Milton Academy rocked by expulsions
MILTON -- A Milton Academy official said yesterday the school's decision to expel five male students for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old sophomore girl was ''excruciating" but necessary to send a strong message to students, as students and parents expressed mixed reactions to the discipline.
Three sophomores and two juniors, all members of the boys hockey team, were expelled from the picturesque private campus Friday, after a three-day school investigation found that they requested and received oral sex from a classmate in a school locker room last month, an academy spokeswoman said.
Police are investigating the incident; no one has been charged. Two uninvolved students who spoke on the condition of anonymity yesterday said the sex acts were reportedly performed by the girl as a birthday present for one of the boys, an assertion the spokeswoman said she had heard but could not confirm.
Yesterday, the mother of one ousted student said the school acted rashly, while some students said the campus is deeply divided over the punishments. Cathleen Everett, the school spokeswoman, said other parents have expressed appreciation for the discipline and the difficulty of the decision.
''Helping adolescents understand the sensitivity and respect with which they need to deal with members of the opposite sex is a challenge schools like ours take on constantly, and we take it very seriously," she said. ''When it goes awry, we have to be very clear in our response, so the response makes the severity of the situation patently obvious to children."
Milton Police Chief Kevin Mearn confirmed yesterday that detectives in his department are investigating the incident. Police expect to take statements from all five boys this week, he said.
''They still need to talk with the female student who was involved," he said. ''It's relatively preliminary at this point."
Mearn said he believed the boys were between 16 and 18 years old. In Massachusetts, a 17-year-old can be charged as an adult, said David Traub, spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Wiliam R. Keating, whose office is assisting in the investigation.
Under state law, anyone who has sexual intercourse or ''unnatural sexual intercourse" with someone under 16 can be imprisoned for life for statutory rape, even if the sex is consensual. ''There is no mechanism in the law where someone can consent before the age of 16," said Traub.
On the sprawling campus of neat brick buildings and well-tended athletic fields, where former president Bill Clinton delivered the commencement address two years ago as a favor to a friend whose son was graduating, some students tossed a football on the grassy quadrangle yesterday. Many declined to comment, saying teachers had told them not to speak with reporters.
But two juniors who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the campus had been rocked by the expulsions. The school's actions were explained to all students Friday in meetings with class deans, where students were allowed to ask questions, Everett said.
''Half the school was really furious about this, because they knew the students," said one girl, a junior. ''It depends if they're friends with the people. Some people lost five of their best friends."
The other student said she felt the school had made the right decision. Teachers had told her class that even if the girl performed oral sex willingly, there might have been more complex factors at work.
''With that ratio, from what we were told, there might be an issue with consent," the girl said. ''I don't know what other action they could have done."
Rumors about the Jan. 24 incident swirled among students, eventually reaching the ears of parents and administrators early last week, Everett said. The school followed normal procedures to investigate the incident, notifying the parents of the students involved, interviewing all six students separately, and collecting their written statements. Administrators spent much of Thursday discussing what action to take; students and parents were told of the expulsions and police were called on Friday morning, she said.
The school placed the female student on an indefinite ''administrative leave" to give the family time to discuss what happened, she said.
''No school likes to think it's at the end of its options, [but] the boys should have understood that a five-to-one situation is by definition pressurized and coercive, and you can't assume there's anything mutual about it," she said. ''It was a very long and challenging conversation for the administrators involved, where we tried to be absolutely true to the core principles of the school and at the same time sensitive to the needs of the adolescents we're trying to educate."
The mother of one of the expelled students said yesterday the school acted too quickly.
''I think there was a better way to handle it as a mother," she said in a phone interview. ''I think there are other choices they could have made. . . . I think it was a really hasty decision. It takes weeks and months for these kids to get accepted and it took less than 24 hours for this to happen. You can't think straight in 24 hours. It's nearly impossible to think straight."
The mother, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, said administrators should have considered alternatives to expulsion.
''It's a school and they're supposed to learn something and I don't know if this is the best way to teach, just to throw them out," she said.
John P. Reardon, vice president of the Milton Academy Board of Trustees, defended the school's actions.
''I have great faith in how they do things and how they go through their process," he said.
Two other prestigious private high schools in New England made headlines last year after alleged sexual misdeeds by students. At St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., 15 senior girls were disciplined for sexually-oriented hazing of younger girls. Police investigated but lacked the evidence to file charges. Trustees at the Groton School were indicted by a grand jury last summer on charges of failing to report a 1999 complaint by a 16-year-old who said he had been sexually assaulted by other students.
Milton Academy, the 200-year-old alma mater of poet T.S. Eliot and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, had escaped similar attention until last week. The school, which has a 5-to-1 student-teacher ratio, costs $25,700 a year for day students and $32,700 for boarders, according to its website, and has grown more diverse in recent years. The 680 high school students come from 23 states; half of them are women and nearly one-third are minorities.
One former student sued the school last year, saying he was humiliated by a Latino dorm adviser who chastised him for his ''white" way of thinking. In another lawsuit five years ago, a student alleged she was unfairly expelled for class absences she said were caused by her diagnosed depression.
In Milton, where the town has typically enjoyed friendly relations with the academy, reaction appeared to be muted yesterday, said Charles McCarthy, chairman of the town's Board of Selectmen.
''I think this is the kind of thing that will take a couple of weeks to sink in," he said. ''A lot more facts need to be known."
He described the relationship between the town and the academy as a cooperative one that comes with the kind of distance typical of a community with a private boarding school. Residents have grumbled about Milton Academy's tax-exempt status, but otherwise the institution is a good neighbor mostly untouched by scandal, McCarthy said.
''This is evidently a serious situation, but it's atypical of Milton Academy," he said. ''This is the first time in 10 years in town government that I've become aware of any incident of any magnitude at Milton Academy. They are normally a very placid member of our community."
On campus yesterday, one college-minded junior had sympathy for the students who were expelled.
''It's a really bad thing to have on your college application," she said. ''Expelled from Milton Academy."
Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jenna Russell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.