Pingry School in Basking Ridge investigating sexual abuse allegations

31 March 2016 - 13:16, by , in Pingry Survivors' News, No comments

Article from Morris News Bee

Also later worked at the Peck School in Morristown

BERNARDS TWP. – Officials at The Pingry School in Liberty Corner and at the private grades K-8 Peck School in Morristown are investigating allegations that a former employee who served time in prison for sexual abuse of boys may have also abused some of their students during his time at the private schools in the 1970s.

The grades K-12 Pingry School, which has its grades 6-12 campus in Liberty Corner and its grades K-5 campus in Short Hills, has reached out to students and graduates to inform them of the investigation.

It has also hired T&M Protection Resources, a private firm, to look into allegations that Thad Alton, an assistant principal, guidance counselor and teacher at Pingry from 1974 to 1978, allegedly sexually abused some of its students.

Pingry maintained its Upper School for students in grades 7-12 in Hillside during those years, moving to Bernards Township in 1983.

Alton also worked at the private co-ed Peck School from 1978 to 1979.

A letter signed by Pingry Headmaster Nathaniel Conard and Board of Trustees Chairman Jeffrey Edwards said the school had recently learned from “a few of our alumni’’ that students had been abused.

Alton, who reportedly served five years in prison after his conviction of sexual abuse in New York in 1990, had also worked at the Short Hills Country Day School from 1972 to 1974 before it merged with Pingry.

“We want to assure the Pingry community that we are taking this matter very seriously,’’ the letter said. “We have contacted local law enforcement, informed them of the allegations, and are committed to assisting them in their investigation.

“While these events took place many years ago, we realize that they continue to cause pain for members of our community. It is sickening that an educator, entrusted with the responsibility of protecting children, would cause such suffering. Behavior of this nature is appalling and deplorable.’’

In a media statement, Pingry added that it “will do everything in our power to support victims and their families.’’

According to several media reports, in addition to the 1990 conviction, Alton had also been convicted in 1980 of acts of lewdness involving minors while employed at Pingry and served a suspended sentence and probation. An attorney representing the victims reportedly claimed that Pingry officials knew about these allegations.

But Dale Seabury, a spokesperson for Pingry, said on Friday that “it wasn’t until recently that the school’s current administration knew anything about this upsetting situation in the 1970s, which prompted us to report the allegations to law enforcement and begin an independent investigation.’’

Alton, 69 now, currently has a Manhattan address.

Any student who may have been abused has been asked to contact Conard at (908) 647-5555, ext. 1232, or by email at nconard@pingry.org.

They can also contact Laura Kirschstein of T&M Protection Resources at (212) 916-8852 or lkirschstein@tmprotection.com.

Founded in Elizabeth by John F. Pingry in 1861, Pingry now has 1,065 students in grades K-12 on two campuses in Short Hills and Basking Ridge, according to its website.

Peck School Statement

Similarly, a letter from Peck Head of School Andrew C. Delinsky and Board of Trustees President Edward J. Foley IV last Thursday to the Peck community said: “We are deeply distressed by the recent news that Thad Alton, an employee who was associated with The Pingry School from 1972 to 1978, had sexually abused students while working at the school.

“As you also may know, Thad Alton was employed by The Peck School for one year from 1978 to 1979. Though his employment at Peck was brief, we are heartbroken to think that his presence on our campus may have exposed our own students to trauma and we are reaching out to inform you of this development and to ask for your help.

“The safety and security of our students, and the lifelong well-being of our alumni, are at the very heart of what we stand for as a school and we go to extraordinary lengths to build a warm, vibrant, and safe community for our students. We have a zero tolerance policy regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships of any kind, and our faculty and staff receive professional development that emphasizes student safety, maintaining appropriate student-teacher relationships, and reporting requirements.

“In addition, our school psychologist, Dr. Susanne Struebing, is always available for staff, students, faculty and parents who wish to share their concerns.

“We have contracted with Dr. Barbara Tocco Ed.D, a licensed New Jersey Psychologist with a specialty in treating adults who have experienced childhood trauma. She has agreed to serve as a safe and private resource to Peck alumni who may have been affected by Mr. Alton. She can be reached at (732) 940-4330. Please note that Dr. Tocco will serve in a confidential capacity and make no reports to the school unless authorized by her client to do so.

“The Peck School’s Board of Trustees is hiring the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton to conduct an independent review of Mr. Alton’s tenure at Peck. We believe Debevoise is an excellent choice, as they have the integrity, experience, sensitivity, and judgment essential for such work. Upon the conclusion of the review, we will share the key findings with The Peck School community.

“If you have been affected personally or have any information at all that may assist Debevoise, we urge you to contact Ms. Helen Cantwell at hcantwell@debevoise.com or 212-909-6312. Our Head of School, Andy Delinsky, is always available should you wish to contact him directly with questions or concerns. Andy can be reached at adelinsky@peckschool.org or (973) 539-8660 x 111. Similarly, Dr. Susanne Struebing is also available for questions or concerns and can be reached at sstruebi@peckschool.org or (973) 539-8660, ext. 128.

“We realize this message affects every member of The Peck School family and are determined to provide the very best support for our current students and alumni. We will keep you informed as this matter progresses.”

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