Thacher School releases apology, report detailing accusations of sexual harassment of students

June 19, 2021
Alumni, supporters reeling

A special report has alumni and supporters of the prestigious Thacher School of Ojai reeling with detailed accusations of sexual harassment and even rape.

In fall 2020, the Thacher Board of Trustees convened a special committee in response to allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment involving Thacher alumni, current students, faculty and staff. That committee in turn hired the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson to conduct an independent and impartial investigation. The findings now make up a 91-page report that identifies several past faculty members, including former school leaders.

In a message posted on the school’s website, Board Chair Dan Yih notes, “First and foremost, to survivors of sexual misconduct and their families in our community, we are deeply sorry. As a Board, we accept responsibility and will move forward with humility and clarity to do everything we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our students. We are taking steps to support you and to implement changes to all aspects of our work to prevent any recurrence of such painful events.

“A Thacher education is founded on the trusting and nurturing relationships among the members of this close-knit community. In that light, it is painful to learn that certain individuals violated this trust through sexual misconduct, and that our culture contributed to these violations. The report makes clear that the Board, faculty, and administrators failed to protect students in our care. We did not listen as carefully or react as appropriately as we should have when certain allegations of adult-on-student or student-on-student sexual misconduct were brought to our attention. The Board also was not proactive in making sure that the school followed best practices at all times. We must now confront and acknowledge these past failures.”

The Thacher School is a selective, co-educational, independent boarding school located on 427 acres of hillside overlooking the Ojai Valley. Tuition for the 2020-21 school year was $64,700 for boarding students and $49,800 for day students.

Founded in 1889 as a boys’ school, it is now the oldest co-ed boarding school in California. Girls were first admitted in 1977. The student body numbers about 235, with many alumni from throughout the nation who came from families known in commerce and entertainment.

Yih wrote, “Members of our community courageously came forward to share their experiences” that in some cases range back decades. “We recognize and appreciate how difficult that was, and we are profoundly grateful to them for doing so. Without their assistance, we would not otherwise be able to work diligently to prevent sexual misconduct in the future and to improve our response when such incidents do occur.”

Yih noted that the school’s corrective actions are intended to “support survivors, to improve the school’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment, and to prevent the recurrence of future sexual misconduct.”

The investigation, he added, did not receive reports of sexual misconduct by current Thacher employees toward current students, although there were reports of sexual misconduct that occurred more than five years ago by Thacher employees from the 2020-21 school year.

“Those faculty and staff,” wrote Yih, “are no longer employed at Thacher,” and school efforts to protect students from sexual misconduct “are constant and ongoing.”

Yih wrote that, “In conducting its work, the board has been guided by the school’s principles of honor, fairness, kindness, and truth as well as our collective love for the school. We recognize that the pain and trauma that survivors experienced is real and long lasting. We also recognize that family and friends of the survivors experienced their own pain and trauma as well. We hope that those who suffered harm will accept the board’s profound and heartfelt apology as the school commits to the work ahead.”

Yih ended his message “With humility, respect, and regret.”

“I am deeply sorry for the ways we — your school — failed you, and for the hurt and harm that failure has wrought,” noted the message from School Head Blossom Beatty Pidduck.

A link is provided to a letter from former Head of School Michael Mulligan, whose own actions in reacting to reports of misconduct were questioned in the report. Mulligan was appointed head of school in 1993, after serving a year as interim head. He was the second longest-serving leader in Thacher’s history, and during his tenure, the school became one of the most selective boarding schools in the United States.

In the June 12 letter, Mulligan, who retired in 2018, wrote that he was “sickened and heartbroken” by the reports of abused students, and “that some have wrestled with pain over many years was especially distressing. To all of you, I extend my heartfelt compassion.”

Mulligan noted, “I particularly regret situations where certain decisions I made contributed to this suffering, and I fully accept that criticism. I am genuinely sorry, and, for clarity’s sake,” Mulligan wrote he has “stated specific regrets” directly for inclusion in the report.

“I want you all to know that my feelings are sincere,” he wrote, “and I want to extend my support to all survivors of sexual assault and harassment in our community.”

The Board of Trustees and administration have created a support fund to provide assistance with therapy related to the trauma of sexual misconduct during a student’s time at Thacher. The fund will be anonymously and independently managed and operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a nationally recognized provider of sexual assault prevention and response services. Alumni who wish to access these services through RAINN are encouraged to call either the toll-free hotline at 844-908-4224 or the local number for international callers at 805-243-1692.

The board will continue to retain the services of the law firm MTO to receive reports of any sexual misconduct through the end of September. After that date, in the event that any alumni or students wish to make an anonymous report of sexual misconduct, they are asked to contact The Special Committee will stay in place to ensure the timely and thorough implementation of all corrective actions, according to a written statement.

To read the full report, visit:

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