PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The elite St. George's School has agreed to a sexual abuse settlement that would provide compensation for up to 30 former students who were assaulted.
The Middletown boarding school announced the pact on Wednesday in a joint statement with a group representing victims, saying the institution will provide an undisclosed sum to settle the claims. Paul Finn, a mediator who also worked on the clergy sex abuse settlement in Boston, will determine how much each person will receive.
The announcement was greeted with relief by some victims, dozens of whom have come forward in the past several months with stories of abuse by school employees and fellow students as far back as the 1970s and as recently as the 2000s.
"This was never about the money. This was about being heard, and St. George's realized that what they have done to us in the past is completely wrong," abuse victim Katie Wales Lovkay said in an interview. "It's nice to know it's done, it's over."
Lovkay was one of at least 17 students abused in the 1970s and 1980s by a now-dead athletic trainer. She told the headmaster about the abuse, but he sent her to the school therapist and did not report it to authorities. A week before her 1980 graduation, she was expelled.
In a report issued by the school in December, it acknowledged it did not report abuse to authorities. It also acknowledged that while some accused staffers were forced out by administrators, some went on to work in other schools.
A state police investigation concluded earlier this year with no criminal charges. Authorities determined they could not prosecute because of the statute of limitations, changes in the laws since some of the abuse occurred and other reasons.
State police say they also turned over materials to authorities for investigations in Massachusetts and North Carolina.
Still pending is an independent investigation — underway for months — that was agreed to by the school and the victims' group, SGS for Healing. A report on the findings is expected in the coming weeks.
Anne Scott, who leads SGS for Healing and who attended the mediation, said she was grateful to the board of trustees.
"St. George's has done something meaningful and important for survivors," she said in a news release. "It's hard to put into words what it feels like to receive this kind of validation and support, after all these years."
Leslie Heaney, who leads the board of trustees, said board members hope the agreement will assist victims as they move toward healing.
"We look forward to continuing to work with our survivor community so that the lessons learned can ensure the safety of our current and future generations of St. George's students," she said.
Eric MacLeish, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, attorney who represents the victims, said Finn will apportion the money based on the impact the abuse had on the victims.
"To give them this news — people have been in tears," MacLeish said. "People feel like this is the school recognizing what they went through. Something terrible happened to them, and the school is now saying, 'We're sorry that this happened, that it occurred at our school, and we want to recognize the harm that occurred, and we want to do something about it.'"
MacLeish said the money does not represent justice, but validation.
"So many of these people thought they were the only ones," he said. "Many of them felt guilty. They thought it was their fault. Many had difficulties with trust, intimacy, even feeling that the abuse was their fault. We had a large group of people who did not tell anybody about their abuse, even their spouses."
Tuition at the Episcopal school is $58,000 per year. It was founded in 1896 and counts among its graduates poet Ogden Nash, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, and members of the Bush family, including former Republican Connecticut U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of the Bush presidents, and NBC's Billy Bush.
Lovkay said she still hopes to see other changes at the school, most importantly changing the name of a dorm that named for the headmaster who brushed off her abuse. Many other alumni have called for that to happen.