreement” every time the actions of school leaders was mentioned. All were rather comfortable speaking of the poor behavior of a former employee – but none could admit any mistake in keeping him employed, or in denying her requests for help, or in removing her financial aid when she continued to speak up about the issue. Steve Hahn did not even stay on for the second portion of the day, when repair and settlement would be discussed.
The student proposed $500,000 (1/4 of the attorney’s demand)* and acknowledgement of what happened in a public letter, to be kept on file at the school for perpetuity. She had more ideas for safeguarding students in the future once her terms were met. The student flew back to the west coast and waited. The Executive Committee members met and decided that $25,000 (1% of demand) with a confidentiality clause (the student could not legally share the details of settlement) was fair. The student strongly disagreed.
* in 2019, the student is holding firm at just 20% of the original demand, for settlement.
New documents and details came in. The Committee met again and decided that $75,000 (3%) with a confidentiality clause was fair. Yet, no one would acknowledge the details of the school’s behavior – only those of Peter Regis, who had not been present at the meetings. No acknowledgement of wrongdoing and a confidentiality clause? The student will accept no settlement with a bind of secrecy.
She understood plainly – if the school could not admit to covering up the abuse, or to sending her away for speaking up – the situation was not yet right.
Lawrence Academy Headmaster R Daniel Scheibe, at right.
THE DAWN OF A SOLUTION
It became clear to this student that these kinds of social ills only breed and run rampant in silence. She had options. Soon, she was inspired to bring this story – and the larger truth around it – to light.
On May 8, 2018, this grown student decided to go public with her efforts in The Amends Project, launching this website with petitions, the story and resources.
SCHOOL’S EFFORTS AT SILENCING CONTINUE
On May 27, 2018, a feature article was published in the Lowell Sun, titled “A Nightmare Without End”, chronicling the tale. In response to this phrasing, the student asked members of all neighboring towns to attend Lawrence Academy Graduation on Friday June 1. Nightmares end when we wake up. So, the action called on people to simply wear yellow to symbolize the rising sun and a new day when honesty and accountability prevail. So, what happened?
- Well, first Dan Scheibe sent a message to the school’s full contact list, in response to the Amends Project. In the statement, he knowingly spread false information – and – chose to share sexual abuse details publicly, without the consent of former students. That’s a big no-no. Morally, ethically and legally.
As for graduation? Well, someone decided to deny the press access. Yup. The reporter was literally turned away.
2. Many people read this article and began to find the student, to share similar stories of cover-up and sending-away with her. Some, even happening to this day. Eight or more alumni, parents and former school members braved contacting her through her professional website to make contact for this purpose. So, it was obvious to her, the situation had not been thoroughly addressed. Not at all.
Most notably, information was soon sent to the press which alleges the current administration has covered up abuse by a close family member of leadership as recently as 2016. Petition signers, parents and alumni all confirmed an ongoing cover-up problem at Lawrence Academy. When the student contacted the faculty/staff to address this most recent issue, the school’s attorney sent a “cease and desist” letter.
3. When the student asked school leaders to attend a public response event, Bruce MacNeil sent defaming comments about the student to the press (he has never met her, and refuses to communicate following his comments).
4. Someone at the school began to circulate horrible rumors about the former student’s family (slander). Surely, it was her family’s fault, and not the school’s that the student ever suffered, the gossipers suggested…
5. The former student decided to travel again to the east coast for the Lawrence Academy Open House in November 2018. There, young current students were sent to follow her around campus and ask her to leave. Students were asked to do this! When she engaged prospective families in her efforts at positive change, the school attempted to arrest her.
. . . You see, a truth will not go away simply because you mistreat the messenger.
There are two ways to relieve the uncomfortable pressure of a painful situation: avoid it or face it.
One path creates more pain and weakens trust – One builds character and creates an opportunity for growth.
Which way is this going?
Now, the student has broadened her efforts to bring reform to the first two willing private schools across the nation. Over many months, she has collaborated with educational, legal, elected and other professionals to create a system to prevent this kind of abuse of power. She has created a transparency and oversight model to address this decades-old problem and protect youth and families for perpetuity.
The Justice CORPS is a model to mend the loophole that has allowed for the cover-up of child abuse at private schools.
She has officially gathered a handful of fine professionals to support this effort. She has created a nonprofit and begun the process of securing funding. She is ready to go for the 2019-2020 school year…
The goal? To reduced the incidence of child abuse by 50% or more in three year cycles, until there is none.
It’s time to get started!
What can YOU do?
Join Us !
email: firstname.lastname@example.org with your connections or ideas for helping to implement The Justice CORPS at private, independent high schools around the country.
Contribute to our efforts here: Support the Movement!
Make a direct donation to the Amends Project nonprofit account here:
Checks may be payable to “The Amends Project”
PO Box 1559
You can also visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/amendspro.ject.9
“If we are to be really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world. We cannot avoid meeting great issues. All that we can determine for ourselves is whether we shall meet them well or ill.” — Theodore Roosevelt