Bucks Co. boarding school ignored decades of sexual abuse, grand jury finds

    The Solebury School in rural Bucks County. (<a href=

    The Solebury School in rural Bucks County. (

    A private boarding school in Pennsylvania turned a blind eye to staff who sexually abused students for more than 50 years, according to a grand jury report released Wednesday.

    The Solebury School in New Hope, Bucks County has been under investigation since at least 2014, but the abuse dates back to the 1950s.

    Over several decades, lax oversight of faculty and a philosophy that students required little supervision created openings for predatory staff to groom students for sexual relationships, said Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub.

    “The faculty was able to run amok and to prey on the student sexually and the administration knew about it and did nothing to stop it,” he said.

    That included not disciplining or investigating any teachers when alleged abuse occurred, as well as not reporting abuse to law enforcement, according to the grand jury report. Some victims describe long-term relations with staff, beginning in their teens, and others describe single instances of being drugged and sexually assaulted.

    The grand jury heard testimony from six alleged victims and the secondhand account of a seventh. Cases from the 1950s to the 1990s are beyond the statute of limitations on sexual assault in Pennsylvania, but one person still could be prosecuted. In that case, the 27-year-old accuser has declined to press charges.

    The report describes nine Solebury teachers or officials who engaged in sometimes long-running sexual relationships with students.

    Starting in 2012, headmaster Tom Wilschutz has taken steps to institute formal policies to prevent future abuses.

    “I do believe they’re being proactive, they’re taking positive affirmative steps to make sure this never happens again,” said Weintraub of the school’s current leadership, under Wilschutz.

    Still, the report also details some steps the school could take to support past victims, such as establishing a fund to provide counseling for current and past students who have experienced sexual abuse at Solebury.

    The timing of the report coincides with the reintroduction of a bill to the Pennsylvania Senate to abolish the statute of limitations on sexual assault, something Weintraub said “may be a positive.”

    Victims advocates echoed their support for the bill.

    “This is another outrageous example of individual malice and institutional negligence,” said Kristen Houser with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). That group also argues any change to the statue should be retroactive, to allow past victims like those at Solebury, to sue.

    In a statement, Wilschutz said school leadership is reviewing the report and taking it’s suggestions to heart.

    “Our focus continues to be on ensuring that we have the most comprehensive policies, procedures and training to protect the students who are in our care, and we will review the recommendations the grand jury has made in those areas,” he said.

    The school charges its 235 students up to $55,000 a year for high school boarders and $39,000 for day students.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal