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Head of St. Paul's is leaving a year earlier than planned as elite school copes with abuse allegations

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 22. 2018 10:36AM
Michael Hirschfeld 

CONCORD — The head of St. Paul’s School in Concord has informed the elite prep school’s Board of Trustees he will resign from his position next month — a year earlier than previously planned.

Michael Hirschfeld previously announced he would step down from the position of rector at St. Paul’s School — which faces several lawsuits accusing top school officials of failing to protect students from sexual abuse — at the end of next school year, in June 2019.

But in a letter dated May 20 to Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox, Jr., Hirschfeld writes he’s accelerating his departure to June 30, 2018, because “this has been an unusually painful time for the entire School community and also for my family.”

“Eight years ago when I entered the search process to become the School’s Thirteenth Rector, I did so out of my heartfelt belief that I could help move the School forward by building on the best elements of its history while pushing it to look beyond itself for ideas and practices that would best serve our students,” Hirschfeld wrote. “I am extremely proud of the work my colleagues and I have done in advancing this vision. I am also extremely proud of our students and their commitment to being co-builders of a healthier and stronger school culture.”

A federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in May accuses St. Paul’s School administrators of letting a “hypersexualized culture” exist which permitted a 13-year-old female student to be repeatedly raped and sexually harassed and then forced to leave school after being falsely accused of stealing the clothing of other coeds on campus.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and maintains the school is guilty of six federal counts and should be held liable for at least $450,000 in damages along with “lost wages, interests costs and other relief.”

“The sexual assaults and harassment J.D. (Jane Doe) endured were sufficiently severe, pervasive and objectively offensive to constitute a hostile educational environment for her at SPS,” the suit claims.

According to the suit, the girl started a romantic relationship in the fall of 2012 with an 18-year-old senior male student but there were no sexual relations until he forced himself on her.

Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald’s office is in the midst of a criminal investigation of St. Paul’s following two reports from the school’s own law firms that detail a decades-long history of former faculty and staff who sexually harassed students.

Two St. Paul’s School alumni filed suit against the school earlier this month. One suit describes a sexual encounter with New York City prostitutes orchestrated by a school administrator, with the second suit alleging abuse and propositions by several St. Paul’s faculty.

The lawsuit was filed in Merrimack County Superior Court.

In his letter to school trustees, Hirschfeld briefly references the allegations.

“While I had hoped to make further headway before leaving in addressing the wrongs of the past, I am confident that this critical work will continue and its ultimate legacy will be a better St. Paul’s School,” Hirschfeld wrote.

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