The Brooks School, a prep school in North Andover, Massachusetts, sent a letter to the school community yesterday saying that a former headmaster of the school had engaged in an “objectionable, manipulative” relationship with a student in the late 1990s.The purpose of the letter was to inform the community about the incident and ask whether there were other instances in which the headmaster, Lawrence W. Becker, had behaved inappropriately.
The headmaster’s relationship with the student was not alleged to have been sexual, but it was discovered when a male escort hired by Mr. Becker in 2011 sent the school emails this summer (the escort was not a student). This followed an earlier incident with an escort on a school business trip in 2004. When confronted about the emails this summer, the Brooks School says, Mr. Becker first lied about them and then admitted that the escort was threatening him.
A subsequent investigation into Mr. Becker’s 22-year tenure at Brooks led to the discovery of the relationship with the student, the school says.
And it turns out that Becker’s relationship with the student was known to, and investigated by, the chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees at the time–the former Presidential candidate and publishing mogul Steve Forbes.
Mr. Forbes, a Brooks alumnus, served as chairman of the board from 1987 to 1997, the period in which the incident occurred.
Mr. Forbes was made aware of the relationship, the Brooks School says, and he investigated it. But Mr. Forbes did not inform the school community or the rest of Brooks board about it.
Yesterday, Forbes Media issued a statement to the New York Times about Mr. Forbes’s conduct:
“A matter that came to the attention of the school was referred to the school’s legal counsel and was properly investigated and appropriate action was taken. Every step was undertaken with the advice and direction of the school’s outside counsel. The matter did not involve sexual abuse.”
Given the potential reputational damage and risk of future incidents after the discovery of such a relationship, it seems strange that, at the very least, the entire Brooks board would not have been informed.
Without knowing more details about the relationship, as well as the precise steps Mr. Forbes and the school’s outside counsel took during the investigation and how the matter was resolved, it’s too early to pass judgement. There may have been sound legal and other reasons why the information went no further than Mr. Forbes.Now that Brooks has gone public about the incident, the school’s handling of the investigation and resolution will obviously come under scrutiny. And if other incidents are discovered, especially incidents that came after the inappropriate relationship, the school could face significant liability.
Here’s the letter that Brooks sent to its community yesterday, via Barstool Sports Boston:
January 3, 2013
Dear Brooks Alumni, Parents and Friends,
We write to you today about a troubling matter. It involves Lawrence W. Becker, who served as headmaster of Brooks School from 1986 to 2008. After long deliberations, the school’s Board of Trustees has authorised this outreach because we have genuine concerns that cause us to carefully review Mr. Becker’s tenure at the school.
Last July and continuing throughout the summer, the school received a number of disturbing e-mails about Mr. Becker from an anonymous writer. After denying any knowledge regarding the emails, Mr. Becker eventually acknowledged in early September that he was being threatened by someone who, we later learned, was an escort whom Mr. Becker had hired in the fall of 2011.
Although these events took place after Mr. Becker retired as headmaster, his lack of candor with the school during this episode compelled us to look back at his tenure at the school. In so doing, we reviewed an incident in 2004, when several school employees received calls claiming that Mr. Becker had engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour while travelling alone on school business. Mr. Becker denied the allegations at the time and provided an account of his activities which, we now know, was untrue.
Unfortunately, we must also report one additional, disturbing situation. We have grave concerns about Mr. Becker’s relationship with a student while serving as headmaster. In our judgment, his conduct in this relationship was objectionable, manipulative, and an abuse of his position.
Each of these situations is completely inconsistent with the values of the school and, taken together, cause us to be profoundly concerned. In an effort to assess how best to handle this information, we consulted with a highly regarded psychologist with experience in relevant matters. He concurs that this letter is an advisable and prudent step. Thus, we are writing to ask if you have personal knowledge that calls into question Mr. Becker’s conduct and/or oversight during his tenure. A small group of trustees will join the two of us in considering anything you would like to share.
We do not take this step lightly. Brooks School grew and prospered during Mr. Becker’s tenure, and our alumni from that era have gone on to achieve great personal and professional success. We act now in the belief that this inquiry is compelled by our highest priority, which is the well-being of the students who have been entrusted to our care.
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