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Sidwell Friends fires teacher, Robert A. "Pete" Peterson, accused of sex abuse

Robert A.
Robert A. "Pete" Peterson, 65, has been charged with sexual abuse of a minor and other sex offenses, according to law enforcement officials. (Montgomery County Police/AP)

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By Bill Turque and Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Police in Montgomery and Queen Anne's counties have charged a Sidwell Friends middle school teacher with sexual abuse of a minor and other sexual offenses, according to law enforcement officials.

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On Wednesday, the private Northwest Washington school announced that it had fired social studies teacher Robert A. "Pete" Peterson, 65.

Peterson taught seventh and eighth grades and was director of the school's Camp Corsica on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He was placed on leave shortly before the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

Peterson has not been permitted on campus or at school-sponsored events since then, school officials said. He was dismissed Jan. 14.

According to Montgomery County charging documents dated Jan. 14, Peterson befriended a male Sidwell student and repeatedly invited him to his Silver Spring home. Peterson showed the student pornography and touched him inappropriately, the charging documents say.

He is charged with sex abuse of a minor and two counts of fourth-degree sex offense, the documents say. He was released on $250,000 bond.

A phone message left at Peterson's Silver Spring home Wednesday evening was not returned, and nobody replied to a knock at his door. His attorney, Barry Helfand, said: "I think everyone has to remember that these are only allegations. We expect to challenge it in court."

Sidwell officials alerted parents and other members of the community to the actions against Peterson in an e-mail Wednesday.

"The allegations against Mr. Peterson are obviously deeply troubling," said Stephen K. Barker, interim head of the school. "We are now focusing on the needs of our students, families, faculty and staff as we begin to cope with this sad and challenging situation."

The school is using counselors to help students cope with news of the allegations. President Obama's daughters, Malia and Sasha, attend Sidwell. Sasha is 8 and is in third grade. Malia is 11 and is in sixth grade. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Peterson had been director of Camp Corsica, the school's sleep-away camp on the Chester River just outside Centreville, Md., since 1993. From 1979 until 1987, he taught fourth grade; after that, he taught middle school.

In Queen Anne's County, home to Camp Corsica, Peterson was charged with second-degree assault, fourth-degree sex offense and sex abuse of a minor, said Lt. Dale Patrick, a spokesman for the sheriff's department there. He said the charges resulted from an incident last summer involving a boy, but Patrick did not know whether the victim was the same boy as in the Montgomery County case.

Staff writers Michael Birnbaum and Michael D. Shear and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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