Prep schools. They’re the ivory towers on the hill, the bastions of privilege for star scholar athletes and the moneyed elite. They have illustrious names like Phillips Academy, Trinity School, and St. Paul’s School, and those names are linked to a roll call of distinguished alumni: U.S. presidents and diplomats, business magnates and clergymen, inventors, Nobel prize winners, celebrities, and royalty. The curriculum? Prep schools teach the American aristocracy self awareness, social awareness, relationship building and decision making, typically in old, ivy-clung stone buildings with well-polished dining halls and rectories.
And then there’s bullying, underage sex scandals, academic cheating, racism, and drug-fuelled parties that would have even Julian Welles (“Less Than Zero”) checking into rehab. That’s the other part of the curriculum –the skeletons in the closet and dark histories of prestigious academic institutions. Not a year goes by that prep school culture isn’t put under the microscope because of an irreparable scandal. In 1984, 17 students were expelled from Choate Rosemary Hall for operating a cocaine ring; and in 1992, a drama director at Philips Academy was convicted of taking illicit photographs of a 16-year old boy. And that’s only the beginning of the syllabus.
10. St. Paul’s School
He was 18. She was 15. He was the captain of the varsity soccer team and had a full-ride admission to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. She was a naive and impressionable freshman. A stolen key unlocked an attic room in the $50 million math and science building. What took place there on Friday, May 30, 2014, depends on whose story you believe. In the end, Owen Labrie was acquitted of forcible rape but charged with three misdemeanor accounts of statutory rape, as well as a felony charge of using a computer to lure a minor for sex. If that wasn’t scandalous enough, the high-profile sexual assault trial brought attention to the “senior salute,” a conquest ritual in which 12th-grade male students attempt to score with younger female students.
Marlborough is an elite LA girls’ school. According to Vanity Fair, 37 percent of the graduating class of 2014 was accepted to Ivy League colleges, and the school ranked sixth for S.A.T scores nationwide. In 2014, Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie wrote an essay for xoJane.com about a flirtation with an unnamed English teacher that turned into an inappropriate physical relationship. When the essay went viral, eight other girls (all former students) came forward; there was no doubt the essay was about Dr. Joseph Koetters. The real scandal at Marlborough, however, is how Barbara Wagner, the head of the school, and the Board of Trustees handled the girls’ allegations. The school’s special investigative team tried to bury the facts, hoping the girls’ stories would dissipate. Barbara Wagner eventually resigned.
8. Berkshire School
Dirty jokes, crude language, come-ons, and inappropriate touching… it’s another day in the life at a prestigious New England prep school. While prep schools boast noble mottos such as “Freedom with Responsibility,” faculty and staff can act as sordidly irresponsible as students. In 2000, a school employee accused Paul Christopher, the headmaster of the Berkshire School, of sexual harassment. Once she came forward, 20 more women accused Christopher of sexual misconduct and “blatant efforts to seduce them.” Christopher was the former head of philosophy at West Point, where he’d written a book about ethics and gave lectures about morality. Paul Christopher eventually resigned, citing medical issues.
7. Miss Porter’s School
Generations of moneyed debutantes and heiresses have attended Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Edith Beale are just a few of the finishing school’s elite alumni. In 2009, a student named Tatum Bass found the WASP-y, convent-like rivalry too much; she was expelled from the school after skipping class and cheating on an art history exam. However, it later came to light that Bass was bullied and hazed by a group of mean girls who went by the name Oprichniki, after a 16th century Russian torture squad. Tatum claims the group of Heathers tormented her for months, verbally taunting and cyber-hazing her on social media –actions, claimed Bass, that led to her cheating. Tatum’s parent’s filed a lawsuit against Miss Porter’s School, but it was eventually dropped.
6. The Hotchkiss School
In the summer of 2007, Cara Munn was hiking in a rural area on a school-sponsored trip to China when she was bitten by ticks. Cara Munn would have been a sophomore at The Hotchkiss School in the fall. Instead, she contracted encephalitis. Other students returned from the trip sick as well, but none as severe as Munn. The tick-born illness left Munn brain damaged. Munn’s family sued the school for negligence –no safety precautions against ticks had been taken –and a jury awarded them $41.7 million. Munn’s attorney Antonio Ponvert III said, “I hope this case will help alert all schools who sponsor overseas trips for minors that they need to check the CDC for disease risks in the area where they will be travelling.”
5. Phillips Exeter Academy
In 1992, Larry Lane Bateman, the well-loved director of Phillips Academy’s drama department, was arrested for possession and distribution of material of sexual nature involving minors. The story broke when a former student claimed that Larry Bateman took illicit pictures of him when he was 16-years old. During the investigation Exeter police found hundreds of videotapes in Bateman’s campus residence, many showing male students in lewd poses. While some parents stood behind the school, saying the scandal provided an opportunity to talk with their children about sexual crimes, others condemned the institution for not investigating Bateman’s past before hiring him.
4. Groton School
Was it an act of mean spirited hazing or just part of a fraternal culture of schoolboy pranks? Canon “Zeke” Hawkins believed it was sexual hazing. In 1999, Zeke told school officials that he had been sexually assaulted by a group of older boys in his dorm; Zeke claimed a male student grabbed his genitals, and that another simulated a sex act. The perpetrators said it was horseplay, not assault. The story (and its backlash) was featured in a Boston magazine article. Whether what happened in Zeke’s dorm room was hazing or horseplay remains to be seen, but whatever took place the Groton School attempted to cover it up. In 2004, the Groton School was indicted for failing to report Zeke’s charge. The school was fined $1,250.
3. Milton Academy
Robert Kennedy went to Milton Academy. So did T.S. Eliot and James Taylor. The 200-year old academy eight miles south of Boston is as illustrious and upper crust as it gets. During the 2004-2005 school year, Milton Academy was rocked by a sex scandal that drew nationwide attention. Reports surfaced in The Boston Globe that five male varsity hockey players were caught receiving oral sex from a 15-year old student. The boys were expelled. The scandal highlighted the sexual subculture at the exclusive prep school, a place where privilege, power, and peer pressure collide, and sex is the main currency. Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley, alumnae of Milton Academy, wrote a book about the 2004-2005 school year called “Restless Virgins.” It appeared on the extended New York Times bestseller list.
2. Choate Rosemary Hall
1984. Derek Oatis, a 17-year old senior at Rosemary Choate Hall, is arrested at JFK for trying to smuggle $300,000 worth of cocaine into the U.S. from Venezuela. Seventeen students are eventually expelled from the school, two for smuggling, and 15 for aiding and abetting. The story of a preppie Pablo Escobar and his boarding school drug ring was the subject of a 60 minutes piece, as well as the indie film The Preppie Connection. Were exclusive prep schools really flooded with that much cocaine in the 1980s? In the age of Miami Vice and “greed is good” it certainly seems possible.
1. Horace Mann
It’s the worst sex abuse scandal in prep school history, a decades-long cover-up that’s comparable to the sex scandal that rocked the Catholic archdiocese in Boston in 2002. According to the New York Times, as many as 64 students were abused at Horace Mann, an exclusive prep school in the Bronx. At least twenty-two faculty and staff, including men and women, sexually preyed on students, a fact that’s made some people conclude the teachers at Horace Mann operated a sex ring. The abuse at Horace Mann began around 1962 and lasted until the late 90s. Reports were made to people at the highest level of administration, but nothing was done.