Solebury says school founder abused a student

Solebury School building in the campus. 08-28-2014( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
Solebury School building in the campus. 08-28-2014( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
Posted: September 03, 2014

The Bucks County boarding school that publicly acknowledged its staff or faculty had sexually abused students in past decades disclosed Monday that the perpetrators include one of its founders.

In a posting on its website, the Solebury School said Robert "Pop" Shaw had a sexual relationship with a student there in the early 1950s. School officials said they planned to remove all items on campus that honor Shaw, who died in 1982.

"As a matter of historical fact, Robert Shaw will always be documented as one of the founders of Solebury, but it is inappropriate for us to have elements that honor him, given his actions," said the letter, signed by head of school Thomas G. Wilschutz.

The letter came a day after The Inquirer reported that the school's decision to apologize publicly and acknowledge abuse from the 1950s to the 1970s had sparked an investigation by Bucks County prosecutors and soul-searching by alumni of the prestigious school outside New Hope.

Solebury officials had not previously identified the staffers suspected of abuse or their victims. Wilschutz wrote that they planned to disclose the information about Shaw to parents during meetings this week and to students when they resume classes next Monday, but decided to share it sooner, "given the recent media attention."

Wilschutz had said the initial public admission of the past abuse, disclosed to alumni in a letter and posted online in late July, came after a number of former students - "less than 10" - approached administrators in the last two years to tell them of abuse or inappropriate conduct at the hands of school employees in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He has said none of the allegations involve staff members who have worked at the school since his arrival in 2008.

But county prosecutors say they are examining allegations that span six decades. One alumna told The Inquirer she had been sexually abused at the school since 2000.

Wilschutz's letter Monday did not include details of Shaw's conduct or identify the student it involved.

Shaw and three other men helped start the progressive school on a farm in 1925.

Shaw attended Harvard and Oxford Universities before founding Solebury, which was seen as an alternative to the rigid New England-style prep school. He later wrote a book on the first 50 years of the school's history. The book is still for sale on Amazon.

His portrait hung in the dining hall with those of the other founders, and Wilschutz still worked on Shaw's walnut rolltop desk. One campus building was named for him, as was a foreign-language award.

All those will be removed.

"[I]n keeping with our commitment to hold accountable to the extent possible those who committed these acts, we have removed the items on campus that honor Robert Shaw," the school wrote in its posting.


bfinley@phillynews.com

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@Ben_Finley

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