Thacher School Releases New Report on Historical Sexual Misconduct
Follow-Up Investigation Reveals New Information of Past Wrongdoing
The Thacher School in Ojai has released a supplemental report of the historical sexual misconduct at the boarding school, which addresses new information gained in the aftermath of their June 2021 report prepared by the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson (MTO).
The 170-page supplemental report by MTO includes multiple new accounts and corroboration of previous accounts of sexual misconduct at the school, as well as additional instances of inappropriate employee conduct and the school’s failure to report sexual misconduct, follow up on allegations of misconduct when reported to the administration, and hold wrongdoers accountable.
In a letter to the Thacher School community announcing the report’s release on February 13, Board Chair Danny Sonenshine, Board Student Safety Committee Chair Janie Richardson, and Interim Head of School Jeff Hooper acknowledged the school’s past offenses.
In their letter, the Thacher administrators state that the “initial report shook our community and forced us to confront our past. Its honesty and thoroughness also prompted additional reports — more than twice the number of witnesses who came forward during the first phase of the investigation.”
“The supplemental report again makes clear that we failed our survivors, and we apologize, sincerely and unequivocally,” the letter reads. “While we will never be able to adequately thank you, we are indebted to you for your courage in coming forward. Your willingness to share your painful histories has helped us better understand our past and forge a path to a stronger and safer future, one which is both informed by the knowledge that we did not do enough to protect or support you and rooted in the determination to never let that happen again.”
Ventura County law enforcement authorities requested the supplemental report’s release be delayed while they conducted their own investigation, which was spurred by the initial report’s findings and ultimately resulted in a lack of charges filed. The school said it only released MTO’s completed supplemental report after receiving the go-ahead from law enforcement once their investigation concluded.
Eight former Thacher faculty members, staff, and administrators are named as perpetrators in the supplemental report, some of which were named and included in the first report, and some of which were not. Others were given aliases. Four previously named perpetrators, including former headmaster Bill Wyman, were connected with additional incidents of sexual misconduct and new information about the school’s handling of those incidents in the new report.
According to the supplemental report, “Several former students told [MTO] that Wyman’s sexual misconduct was so pervasive and common that students, especially female students, joked and swapped stories about it.” Wyman led the school from 1975 to 1992.
Alleged employee misconduct detailed in the supplemental report includes incidents of sexual assault, inappropriate touching, inappropriate comments, and in one instance, a faculty member’s possession of pornography that adult witnesses said appeared to depict teenage boys. MTO did not receive any reports of sexual misconduct perpetrated by current Thacher employees, students, or on-campus residents.
The report also includes multiple accounts in which Michael Mulligan, who served as head of the school from 1992 to 2018, failed to hold perpetrators accountable and report incidents of sexual misconduct. Mulligan, however, declined to be interviewed by MTO for the supplemental report, despite his previous cooperation with MTO for their initial investigations.
In addition, MTO investigated the school’s handling of student sexual misconduct and the issues reported with how the former administration, including Mulligan, responded.
One account of student-on-student misconduct from the 1990s involved two female students reporting that two male students had entered their dorm room without permission and raped them. According to one of the female students, quoted in the supplemental report, she and the other student had informed Mulligan of what happened, and in response, he “told the girls to ‘think long and hard’ before associating the word ‘rape’ with Thacher and warned they would not have a leg to stand on when making rape allegations.”
According to the report, school files reflected that the boys were ultimately expelled, and the girls were suspended through their winter break. It also says that two days after the boys were expelled, Mulligan wrote letters to the boys’ parents and one of the boys “to express his support for the boys and to offer to help them as they finished high school and pursued college admission.”
Also attached to MTO’s supplemental report are the findings of an independent investigation by law firm Van Dermyden Makus — which will investigate any future reports of misconduct at the school — into the school’s handling of two student incidents from April and May 2021. In their letter to the Thacher community, Thacher board members said that while the report found “in both cases the School provided student support and resources and began the investigation process once it had sufficient information to do so, the April case was reported timely to law enforcement and the May case was not.”
The letter continues, “As is detailed in our safety enhancements, since the release of the first MTO report the School has further clarified the reporting obligations of its employees, provides robust and mandatory training on the subject, and requires that each employee (including part-time and contract employees) annually review and affirm their understanding of their reporting obligations.”
The letter also includes information on other safety enhancements and corrective actions the school has taken leading up to and since the release of MTO’s first report, stating that “MTO’s first report brought to light the urgent need for our community to reflect and improve and we continue to do so.
“Guided by our commitment to the care and safety of our students, over the past several years school leaders have implemented critical changes to sexual misconduct and harassment policies; education and awareness around all aspects of sexual misconduct prevention and reporting; community care and support; and board oversight, leadership, and accountability, all of which have made Thacher a more open, inclusive, and safe community.”
Thacher administration said they encourage anyone who wishes to report an experience of sexual misconduct or harassment do so by contacting the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office at (805) 384-4721 and Liz DeChellis of Van Dermyden Makus at (800) 515-2594 or email@example.com. They said that, “If Van Dermyden Makus determines that future reports of misconduct meet the same principles of disclosure that MTO and the Board established at the outset of their investigation, those incidents will be communicated to the Thacher community.”
They also said that the support fund established by the school with therapy related to the trauma of sexual misconduct experienced during a student’s time at Thacher also remains available. The fund is confidentially and independently managed and operated by RAINN, and alumni who wish to access these services are encouraged to call RAINN directly through either the toll-free hotline at (844) 908-4224 or the local number for international callers at (805) 243-1692.