A New Hampshire prep school criticized for how it’s handled sexual assault cases faces trial on a lawsuit brought by a former student’s mother who alleges the school wrongfully withdrew her 15-year-old son after he had sex with another student.
The lawsuit alleges Phillips Exeter Academy first said the boy would be placed on leave, but could return this fall after seeking therapy, among other conditions. The mother says Exeter changed its mind and decided to withdraw him altogether as it was responding to reports it mishandled sexual assault and misconduct cases involving staff and students.
Exeter says it made no “contractual promise” the boy would be allowed to return and says he violated the school’s sexual misconduct policies. He hasn’t been charged with a crime.
The trial is scheduled for Monday in federal court in Concord. Lawyers on both sides did not return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit says the boy, referred to as “John Doe” in the complaint, had sex with 15-year-old “Jane Roe” in January. A dean in February contacted the boy’s father about reports of a consensual encounter between the students. An investigator interviewed the boy and a dean later told the father the girl “felt pressured” to have sex, the suit said.
Phillips Exeter placed the boy on leave for the semester and wrote to the parents that the deans would review his case and determine whether he would be permitted to return in the fall, the suit said. In June, the parents learned their son would be placed on permanent leave.
The suit says the school breached the student handbook by not going through a formal disciplinary process. It seeks a refund of tuition and other school-related expenses, plus money for therapy, travel and unspecified damages for emotional distress.
The suit also requests that the boy be reinstated at Phillips Exeter. He enrolled in another private school after leaving Phillips Exeter.
“Unless `John’ can return to Exeter, he will lose the academic opportunities he expected to have there which are virtually unparalleled, and his future prospects are harmed,” a court document filed by the mother’s lawyers said.
Phillips Exeter said the student handbook is not an enforceable contract.
Earlier this year, two teachers at the school acknowledged sexual misconduct and a former admissions officer pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse charges. A 2016 graduate was charged with sexually assaulting a female student. Police are investigating other accusations at the private school.
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