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Head of elite California school steps down as school is hit with ANOTHER sexual assault scandal

The head of an elite California boarding school grappling with a decades-long legacy of sexual misconduct has temporarily stepped down after it was alleged that the school covered up yet another sexual assault. 

The new allegation involves a male junior at the Thacher School who is a direct relative of founder Sherman Day Thacher. He allegedly choked a female student without her consent during an on-campus sexual encounter in May 2021, multiple sources told Law & Crime last month.

The anonymous sources claimed the student was forced out of the $68,000-a-year school at the start of the 2021-2022 school year, with school officials saying that if he didn’t leave, the matter would be included in a public misconduct report and disclosed in his college recommendations. 

The incident was not included in an eventual 91-page report compiled by a third-party law firm and released last June – though school officials were reportedly seeking to keep the allegations from being published in a yet-to-be released supplemental report.

The original document – which was commissioned as part of an attempt to grapple with the school’s legacy of misconduct – details the repeated rape of a 16-year-old student by an English teacher in the 1980s, along with more than a dozen other instances of ‘boundary crossing’ at the institution. 

Days after Law & Crime published the new claims, head of school Blossom Pidduck had already left the campus, the New York Post reports. Pidduck, 47, was herself a student at Thacher from 1989 to 1992 and has two twin girls with Brian Pidduck, who teaches environmental science at the school.

In a letter published on March 17, she came out as a survivor of sexual assault and said she is taking a leave of absence ‘for my own healing,’ with many in the community raising questions about her potential involvement in the alleged choking cover-up.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, says that the incident wasn’t reported to them until December 2021 – and disputed that the incident in question was sexual in nature. 

Sgt. Ryan Clark says the victim ‘did not have sex with the male juvenile and was not engaged in the sexual activity’ when the assault occurred. 

He told the Post that the ‘entire series of cases is currently under investigation’ and that the staff’s failure to report the incident is ‘one question we are looking at,’ given that educators are legally mandated to report student abuse to authorities. Failure to do so can carry a sentence of six months in jail. 

Head of Thacher School Blossom Pidduck, 47, has announced a leave of absence after an article revealed new sexual assault allegations at the embattled boarding school

Pidduck, a former Thacher student, says the last year-and-a-half of internal investigations and scandals at the school have left her reckoning with her own history of sexual assault

Pidduck, a former Thacher student, says the last year-and-a-half of internal investigations and scandals at the school have left her reckoning with her own history of sexual assault

Sources told Law & Crime that a direct descendant of Thacher founder Sherman Day Thacher was forced out of the $68,000-a-year school after he allegedly choked a girl during an on-campus sexual encounter

Sources told Law & Crime that a direct descendant of Thacher founder Sherman Day Thacher was forced out of the $68,000-a-year school after he allegedly choked a girl during an on-campus sexual encounter

The exclusive boarding school was at the center of sexual harassment report released last June that alleges nearly 40 years of sexual misconduct by teachers and staff, including the rape of a 16-year-old student

The exclusive boarding school was at the center of sexual harassment report released last June that alleges nearly 40 years of sexual misconduct by teachers and staff, including the rape of a 16-year-old student 

 In the letter announcing her leave this month, Pidduck wrote: ‘These have been challenging realities to confront. The findings of the MTO report have been particularly difficult for me to face as Thacher’s head of school as they have brought with them very personal realizations. 

‘Over the past year and a half, I have sought to lead the community through this painful process while guarding the hard truth of my own experience of harm.’

She added: ‘Taking a leave of absence isn’t an easy thing to do; like so many of us, I feel great pressure to prove that I can handle it all without missing a beat. 

‘But in my years as head, I have sought through my actions to bring truth to my belief that leadership draws its strength not from perfection, but from authenticity and compassion, not from knowing all the answers, but from listening and learning, from asking for and accepting help.’ 

It remains unclear if Pidduck was involved in the ousting of the student at the center of the new allegations. 

Ventura County deputies and prosecutors, meanwhile, have told the school and its law firm to refrain from releasing any new sexual misconduct reports until they’re done investigating new reports.

‘Successful criminal investigations oftentimes rely on confidentiality and the element of surprise,’ they wrote in a letter dated December 14. ‘Investigative techniques commonly employed in sexual assault cases require an ignorance on the part of the alleged perpetrator to law enforcement’s involvement.’  

The student involved in the choking incident was allegedly told he couldn’t continue his studies at the school before police had even been contacted.

He now attends a school in the mid-Atlantic, sources told Law & Crime.    

Pidduck has two twin girls with Brian Pidduck, who teaches environmental science at Thacher

Pidduck has two twin girls with Brian Pidduck, who teaches environmental science at Thacher

The elite California school gifts horses to it's students during freshman year

The elite California school gifts horses to it’s students during freshman year

The school dining halls feature views of the California mountain scape

The school dining halls feature views of the California mountain scape

Pidduck was herself a student at Thacher from 1989 to 1992, according to her LinkedIn.

She describes her most memorable Thacher camping trip in her bio on the school’s website.

‘My junior year at Thacher, day four of fall camping trips in the middle of the Hetch-Hetchy wilderness when Mr. Bird pulled out of his giant backpack a head of Romaine lettuce and the ingredients for homemade Caesar salad dressing. Perfection,’ she recalled.

Pidduck graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1996 with a degree in English. 

She got a master’s degree in education at Harvard in 1997 and took a teaching job at the Calabasas prep school Viewpoint in 1999 before joining Thacher as the chair of the English department in 2004. She has remained at the school ever since.

She is married with two twin daughters. 

In a letter to Thacher’s board in December, former trustee and parent Bill Oberndorf accused school officials of engaging in a cover-up.

‘If the MTO investigation [were] truly impartial, but did not include these recent, highly disturbing allegations, it is hard to imagine any explanation other than that the Board and the present Administration intentionally covered up these incidents of sexual misconduct,’ Oberndorf wrote. 

Pidduck was herself a student at Thacher from 1989 to 1992. She graduated from Amherst College in 1996 with a degree in English and got her master's degree at Harvard before joining Thacher in 2004

Pidduck was herself a student at Thacher from 1989 to 1992. She graduated from Amherst College in 1996 with a degree in English and got her master’s degree at Harvard before joining Thacher

Billionaire William Oberndorf and his wife Susan have donated more than $2 million to the Thacher School over the last decade. He accused school officials of engaging in a cover-up by not including the choking incident in the June sexual misconduct report

Billionaire William Oberndorf and his wife Susan have donated more than $2 million to the Thacher School over the last decade. He accused school officials of engaging in a cover-up by not including the choking incident in the June sexual misconduct report

The sprawling 150-acre campus is located just minutes from Santa Barbara

The sprawling 150-acre campus is located just minutes from Santa Barbara

The school also features a private pool and diving board for students' recreation

The school also features a private pool and diving board for students’ recreation

‘If the Board and Administration did indeed hide these allegations from MTO, that would make a mockery of the claim of an independent and impartial investigation.’

Oberndorf, a billionaire investor and philanthropist, pulled his funding from the school last year after officials stripped the name of former headmaster Michael Mulligan from the school’s buildings.

‘While the Oberndorf Foundation opposes sexual abuse and harassment of any kind, we also, as a matter of social justice, believe in due process,’ his foundation said in a statement.

In another newly revealed incident, former Thacher audit committee chair Philip Pillsbury said a student was dismissed after he was overheard using a four-letter word to describe his interest in having sex with a girl who had rebuffed him. 

The school board allegedly held a special session after the parents threatened to sue them for overreacting, according to an open letter published by Pillsbury in January.

The new allegations come after a months-long investigation concluded in a 91-page report detailing a decades-long history of sexual misconduct at the school.

The Thacher School is an exclusive $68,000-a-year boarding school, sprawled on 427 acres in Ojai, California, located some 80 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Some notable alumni include aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes and author Thornton Wilder, who wrote the celebrated play Our Town.

Arguably the most damning section of the report concerns the conduct of a popular English teacher and boys’ lacrosse and baseball coach, who came to teach at Thacher in 1985.

Pictured, the exterior of one of the campus dining hall areas

Pictured, the exterior of one of the campus dining hall areas

The campus sprawls 427 acres in Ojai, about 8- miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles

The campus sprawls 427 acres in Ojai, about 8- miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles

The Thacher School, in Ojai, California, had released an explosive report detailing 40 years of allegations of sexual misconduct and rape by staff against students

The Thacher School, in Ojai, California, had released an explosive report detailing 40 years of allegations of sexual misconduct and rape by staff against students

A Thacher alumna, identified in the document only as ‘Student A,’ who attended the elite school in the 1980s, said that she first befriended the teacher during her freshman year, when she felt homesick and ‘lost.

Their relationship took a sexual turn when the teacher allegedly kissed and touched the teenage girl without her consent after she returned from walking his dog. 

Then one night during her sophomore year, the girl, then 16, claimed that the English teacher raped her for the first time.

‘Student A told us that afterwards she was traumatized and bleeding,’ the report states.

Former Head of School Michael Mulligan was working at the school in another capacity at the time of her assault and reported it, resulting in the teacher’s immediate termination, according to Mulligan’s attorney Evan Siegfried.

In an unsent letter addressed to Mulligan at the time, the alumna described the aftermath of that first rape, which took place on the eve of the fall camping trip, writing: ‘I bled for an entire week after the first time I was raped. I was alone in the woods with my classmates with no comfort or support.’

According to the accuser, the teacher proceeded to sexually abuse and rape her multiple times a week throughout the rest of the sophomore year and into her junior year.

‘When I tried to get away from him or showed any interest in a boy my age he would either tell me horrible lies about the person or he would try to publicly humiliate me in front of other students to remind me who was in charge,’ she wrote in her unsent letter.

According to the former student, during her junior year, the teacher grew violent, once throwing her across the room with such force that she lost consciousness, and also introduced her and other students to drugs ‘as a way of having control over us…’

She continued: ‘it was a horrible, scary, hopeless time.’

The girl ultimately confided in her mother about the alleged rapes, and the woman reached out to the school, setting in motion a series of interviews with administrators and officials.

The alumna recounted how during one interview, a dean questioned her about the teacher’s actions and asked if she ‘enjoyed’ specific sex acts.

The law firm’s report stated that the dean denied asking the student if she enjoyed the sex.

Former Head of School Willard Wyman, who resigned in 1992 and died in 2014, had faced accusations of inappropriate touching and making improper comments

Former Head of School Willard Wyman, who resigned in 1992 and died in 2014, had faced accusations of inappropriate touching and making improper comments 

In the wake of the scandal, the English teacher resigned in the late 1980s. The lawyers who conducted the independent probe stated that they have found no evidence that anyone at the school ever reported the teacher’s conduct to the police.

An outside psychologist who spoke to the student after the teacher’s resignation reported possible child abuse to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, which ultimately dropped the case, stating that the ‘complainant refuses to participate.’

The psychologist who counseled the girl later wrote to the then-Head of School Willard Wyman that he and school staff had convinced the girl’s mother that it would be in her daughter’s ‘best interest not to press charges, as it would further isolate her from her peers.

The mother told the authors of the new report that Wyman pressured her not to pursue a criminal case against the teacher and conditioned her daughter’s return to Thacher on an agreement not to file a lawsuit ‘or make a fuss,’ according to the document.

The former student said she was blamed for the popular teacher’s departure, and was retaliated against by his colleagues and her peers, who believed that the relationship was consensual.

The school’s college letter of recommendation for the student included a mention of her ‘unfortunate involvement with a faculty member,’ but praised her for showing ‘resilience’ and ‘sense of responsibility.’

Wyman, who headed the school from 1975 to 1992, was also accused of inappropriate conduct involving offensive comments and touching toward female students and staff. 

According to the report, the head of school allegedly asked to students to wear ‘sexy’ clothes to a dinner party at his house and placed a hand on a teen’s backside. 

Wyman resigned in 1992, and died in 2014. 

 

 

Head of elite California school steps down as school is hit with ANOTHER sexual assault scandal Source link Head of elite California school steps down as school is hit with ANOTHER sexual assault scandal

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