Despite knowing that the headmaster of Brooks School had engaged in an improper relationship with a student, publishing executive Steve Forbes, president of the college preparatory school’s board of trustees at the time, did not report the incident to authorities, the school said Friday.
Forbes, an alumnus who served as board president from 1987 to 1997, took steps to address the matter but did not discipline the headmaster, Lawrence W. Becker, or report the alleged relationship to the full board, according to a school spokeswoman, Karen Schwartzman.
Becker went on to work for at least another decade before retiring in 2008. On Thursday, the North Andover school disclosed the reported relationship, describing Becker’s conduct as “objectionable, manipulative, and an abuse of his position.”
In an e-mail to the school community, school leaders said the relationship raised “grave concerns,” and urged anyone with knowledge that called Becker’s conduct into question to come forward.
School officials recently learned of the alleged relationship, which occurred at some point during Forbes’s time on the board, after reviewing Becker’s work record and determining that he had hired male escorts on two occasions.
In a statement on Friday, Forbes said he referred the matter to the school’s legal counsel at the time and that “appropriate action was taken” after an investigation.
“Every step was undertaken with the advice and direction of the school’s outside counsel,” he said. The matter did not involve sexual abuse, he said in the statement.
The school declined to discuss the nature of the relationship to protect the student’s privacy. Brooks would also not say if Forbes was legally required to report the relationship.
Forbes was fully informed of Becker’s relationship with the student, the spokeswoman said. He also consulted with one other trustee, she said.
Forbes was a presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000.
Becker, in a statement released by his lawyer, said the school’s e-mail on Thursday had caused him and his wife “great pain, sadness and embarrassment.”
By including information about his private life, the disclosure “encourages serious questions and speculation about my relationships with students over the years,” said Becker.
In his statement, Becker did not explicitly deny the inappropriate relationship, but suggested that the thousands of students he had worked with would support him.
“They know the answers to those questions,” he said. “I leave the responses to them.”
Becker had previously worked as teacher and administrator at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, which on Friday notified faculty and staff about the reports.
“We will continue to follow this investigation into Larry’s alleged behavior while at Brooks with sadness and concern,” said an e-mail from a Hotchkiss administrator.
Jetta Bernier — who directs Massachusetts Citizens for Children, a child advocacy group — said the school’s description of the relationship implies “that some activity took place that was out of line and possibly illegal.”
“No one should feel comfort in believing there were not other victims,” she said. “I would like to think that if this were happening at Brooks today, it would be handled in a different way.”
There have been no lawsuits filed against Brooks or Becker in connection with the improper relationship. The case was recently resolved to the satisfaction of the former student, the school said.
The recent review of Becker’s tenure was sparked by a number of “disturbing” e-mails about him that the school received last summer. Becker initially said he did not know the sender, but eventually acknowledged he was being threatened.
The school later learned the person was a male escort whom Becker had hired in fall 2011. School officials then reviewed an incident in 2004, when several school employees had received calls saying Becker had engaged in “inappropriate sexual behavior” while traveling alone on school business.
At the time, Becker denied those allegations, but school officials learned he had also hired a male escort on that trip.
Further conversations revealed the improper relationship with the student, the school said. Schwartzman said that “what’s paramount now” is that anyone with information that other students may have been harmed at Brooks step forward.
“We do not take this step lightly,” school leaders wrote in notifying the community. “We act now in the belief that this inquiry is compelled by our highest priority, which is the well-being of the students who have been entrusted to our care.”