Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 7, 2013

Elite prep school investigating ex-headmaster's conduct


CNHI

— NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — An elite college-preparatory school in Massachusetts has disclosed it has been investigating a former longtime headmaster for possible inappropriate conduct with students and male escorts.

The inquiry by the Brooks School in the Boston suburb of North Andover was initiated six months ago after school officials said they received anonymous disturbing emails about sexual activities involving Lawrence W. Becker, headmaster at the school from 1986 to 2008.

The school confirmed that so far it has determined Becker had been engaged in an improper relationship with at least one student years ago, and also that on two occasions he had hired male escorts, once while traveling on school business.

It was also revealed that Steve Forbes, the New York publishing executive who twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination, was made aware of the student relationship as the then president of the Brooks School Board of Trustees but chose not to report it to authorities.

Forbes, an alumnus who served as board president from 1987 to 1997, issued a statement saying he referred the matter to the school’s legal counsel, that sexual abuse was not involved, and that “appropriate action was taken” at the time.

Nevertheless, school officials in a letter to alumni and parents urged anyone with knowledge of any inappropriate conduct by Becker to contact Head of School John R. Packard at headofschool@brooksschool.org or call (978) 725-6239.

The letter described Becker’s conduct with the student as “objectionable, manipulative, and an abuse of his position,” and raising “grave concerns” that led to the investigation of his conduct.

Becker, 71, now a resident of Bonita Springs, Fla., was hired as Brooks’s headmaster over more than 80 candidates. He was then the assistant headmaster of another prestigious college-prep school, the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Becker said public disclosure of the Brooks investigation “causes me and my wife great pain, sadness and embarrassment.”

He added that by including information about his private life “and given the current climate in schools today, it encourages serious questions and speculation about my relationships with students over the years. I have worked with thousands of students and faculty members in two outstanding schools for over four decades. They know the answers to those questions. I leave the responses to them.”

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for the Brooks School, said the school found it necessary to publicly announce its investigation and to invite others with information that might be helpful to come forward because of the school’s changed attitude toward improper conduct.

She said the concern involving Becker’s relationship with a student years ago was kept internal until now because “it was the way these situations were handled in the past, but it would not be the way it would be handled today.”

She also acknowledged the student was not the anonymous author of the emails that triggered the investigation and, furthermore, that the student was satisfied with how the school had resolved the relationship with Becker.

The emails, Schwartzman said, were sent by a male escort hired by Becker in the fall of 2011, three years after he had departed the Brooks School, and contained threats tied to a sexual encounter. She said Becker initially denied knowledge of the e-mails but later admitted he was aware of them.

Further investigation turned up a 2004 incident with another male escort who had contacted the school claiming Becker had engaged in “inappropriate sexual behavior” while on a school business trip.

Schwartzman said at the time Becker “provided an account of his activities which, we now know, was untrue” and that the former headmaster had indeed hired a male escort while traveling for the school.

Brooks School was founded in 1926 by Rev. Endicott Peabody, an Episcopal priest who was a close friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Peabody's namesake grandson became governor of Massachusetts. Current enrollment at the school is 369 students.

Thus far no civil or criminal complaints or lawsuits have been filed against the Becker or the Brooks School.

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Details for this story were provided by The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.