The longstanding head of Los Angeles's prestigious Marlborough School will resign next June, following a public scandal over how she handled multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by a teacher who taught at the private all-girls secondary school for over a decade.
Barbara Wagner, Marlborough's head of school since 1990, requested to resign, according to an email the Board of Trustees sent the school community on Friday afternoon. The board assembled a special investigative committee to look into the allegations following a BuzzFeed News story which brought them to light last July. (Read the entire email below.)
"This is what I always wanted," said Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie, one of the former Marlborough students who spoke to BuzzFeed News about the teacher's harassment and her frustrations with the school. "This is the best-case scenario in terms of what I realistically thought could happen."
But the lawyer for another one of the former teacher's alleged victims says he's not satisfied with the decision.
"I think there are a lot of missing details," said attorney David M. Ring, of the Los Angeles firm Taylor & Ring. "I don't think Marlborough has done much at all to reach out to these victims and really address the issue of what went on over the course of the past 10 plus years."
In July, BuzzFeed News interviewed eight former Marlborough students who said Dr. Joseph Koetters acted inappropriately toward them during the 14 years he taught English at Marlborough, Southern California's oldest all-girls private institution. Some said he made suggestive comments in person and via email. Others said he touched them on the knee on school grounds. One woman, who eventually decided not to comment on the record, said Koetters repeatedly had sex with her while she was a minor (the age of consent in California is 18).
In 2005 and 2012, two students reported Koetters to the administration. But Koetters only left Marlborough voluntarily, in 2013, to teach at Polytechnic School, another elite college-preparatory secondary school for grades 7 through 12.
Koetters left Polytechnic only after inquiries from a BuzzFeed News reporter.
The first former student to speak out publicly was Gilbert-Lurie, who graduated from Marlborough in 2013 and wrote an essay for the website Xojane in June about the flirtatious emails Koetters sent her. Koetters also put his hand on her knee, she said, and refused to leave her alone, even after she asked him to stop contacting her.
Gilbert-Lurie and her parents reported Koetters' behavior to the school in 2012. Marlborough sent Koetters to sexual harassment training and took away his long-held English chairmanship, but didn't fire him, since, administrators said at the time, this was a first-time offense.
Gilbert-Lurie didn't name Koetters in her Xojane essay, but alumni contacted her within days to tell her they knew exactly who she was talking about. BuzzFeed News interviewed most of them, including one alumna from the 2000s who detailed more serious allegations of repeated physical contact. She withdrew from the story in July because she was considering legal action. She has since cooperated with the school's investigation, said Ring, her attorney.
"What he did to this girl in the 2000s is outrageous, and yet, they've just glossed it over," said Ring. "He sexually assaulted this girl and exploited her many, many times."
After the BuzzFeed News article and subsequent other media coverage, as well as allegations reported directly to the school, Marlborough's Board of Trustees assembled a Special Investigative Committee to look into the allegations, chaired by Trustee (and parent) Debra Wong Yang, a former United States Attorney, retired California state judge, and former Los Angeles Police Department commissioner.
On Friday, Nov. 14, at 4:45 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the Board of Trustees sent an email to students, alumni, and other members of the community updating them on the Committee's findings, the majority of which were outlined by BuzzFeed News in July.
"The SC investigation revealed a pattern of misconduct by Koetters, including instances of improper physical contact and communications with multiple Marlborough students," the Trustees wrote. "The investigation also identified mistakes in judgment by Barbara Wagner, our Head of School, in responding to allegations of misconduct. Finally, it revealed the need to improve School policies, procedures, and training as well as to increase Board oversight."
Marlborough will increase training for faculty, staff, and students, establish a hotline for anonymous reports, improve internal processes, and mandate the reporting of sexual harassment allegations between a faculty or staff member and a student.
Head of School Barbara Wagner will also resign.
Wagner spent 25 years at Marlborough, 24 as head of school. In 2007, the Wall Street Journal named her one of the country's most highly compensated heads of school (She made $475,000 from 2004-2005).
"The Board is indebted to Barbara Wagner for her significant contributions and twenty-six years of dedication to Marlborough School," the Trustees wrote. "Nevertheless, Ms. Wagner has requested to resign effective June 30, 2015, and the Board has agreed to accept her resignation. We are working together to ensure that the transition to a new Head of School is accomplished in as smooth and orderly a manner as possible. Ms. Wagner will have the support of the administration and Board throughout the remainder of the school year."
For Gilbert-Lurie, accountability is long overdue.
Wagner's resignation will not "make up for what [Koetters] did to young women for years and years, but it's still a huge victory," Gilbert-Lurie said.
Contact the reporter at Katie.Baker@Buzzfeed.com.
Katie Baker is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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