Ex-students file sexual abuse suit against Newton boarding school

Two former students of the Fessenden School say they were sexually abused by employees there in the 1960s and 1970s.

John Sweeney speaks to reporters Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, during a news conference at his lawyer's office in Boston. Sweeney says in a lawsuit filed against the Fessenden School that he was drugged and raped in his dorm room by the assistant headmaster when he was 11 years old. (AP Photo/Alanna Durkin Richer)
John Sweeney speaks to reporters Monday during a news conference at his lawyer's office in Boston. –Alanna Durkin Richer / AP

BOSTON (AP) — Two former Massachusetts boarding school students who say they were sexually abused by employees in the 1960s and 1970s have filed a lawsuit accusing the institution of trying to sweep misconduct by its staffers under the rug.

The lawsuit was filed last week against the Fessenden School in Newton, which has settled more than a dozen claims brought by people who say they were sexually abused as children there between the 1960s and the 1990s.

John Sweeney says in the complaint that then-Assistant Headmaster Arthur Clarridge drugged and raped him in his dorm room when he was 11 years old. William Greaves II says he was sexually abused by the school psychologist, his dorm master and his art teacher starting when he was 8 years old.

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Sweeney said Monday that he wants Fessenden to “come out with the truth” about the scope of abuse at the school. He choked backed tears as he described telling the headmaster at the time what had happened to him and being told he was making it up.

“This is what recovery looks like,” Sweeney told reporters at the law office of his lawyer, Carmen Durso.

In 2011, then-Headmaster David Stettler sent a letter to students, parents and alumni detailing claims of sexual abuse brought by former students and encouraging others to come forward. Fessenden said in a statement Monday that it brought the issue to light years ago “in an effort to allow any who were abused to seek closure.”

“Fessenden has worked to openly, honestly, and compassionately approach claims of abuse by former students. We recognize the pain caused by abuse in the past, and we continue to apologize to anyone who suffered,” the school said.

Clarridge resigned from Fessenden in 1977 when he was charged with participating in what investigators called a “major child molestation ring” in Revere.

Clarridge, who died last month at the age of 90, told The Boston Globe in 2016 that he never had sexual relations with any student at Fessenden but admitted to having sex with minors in Revere.

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“Even if my memory is poor, I certainly know that (Sweeney’s allegation) is not true,” he told the paper.

Mitchell Garabedian, another attorney who represents sexual abuse victims, said he has settled 16 claims on behalf of people who said they were sexually abused at the Fessenden School between 1963 and 1997. Each claim was settled in the low six-figure dollar amount, he said.

“The sexual abuse at The Fessenden School was and might still be as unchecked and harmful as the sexual abuse at any other private school,” Garabedian said.

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Associated Press researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.

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