ROCKPORT — As Rockport schools investigate a guidance counselor in the wake of two past sexual fondling accusations at a private school where he formerly worked, local parents are patiently awaiting investigation results.
Though many Rockport parents were disgruntled to have first learned of the investigation of current middle school counselor Howard J. Kasper through the media on Wednesday, many were relieved to receive a letter from new Superintendent of Schools Robert Liebow by Wednesday afternoon, one local pastor said Thursday.
Pastor Matt Wigton of the First Baptist Church of Rockport said Liebow’s letter cleared up confusing rumors for parents in his congregation.
“There was just confusion with some of our church members when they received rumors and links ... The source of the news was a little bit alarming for some people,” Wigton said. “Certainly the letter from the superintendent helped clear things up for people.”
Rockport schools have been investigating the situation for more than a week after Beverly’s private, residential Landmark School for learning disabled children, where Kasper allegedly fondled two students, notified Liebow on July 24 of the alleged incidents, according to Liebow. Rockport schools first informed parents of the investigation Wednesday afternoon, after the allegations first surfaced in an investigative story in that morning’s Boston Globe. The Times also posted a story on the allegations and investigations Wednesday afternoon.
Rockport School District lawyer Naomi R. Stonberg of Boston-based Brody Hardoon Perkins & Kesten, LLP said Thursday that the schools had yet to inform parents of the investigation when the story broke because the investigation was still in its early steps, and the school needed to protect the accused individual’s rights.
“We were in the process of commencing an investigation. The individual has due process rights,” Stonberg said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Stonberg said that, if the investigation had arisen during the school year, administrators “might have had to do something else,” but the school is actively looking into the decades-old reports now, while Stonberg will interview Kasper Monday as part of the investigation.
Liebow said he notified parents as soon as he was able to, following legal precautions. He said that the schools’ summer vacation time allowed officials to begin a thorough investigation before acting.
“I think that school not being in session allowed us to follow a slightly different timeline than if school had been in session,” Liebow said.
Kasper has been accused of allegedly fondling two students at Landmark School, where he worked from 1977 until he joined the Rockport school system in 2000.
The alleged incidents of inappropriate touching are alleged to have occurred in 1979 and 1984 respectively. There are no reports of any such allegations ever being raised in Rockport, and Kasper’s employment status with the Rockport School District has not changed, Liebow has said.
One of the alleged victims, Colorado businessman David G. Breed, told the Salem News in a telephone interview Wednesday that Landmark ignored his allegations when he approached two faculty members at different times. Breed told a faculty member of the abuse in 1992 when visiting the school, then, in later years, told Landmark President and Headmaster Robert J. Broudo, Breed said.
“They never did any investigation of it at all, and they never brought it back up with me again,” Breed said.
Broudo, in a Tuesday letter to the Landmark school community, wrote that, when the former student, as an adult, told Broudo of the allegations, Broudo confronted the faculty member who “vigorously denied” the allegations.
Broudo wrote that, when he told the alleged victim and former student of the denial, the alleged victim and former student “chose not to pursue the matter then.” The Times previously reported Broudo wrote that Breed had told Broudo of the assault as a 13-year-old, but Breed did first report the incident until he was an adult, according to Broudo.
Breed told the Salem News that visits to the building where the alleged fondling took place sparked bad memories, causing Breed to come forward and report the incident for the first time as an adult.
Breed also described the alleged incident to the Salem News reporter:
“He had me lay down on the floor, and he started rubbing my chest and pushing my shirt up,” he said. “He completely — for lack of a better term — he was completely freaking me out ... I was 13 years old. Finally, his hand started diving down underneath my belt line, and I was out of there like Wile E. Coyote.”
Thursday, many Rockport parents, like Parent-Teacher Organization member Diane Ambrose, questioned the allegations against Kasper and said Kasper has been an asset to the school, acting as a trustworthy mediator between parents, kids, and teachers.
“As a parent of three children in the Rockport school system I have only witnessed nothing but professional and positive situations with Mr. Kasper,” Ambrose said. “My family is thinking of him and his family during this difficult time.”
Yet one parent, who asked to remain anonymous because her son attends the middle school, said that, though she feels assured that the school is handling the investigation properly, she would like to see more action.
“The school probably had to do diligence with their attorney, and I can appreciate that,” she said. Still, the parent said, she hopes the school will act swiftly.
“My son is irate about the whole situation and afraid to go back to school,” she said. “We need to lean on the side of caution, because (these are) our children.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.