An investigation into sexual abuse allegations at a private Maryland school found a “toxic culture” in which 10 adults sexually exploited vulnerable girls in the 1970s, according to a report released this week.

The Key School in Annapolis launched the investigation after a former student said she was abused by two Key teachers starting when she was 13 and similar accounts were shared on social media. Seven former students interviewed by The Washington Post in an article last year said they were abused while enrolled at the school.

The investigation, which the Key School launched in February 2018, concluded that faculty members, administrators and board members who were aware of the abuse chose not to intervene and failed to protect students. The report does not allege any recent incidents at the school.

According to a report released Monday, teachers took advantage of Key’s “informal and progressive social atmosphere . . . to sexually exploit students” and in many case targeted “students who were members of families suffering from various pressures resulting in less family supervision.”

The investigation was conducted by Baltimore lawyers Andrew Jay Graham and Jean Lewis at the request of the school’s administration. The lawyers did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Matthew Nespole, Key’s current head of school, and Joe Janney, president of the board of trustees, said in a letter to the school community that 10 adults in positions of authority had sexual encounters with at least 16 former students. They said the abuse was able to continue because no one intervened to stop it.

“We apologize for the school’s failures of the past and for the school’s previous inaction,” the letter said.

The school, on 15 acres a few miles from downtown Annapolis, has more than 600 students and enrols children from 2 years old to 12th grade, according to its website. Tuition at the upper school is more than $28,000 per year, and the school’s endowment is about $11 million.

A spokesman for the school declined to comment on the report beyond the letter. Anne Arundel County police declined to comment, citing an open investigation into the abuse.

The 41-page report, for which investigators said they interviewed 57 witnesses, names nine people that investigators say abused students as young as 13. Another alleged abuser was not named, because the person was also a victim, the report said.

The Post in August reported the abuse claims of Carolyn Surrick, 59, and other women who came forward decades later in the #MeToo era. (The Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Surrick and others have spoken openly about the abuse.)

Called “Witness 4” in the report, Surrick told investigators that Eric Dennard, a Key art teacher from 1969 to 1978, first had sex with her at 13 and once “forcibly raped” her. After she became pregnant at 14, another Key teacher with whom she had sexual contact took her to get an abortion, she said.

The report said Dennard “was identified by former students as one of the primary forces behind a subculture in the 1970s that encouraged sexual relationships between teachers and students alongside rampant drug and alcohol abuse.”

Investigators spoke to nine former students who said they had sexual encounters with Dennard as teenagers.

One woman, whom the report indicates eventually married Dennard, estimated that he had sex with about 25 students, the report said.

Despite rampant rumours about Dennard, the school hosted a memorial service for him in 1993 after he died of cancer. At the service, a student “publicly asked the assembled group why the school was honouring someone” who sexually assaulted her when she was 14, according to the report.

Paul Stoneham, a onetime head of Key’s upper school who worked there from 1969 to 2015, participated in and was aware of abuse but “did nothing despite his leadership position,” the report said. A woman identified as “Witness 3” said Stoneham exposed himself to her while serving as head of the upper school and forcibly tried to kiss her while giving her a ride home when she was 16.

“Stoneham evidently described the incident to Dennard as the next day Dennard told Witness 3 that she should have let Stoneham have sex with her because she was so ugly that nobody else would want to,” the report said.

Efforts to reach Stoneham for comment were not successful.

Surrick provided details about abuse to the school and Anne Arundel County authorities in 1996 but the school did not publicly or privately acknowledge the claims, the report said. Police told her they could not help, Surrick said, and the school assured her such behaviour would not happen again.

“The school, however, allowed Stoneham . . . to remain on the faculty, despite the fact that he almost certainly was aware of, and involved in, the events as they occurred in the 1970s,” the report said.

Megan Stone Venton, 60, who told The Post last year that she had sexual contact with Dennard and another teacher, said Tuesday that she struggles with the abuse on a regular basis.

“The rage has nowhere to go except toward myself,” she said. “Untold self-destruction has occurred over the years, despite daily efforts to become healed.”

Valerie Bunker, a former student who told The Post last year that she was “groomed” by Dennard, said she thought the report was insufficient after decades of inaction.

“It is too little, too late,” she wrote in an email. “There have been several opportunities for Key to do the right thing, which they ignored.”

Roz Dove, a daughter of a Key School founder and board member from 1976 to 1990, called the report “searing.”

“I heard little rumours but not these really ugly stories,” she said. “These are horrible.”

After years of fighting to bring the abuse to light, Surrick said the report was a “miraculous document.” She tried to get the school to acknowledge the abuse for more than 20 years, interviewing survivors and former staffers and posting on social media with the hashtag #KeyToo.

“This is not what I’m focused on in my life anymore,” she said. “And that’s a beautiful thing.”

The Washington Post