Takeaways from new Sonoma Academy report on teacher misconduct, sexual abuse | #teacher | #children | #kids

Monday evening, Sonoma Academy published the full report from New York-based firm Debevoise and Plimpton, which investigated student and alumni reports of teacher misconduct at the prestigious Santa Rosa high school.

The school launched its probe after seven female graduates this summer shared their stories in a Press Democrat investigation about what they described as years of instances of inappropriate behavior and misconduct by a longtime teacher, Marco Morrone, and the inadequate response by school leaders to their complaints.

The 49-page report was based on “interviews with alumni, faculty, staff, trustees and others with relevant information, as well as a review of available documentary evidence.”

Here are five takeaways:

More students affected than previously known

“We spoke directly with 25 alumnae between the classes of 2005 and 2021 who perceived themselves as being favored by Morrone and we conclude were subject to misconduct. Based on the information available to us, we have identified a total of 34 such girls, even though they may not have spoken to us.”

Two other employees abused students

“The first adult, Shannon Rake, was an assistant coach for the girls’ soccer team at (Sonoma Academy) during the fall of 2002 and the fall of 2003. Debevoise concludes that she sexually abused one SA student on multiple occasions … The second adult, Adrian Belic, taught a short course on documentary filmmaking in January 2004, and did not return to the school after that course ended. Debevoise concludes that he sexually abused one SA student on multiple occasions and sexually abused a second SA student on one occasion.”

No reports made to law enforcement

“Debevoise did not find evidence that anyone at SA filed a mandated report about Rake (or Belic) at the time, as would be required by the State of California in the case of potential sexual of physical abuse of a minor … or that any SA employee contacted law enforcement at the time.”

Top administrator failed to inform board of Morrone’s misconduct

“The SA Board of Trustees did not have an awareness of the breadth of the allegations against Morrone. (Head of School Janet) Durgin shared with some board members one of the 2007 incidents but she did not provide the context of the prior complaints regarding Morrone’s boundary-crossing … Debevoise concludes the better practice would have been for Durgin to have provided the board chair and executive committee with the full context she had regarding Morrone’s misconduct … and to be more transparent about steps taken, or not taken, to address those allegations.”

Students dismissed, shamed for reporting

“Members of the SA administration … knew or should have known that Morrone’s inappropriate conduct continued … but took inadequate steps to monitor and investigate. Those failures led to a culture where students believed Morrone’s bahevior was sanctioned. Additionally, Debevoise concludes that SA administrators showed a pattern of dismissing students’ concerns, at least in some circumstances implicitly blaming them for the uncomfortable interactions they reported, and often accepting Morrone’s version of events without any challenge.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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