Article from NJ.com
Pingry School alumni expressed shock and sadness Wednesday at the news that sexual abuse allegedly occurred at the elite private school in the 1970s.
However, they applauded school administrators for a prompt and decisive response.
On Monday, the school sent a letter to parents of current students, the entire alumni and school trustees informing them that it has launched an investigation into alleged abuse by former school teacher and administrator Thad Alton. The letter was signed by Headmaster Nathaniel E. Conard and Jeffrey N. Edwards, chair of the board of trustees.
Alton, who was convicted in 1990 of first-degree sex abuse and second-degree sodomy for incidents that happened in New York State, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He served five years in New York state prison and was required to register as a sex offender upon release. He current address shows him living in Manhattan.
Dale Seabury, director of Strategic Communications and Marketing at Pingry, confirmed Wednesday that the school only recently learned of the allegations from a “few” victims, directly and indirectly, and immediately contacted local law enforcement. Seabury would not elaborate on how many had come forward.
Pingry also hired the New York-based investigatory firm T&M Protection Resources, which specializes in sex crimes, to conduct an independent investigation.
Peter “Chip” Korn, president of the school’s Alumni Association and a 1989 graduate, said “we are all shocked and appalled” by the allegations. “That said, I commend the administration for stepping forward with respect to the situation and addressing it directly. I am proud of the way Pingry has handled itself during such a difficult time.”
Mark Bigos, a 1979 graduate of the school and member of the Alumni Association, echoed those thoughts.
“The school is determined to get to the bottom of this,” said Bigos. “I don’t know anything other than what was said in the announcement. But anytime something like this is alleged, you’re disappointed someone could do such a thing.”
Bigos said he doesn’t remember hearing any rumors of alleged abuse while he was a student at the school.
Thomas Trynin, who graduated in 1979 and is a member of the Alumni Association, also praised the school’s handling of the situation.
“From what I know and what I see, Pingry is dealing with this sad issue in an open and forthright manner,” he stated.
Alton was an employee of Short Hills Country Day School from 1972 to 1974 and, following the merger of the two institutions, an employee of The Pingry School from 1974 to 1978.
He served as an assistant principal and guidance counselor. Alton also taught sixth grade social studies at the school, was a soccer coach and a scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop made up of students from the school.
Alton was working as director of Clarkson University’s Management Institute in upstate New York in 1989 when he resigned three days before his arrest in December of that year on charges of sexually abusing two boys from Potsdam and Brasher Falls, the Watertown Daily Times reported at the time.
It’s not known what prompted the alumni at Pingry to come forward now, “but we are grateful that they did. Pingry took action now because this is the first time that this administration became aware of the situation,” Seabury said Wednesday.
Seabury said the school launched an independent investigation because it wanted to “make sure the matter was pursued.”
“Pingry’s culture is one of transparency,” she said. “That’s what we seek to model for our students. We want to take care of the victims as best we can. We want to model to our students what it is like to be held accountable.”
Seabury said the school doesn’t anticipate having a further update for some time because the investigation will be extensive. She said the victims came forward with the expectation of confidentially.
The school has asked any former student who was allegedly sexually abused or knows any student who was allegedly sexually abused by Alton to contact Headmaster Nathaniel Conard at 908-647-5555, ext. 1232, or email email@example.com, or contact Laura Kirschstein of T&M Protection Resources at 212-916-8852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every effort to keep all calls confidential will be made, the school has said.