34 Sonoma Academy students exposed to misconduct by former teacher; two ex-staff members accused of sexual abuse | #teacher | #children | #kids

A report from a law firm hired by Sonoma Academy to investigate student and alumni reports of sexual misconduct by a longtime teacher has revealed additional sweeping allegations of sexual grooming and misconduct by that teacher, as well as sexual abuse of underage students by two other former staff members.

Marco Morrone, a former humanities teacher, behaved in an inappropriate, sexually charged manner with 34 female students across 16 years, the 49-page document revealed. The private Santa Rosa high school the report released unredacted to its students, parents and staff in an email Monday evening.

The misconduct by Morrone included grooming multiple students “for his own purposes,” investigators said, including sexual contact. Investigators spoke with a former student who said she and Morrone had sexual interactions after she graduated. The investigators found no instance of Morrone having sexual relations with the girls while they were students.

Debevoise and Plimpton, the New York-based law firm, also concluded that two other former staff members at Sonoma Academy sexually abused at least three students while they were minors. The staff members, a soccer coach and a documentary filmmaking teacher, were both fired — but investigators found “no evidence” indicating anyone from Sonoma Academy reported the alleged criminal conduct to law enforcement

Shannon Rake, a former star player at Sonoma State University, was the soccer coach accused of sexually abusing a Sonoma Academy female student between 2002 and 2003.

Adrian Belic was the other teacher who had sexually abused two Sonoma Academy students, investigators said. In the report, Belic is described as a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer who taught a filmmaking course at the school in 2004.

Former and current staff members who were alerted to Morrone’s behavior multiple times during his 18 years at the school, including longtime Head of School Janet Durgin and Assistant Head of School Ellie Dwight, repeatedly failed to investigate complaints about his conduct with students, the report said. Law enforcement officials were never told of any of the past reports made by students or graduates at the time, investigators found.

“Examples of Morrone’s inappropriate behavior included directly or indirectly intimate, sexual and deeply personal journal entries as part of class assignments; inappropriately touching students; developing close emotional bounds with students through one on one meetings and emails; recommending graphic, sexually explicit or mature books; and giving students copies of his own sexually explicit manuscripts, one of which detailed a graphic sexual relationship between a student and her high school teacher.”

A group of seven female graduates who spoke out this summer to The Press Democrat about what they described as a yearslong record of misconduct by Morrone and mishandling of their complaints by school officials.

Monday night they expressed their sorrow and outrage at the explosive findings.

“We are devastated by the extent of the harm done to Sonoma Academy students over the years,” the women said in a joint statement issued Monday under their group name, The Athena Project. “Our deepest empathy goes out to those who were sexually harassed, abused, or otherwise harmed while they were students at Sonoma Academy.”

Morrone did not speak to Debevoise and Plimpton investigators. He could be reached for comment Monday night.

The school launched the outside investigation after publication of a Press Democrat investigation June 12 that detailed the women’s accusations and administrators’ mishandling of their complaints.

Sonoma Academy’s Board of Trustees said in its message to the campus community that unspecified reports about the conduct disclosed in the report had been forwarded to local law enforcement, and the school will comply with any criminal investigation.

“We are heartbroken by the events detailed within this report, not just the serious misconduct by three former employees but also the failure of school leaders to act when they learned that students under their care were being subjected to abuse,” the school’s statement read. “It is with heartfelt humility that we apologize for what our alumni endured as a result of their painful experiences.”

Durgin, who retired in June 2020 after leading the school since its its 2001 founding, knew about complaints of Morrone’s behavior with female students since at least 2004, investigators found.

Emma McAleavy, a 2008 graduate, told The Press Democrat this summer she made reports to school officials, including Durgin, three times over 11 years, but Durgin failed to take seriously her concerns and those of other alumni.

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