NMH fires longtime religion teacher over sexual misconduct allegation

  • Attempts to find Gary Partenheimer, who no longer lives on campus, to comment Thursday for this story were unsuccessful. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 8/26/2016 2:25:18 AM

GILL — The Northfield Mount Hermon School has fired longtime teacher Gary Partenheimer over allegations of misconduct with a female student from more than 30 years ago.

The news was reported this week to members of the school community in a letter from Head of School Peter Fayroian.

Fayroian said he commissioned the Jackson Lewis law firm to look into the school’s record of sexual misconduct allegations following a report in the Boston Globe last spring about such cases at New England prep schools.

Northfield Mount Hermon was not named in that story, but Fayroian said he was motivated to see if the school had “fallen short” in handling such incidents in the past. The school reached out to alumni inviting them to contact it about past abuses.

Jackson Lewis, by researching school records and talking to alumni over a three-month period, found six credible allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers stemming from incidents between 1976 and 1991, according to Fayroian.

Stephen Porter, the school’s director of communications,  told The Recorder there is no evidence that any further incidents have occurred in the past 25 years.

The incidents took place prior to Northfield Mount Hermon School’s consolidation to the Gill campus in late 2005. Male and female students were previously housed on two separate campuses: the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in Northfield and the Mount Hermon School for Boys on the current Gill campus.

In all but one instance of sexual misconduct, the faculty members involved were separated from the school shortly after it learned of the incidents. According to Porter, it is the school’s policy to immediately dismiss any faculty involved in sexual misconduct.

In the remaining instance, the faculty member was disciplined and allowed to stay, but left the school over a decade ago, Fayroian wrote in the letter. Porter could not explain why that incident was handled differently.

The incident that led to this month’s firing came to light this summer after a former student contacted Fayroian to report a seventh allegation. Fayroian said that after speaking with the alumna and with Partenheimer, who did not deny the allegation, he found it to be credible.

According to Porter, Partenheimer was not allowed to remain in residence on campus, which has been the tradition for faculty. Porter said Partenheimer has already vacated the campus.

Attempts to find Partenheimer for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Partenheimer is the former chairman of the Northfuield Mount Hermon religious studies and philosophy department, according to the school’s website. Porter said Partenheimer had worked at the school since 1977.

Jackson Lewis’ investigator also spoke with the alumna and agreed with Fayroian that the allegation was credible. Fayroian immediately fired Partenheimer on Aug. 9, effective immediately.

“While we have no evidence to suggest any misconduct has occurred since that incident, NMH cannot continue to employ anyone we believe is guilty of such a serious violation of the trust of our students,” Fayroian wrote in the letter.

Porter said that, despite the long passage of time since each of the incidents, the school reported them to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

According to Mary Carey, communications director at the Northwestern district attorney’s office, an indictment or complaint for most such offenses may be filed at any time after the commission of the offense. However, any indictment or complaint filed more than 27 years after the offense must be supported by independent evidence that does not consist exclusively of the opinions of mental health professionals.

Fayroian said Northfield Mount Hermon will continue to provide support for the victims in any way it can.

“NMH has zero tolerance for any sexual misconduct by faculty and staff members against students,” Fayroian wrote in the letter. “Ensuring student safety and respecting students’ personal boundaries must be the priority of any educator and any school.”

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