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Faribault's police chief on Tuesday called the 2008 suicide by a teacher accused of having an affair with a student another example of Shattuck-St. Mary's School failing to properly handle allegations of sexual misconduct.
Chief Don Gudmundson said that instead of notifying police, school officials confronted teacher and dorm director Len Jones in December 2008 about allegations of a three-year sexual relationship with a teenage female exchange student. Gudmundson said school officials let Jones go alone to get his coat, and he then shot himself to death.
Already facing scrutiny for its handling of former drama teacher Lynn Seibel, who was charged Monday with sexually abusing six boys between 1999 and 2003, the private academy insisted that it quickly and decisively dealt with the Jones situation and cooperated fully with police.
Gudmundson disagrees. "My view is that when they confronted him, it was not their place to do that. It was the place of police professionals," he said. "If police professionals were involved as we should have been, we think that tragic outcome may not have occurred because police don't allow somebody to walk away unattended."
He said police weren't notified "until they had a dead body. ... It is unacceptable, and now you have a death."
Gudmundson said the Jones incident was part of "a pattern of past history with the school" of not notifying police about possible criminal allegations, including possible sexual abuse by Seibel.
The school refused to grant interviews for a second day but responded to Gudmundson's comments on Jones' death in a statement from its public relations consultant, Jon Austin.
The release said that on Dec. 5, 2008, the school learned of the allegation against Jones. "After assessing the allegation, school officials immediately put in place a plan to remove this individual from the school so that an investigation could be conducted and appropriate notifications made." But then Jones committed suicide.
"At the scene of the suicide, the allegations in this matter were fully and immediately disclosed to the investigating officers," the statement continued. "In addition, within two days of the suicide, the school conducted two town hall meetings ... in which the allegations were disclosed and discussed openly."
Jones' former wife, Stefanie Tschirhart-Baldwin, said Tuesday that police told her in 2008 that they could have saved her husband if they had been promptly notified about the matter.
She said the school made a mistake by trying to handle it on its own. If police had confronted her husband, she said, their daughter, almost 2 years old at the time, "would have a dad."
The details of the Jones case were aired one day after former teacher Seibel, 70, was charged with 17 counts of sexual misconduct.
The charges say Seibel instigated "AP drama" sessions with teen boys that included group masturbation, other sexually explicit activities and use of pornography.
Seibel is being held in the Los Angeles County jail on unrelated child porn charges.
Gudmundson said police received some calls after Monday's news reports on the Seibel case. One caller said he had witnessed student abuse in the early 1990s, Gudmundson said. Another call was from a former student who said a different teacher abused him at Shattuck around 1980. Police interviewed that caller Tuesday afternoon, Gudmundson said.
He said the investigation continues and has included reviewing whether the school violated laws that mandate reporting of child sexual abuse.
The school confirmed on Monday that it received a complaint about Seibel in 2001, but it maintained that it investigated and found the claim to be groundless.
"The real question is what did [Shattuck officials] do after 2001?" Gudmundson said. "Did they update their policies or have training for staff or students who were away from their parents? Did they talk to students about this? I don't know."
The school responded in its statement Tuesday:
"The school has a zero tolerance policy on issues of harassment, discrimination and criminal behavior that applies to faculty, staff and students." The policies are disseminated in staff and student handbooks and made clear at annual meetings, the statement said.
Shattuck has said Seibel was terminated in 2003 after pornography was found on his school-issued computer. The school's Monday statement said its attorney confirmed that the "pornographic material" found didn't rise to a level requiring the school to report it to police.
The charges against Seibel alleged that 14,000 files or images of pornography were found, "a significant portion of which appear to be illegal child pornography." Gudmundson said the child pornography clearly should have been reported to police.
The school also maintains that it did tell police and county social services about the 2001 allegation against Seibel. Police, however, said the school had provided no credible reports of student abuse.
Meanwhile, a St. Paul law firm that specializes in child sex abuse civil cases said Tuesday it has received three calls involving former students who said they had been molested while at Shattuck.
"We got our first call a month ago," said attorney Gregg Meyers of Jeff Anderson and Associates. Meyers said two of the cases involved students who attended while Seibel was there.
Meyers said his law firm hadn't been called about the Jones case.
"It appears to be a discouraging picture that is emerging of a school that kept far too many things quiet," Meyers said.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283
Shattuck-St. Mary's is an Episcopal boarding and day school, known for its ice hockey program.
Year founded: 1858
Student body: 439, of whom 100 are day students
Average class size: 11
Annual boarding tuition for U.S. students: $40,450
Prominent alumni: Hubert "Skip" H. Humphrey III, hockey players Sidney Crosby and Minnesota Wild player Zach Parise.Source: www.s-sm.org