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Child sex abuse 'pervasive' at N.J. school

An investigation found that Thad Alton abused at least 27 student from 1972 to 1978 at The Pingry School's Short Hills, N.J., campus. He is currently on the New York State Sex Offender Registry. (Photo: New York State Sex Offender Registry via (Bridgewater, N.J.) Courier-News)

BERNARDS, N.J. — An investigation conducted for a New Jersey school found that there was "a pervasive problem of child sexual abuse" at the private school in the 1970s.
A private firm conducted a nearly yearlong investigation into abuse by former staffers at Pingry School in Basking Ridge, N.J. The school announced the investigation in March 2016.
According to the 44-page report, at least 27 students were abused by Thad Alton, a teacher, coach and Lower School principal, from 1972 to 1978 at the school's Short Hills campus. The victims interacted with him at Pingry or when he was a scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 64 or a camp counselor. Most of the victims were boys between 10 and 12.
"We are heartsick to learn the extent of his pattern of abuse," said Nathaniel Conrad and Jeffrey Edwards, Pingry headmaster and chairman of the board of trustees, respectively.
In an open letter to the school community Tuesday, they said the school is "deeply sorry for the pain the survivors have suffered" and will be "engaging with the survivors" to support them.
"Our hope is to heal a community and to continue to foster the culture of safety and well-being that our students deserve," Conrad and Edwards wrote.
The two other former staffers that were the focus of the report were woodshop teacher Bruce Bohrer and the late Antoine du Bourg, a faculty member for 46 years who died in 2011.
The report, which T&M Protection Resources released Monday, offers extremely graphic details of the incidents which took place in  Alton's office during the school day, the school's gymnasium, the home of his in-laws and even at his school-owned home while his wife and children were at home.
The report found that after Alton left Pingry, at least one board member learned of the allegations against Alton, which led to Alton's arrest in 1979.
"Unfortunately," Conrad and Edwards wrote, "the school did not notify the full parent or faculty communities at that time."
Alton taught at Short Hills Country Day School from 1972 until it merged with Pingry in 1974. He taught at Pingry from 1974 to 1978.
After leaving Pingry, Alton, 70, moved to Potsdam in upstate New York and worked at Clarkson University.
In 1990, Alton was convicted on charges of sodomy and sex abuse of boys age 10 and 12. He was incarcerated until 1995, according to New York State records.
Alton, who lives in Manhattan, is listed on the New York State Sex Offender Registry.
Bohrer, who taught at the Short Hills campus, had sexually inappropriate behavior with at least four students between 1978 and 1979, according to the report.
The report also found that du Bourg, a science and music teacher who left the school in 2002, engaged in harassing behavior and inappropriate physical contact with multiple students over his four decades at the school, with the most recent allegation in the 1980s.
"We are devastated by these findings and the reality that these abuses were, for decades, weighing on the survivors without our awareness or action," Conrad and Edwards wrote.
In a statement, a dozen victims of sexual abuse, calling themselves the Pingry Survivors, say they have instructed their legal team to continue an independent investigation into the abuse. The members say they want "to explore a way to work collaboratively with the school's investigators to share information in an appropriate manner."
The group lists three goals: disclose of the entire truth about sexual abuse at the school and the school's response at the time; have the school "hear, understand and acknowledge the suffering of each victim and to make meaningful amends"; and prompt Pingry "to dedicate itself to ensuring that this history can never be repeated."
The victims say their investigation found "a culture of silence and denial" among Pingry staffers.
In their statement, the Pingry Survivors say they "appreciate" the school's expression of sorrow.
"We acknowledge that the current Pingry leadership has a difficult task — to clean up a 'mess' that they did not personally create," they wrote.
The victims say they have not filed a lawsuit and "are making effort to avoid litigation."
"The past cannot be undone, but The Pingry School's response now will serve as a testament to Pingry's current values," they wrote.

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