A private school in Maryland has launched an investigation into allegations that a culture of sexual abuse flourished decades ago with administrators' knowledge.
Multiple former students told The Washington Post they were groomed and sexually abused by teachers in the 1970s at Key School in Annapolis, and in some cases had intimate contact with adults that lasted years.
Two Baltimore lawyers are leading the investigation into the alleged misconduct at the school, which serves students from prekindergarten through 12th grade. Matthew Nespole, the current head of school, said in a statement this month that a February review of the allegations indicated former Key officials failed to protect students.
"It appears that members of the Key community neglected to respond appropriately to contemporaneous reports made by former students of faculty misconduct that includes the sexual victimization of students," the statement said. "I offer my deepest sympathy to the victims and survivors and sincerely hope the investigation will help us begin the healing process."
Joe Janney, president of Key School's board of trustees, said in a statement that the allegations are "credible and . . . extremely upsetting."
"The behavior of many of the accused is inexcusable and intolerable," the statement said. "On behalf of the Key School, we deeply regret what occurred and apologize to all who were impacted by this."
The allegations surfaced after 59-year-old Carolyn Surrick, who said she was abused by two Key teachers starting when she was 13, fought for years to shine a spotlight on her story and those of other accusers.
She wrote about the alleged abuse on social media in January using the hashtag #KeyToo - a reference to the #MeToo movement in which women have spoken out about sexual harassment and assault. One other accuser had spoken publicly before Surrick's campaign this year, but five additional women later came forward.
They do so at a time when institutions across the country - schools, churches and businesses - are reexamining how they have handled sex allegations over time.
Decades after the alleged abuse, the Key School stories, long whispered about, are being addressed by the school for the first time publicly. Some of the alleged perpetrators are dead or incapacitated, and it's not clear whether those who are living could be prosecuted.
"Because of what's going on - what's gone on in America - it's possible to get people to come forward, be present, and to shine a bright light," Surrick said.
Surrick and other accusers said it was widely known that some Key teachers had sex with underage students. Some teachers were fired after complaints from students or parents, according to interviews with accusers. But many stayed in the classroom, continuing the alleged abuse. The accusers, now in their 50s and 60s, say the school has yet to confront the scope of the behavior, its effects still felt more than four decades later.
In all, seven former students have come forward to say they were sexually abused by teachers in the 1970s. The women said the abuse occurred while they were enrolled at the progressive coed school, located on 15 acres a few miles from downtown Annapolis.
Founded in 1958 by tutors at nearby St. John's College, Key was known for its informal atmosphere and curriculum that is based on the college's famous "Great Books" program. Key School had no dress code, classes were small and students were close to their teachers.
The school today has more than 600 students with an average class size of 16, according to its website. Tuition at the upper school is more than $28,000 per year, and the school's endowment is $12.5 million.
Anne Arundel County police say they've received no reports of any recent inappropriate conduct at the school.
Key isn't the first private school to have a culture of sexual abuse uncovered decades later. Scores of students were abused over decades at Horace Mann School in New York, a report commissioned by a group of the school's alumni showed after the allegations were revealed in 2012. Last year, Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut acknowledged that 12 former teachers molested students in the 1960s, and in 2016, the Boston Globe found that 67 private schools in New England faced accusations of sexual misconduct since 1991.
The investigation into the allegations at Key will be conducted by Baltimore lawyers Andrew Jay Graham and Jean Lewis. The lawyers said in a statement they will investigate "alleged instances of adult sexual misconduct involving students at the Key School." Graham recently represented a police officer acquitted of murder in the case of Freddie Gray, whose death in 2015 triggered demonstrations and looting in the city.
David Badger, a headmaster at Key for about five years in the mid-1970s, said in a phone interview he fired "two, maybe three" faculty members during his tenure for what he called "fairly demonstrative allegations of sexual activity" with students.
"It was a very awkward time. I guess I kind of lost control of the faculty at some point," Badger said. "I thought they were good teachers. I thought they were honest people. I think I was naive as hell."
Megan Stone Venton, 60, said she was 16 when a teacher approached her for sex.
She said she had sexual contact with two teachers, whom she identified as Eric Dennard and Peter Perhonis, while she was a student. She said Dennard, an art teacher, asked her to perform oral sex in 1975 during a trip to an Eastern Shore bird sanctuary when she was 17. She said sex with Perhonis began when she was 16 and lasted into her 20s.
"I was just under his thumb for decades," Venton said of Perhonis. "It's only been in the past - since my daughter became the age I was - that I really woke up about it all. I'm full of outrage now."
Dennard, accused of sexual abuse or misconduct by six women who spoke to The Post, died of cancer in 1993. Perhonis, who has Parkinson's disease, lives at an assisted-living facility in Massachusetts and requires round-the-clock care. A family member who serves as medical proxy said the disease causes hallucinations and makes it difficult for him to have a coherent conversation.
"I believe you could interview him," the family member said. "He'll tell you something. I don't know how much confidence I'd have whether it is true or not."
The Post reviewed a letter Perhonis wrote to Venton in 1976, which Venton said she kept partly because she feared him.
"I hope you'll come by at Thanksgiving and visit," he wrote a month after she turned 18. "If you're still interested in sleeping with me, I'll be here - if not, I'll still be here."
Venton said when she was a student she told a staff member - Paul Stoneham, who retired from Key in the past few years - about Perhonis, and Stoneham told her he already was aware of it.
"He said, 'I know, baby, I've got eyes,' " Venton said.
Annie Applegarth, 58, said Stoneham "made a full-on aggressive attack" on her in 1977, when she was a junior, and "made every attempt to do a full-on aggressive rape."
Stoneham, who public records indicate is 70 or 71, did not respond to repeated phone calls and a letter sent to an address in Annapolis found in public records seeking comment. He also did not respond to a message left at an apartment in Annapolis where his name is listed on the directory.
Applegarth also said two teachers exposed themselves to her at the school, including Dennard, who she said would sometimes "drop his pants" while bragging of his sexual exploits with other students.
"Eric Dennard was a big proponent of showing how fabulous his penis was all the time," she said.
Applegarth said she reported the behavior to another teacher, but nothing was done. She said she was inspired to come forward after hearing the story of Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics physician who was accused by hundreds of women and girls and convicted of sexual assault last year.
"Now I'm a 58-year-old woman who would like to hear, 'I'm sorry,' " she said.
Sarah Conway, 55, a former student, said she had sex with Dennard and a former female student, who also worked at the school, beginning in 1978 when she was 14. The arrangement, which she characterized as an "open secret," lasted for at least 18 months.
It continued after Dennard, who married the former student, left the school for reasons that aren't clear. (The Post isn't naming the former student. Her attorney says she also was a victim of abuse.)
Conway said she stood up during a memorial service for Dennard in 1993 and spoke about how his behavior affected her, and later met with school officials. She was told nothing could be done.
"There was no sense of institutional responsibility," she said of the school.
Conway detailed the allegations in an Anne Arundel County police report filed in 1997 - a heavily redacted version of which was obtained by The Post. She spoke to police after Ronald Goldblatt, then headmaster of the school, sent a letter to the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, indicating "he was reporting that [redacted] had possibly been the victim of sexual child abuse while she was a student at Key," according to the report. Goldblatt didn't respond to telephone messages left for him.
The report continued: "She attended the service and publicly denounced Denard [sic] to those in attendance and related to them how he had abused her. She received a phone call from Mr. Goldblatt who apologized for her bad experience at Key School and related that he was unaware of the school's hostory [sic]."
The report indicated the case was closed because Dennard was dead. An Anne Arundel County police spokesman said that "the female wanted no further police action."
Goldblatt also detailed claims of abuse in a 1997 letter to the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.
Another woman, Valerie Bunker, 59, detailed what she called "grooming" by Dennard and another student that Bunker estimated began when she was a 16-year-old sophomore and the other student was a senior. Bunker would drink with them in downtown Annapolis bars, and Dennard would "try to set me up with different people," she said.
"We all crawled in bed together - the three of us," she said. "The two of them seduced me together. . . . It continued for years. It was our thing."
Bunker never reported the abuse, because having an affair with a teacher conveyed "rock star" cachet at Key, she said. She didn't think of herself as a victim until she had children of her own.
Now, she's angry. A history of abuse - at Key and elsewhere - has made it difficult to trust others. She said she's been hospitalized in psychiatric facilities three times under suicide watch.
"Your whole life trajectory is now changed," she said. "Imagine if those teachers had taken me under their wing and pushed me toward something great."
Bunker said she also had sex with another teacher, Vaughn Keith, while a student. Keith, who later taught at St. Albans School in the District of Columbia and died of AIDS complications in 1990, according a Post report at the time, often hosted parties where Key students and teachers mixed, she said.
Badger, the school's headmaster in the mid-1970s, said Keith was one of the faculty members he fired over allegations of sexual activity.
Surrick, whose social media comments helped trigger the Key investigation, said she first had sex with Dennard in 1972 when she was 13. She became pregnant with his child at 14, she said, and he paid for an abortion.
She said she had sex beginning at age 14 with Richard Sohmer, a music teacher at Key, and she and Sohmer were members of a Renaissance musical group called Nymphs and Satyrs. Another former Key student in the group, Robin Bisland, said she also had sex with Sohmer, beginning when she was 16 and continuing into her 20s.
When Bisland told her father, who was a Key board member, about it, he had Sohmer fired from the school, she said. Sohmer had already been warned by the school once, she said - about sex with Surrick.
Bisland, now 60, said the abuse still affects her. Sohmer didn't respond to phone calls and letters seeking comment sent to a Massachusetts address found in public records.
Many former Key students who spoke to The Post said dating teachers wasn't just socially acceptable but also conferred social status.
Cari Nyland said she began having sexual contact with Key teacher Bill Schreitz the summer before her senior year in 1975 at age 16. It began during a backpacking trip that other students attended, she said.
In an email, Schreitz said the physical contact occurred in the summer of 1975 after he left Key in the spring.
"My understanding is that your story is about sex abuse at Key, presumably by Key School teachers teaching at Key School while simultaneously being sexually involved with their students," he wrote in an email. "That was not my situation. Key School was not responsible for my actions. That responsibility was mine alone."
Nyland also said Dennard put his hands in her pants at his home when she was in ninth grade.
"There was the culture of the school - if you were willing to go out with a teacher, that was considered a great thing to do," Nyland said. "Why would you look to someone your own age when you could go out with an older man?"
Surrick said she reported the allegations to a board member in 1993 and the school's headmaster in 1996. She reported incidents to Anne Arundel County police in 1996 and met with six board members in 1997.
Police told her they couldn't help, and the school assured her such behavior would not happen again, Surrick said.
"They said, 'We're not going to do anything,' " Surrick said. " 'It's a different school now.' "
Roz Dove, a daughter of a Key School founder, attended the school in the 1960s from third grade to eighth grade, when she was president of her class. She left Key for high school, then joined its board from about 1976 until 1990.
Dove said she has no firsthand knowledge of sexual misconduct at Key, but rumors - even jokes about the behavior - were pervasive. She said she regretted having been "a little blase" about what she said was "common knowledge" of abuse.
"I wish I had done more," Dove said. "At the time, did I think anything about it? I did not."
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The Washington Post's Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.
BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. - Pastor Paul was nursing a sore throat, but as he preached on a sleepy Sunday morning in his little country church, he felt a rising sense of urgency.
"Turning points!" the Rev. Paul Wilson shouted. Like the Biblical Paul on the road to Damascus, he said. Like his church community was facing now.
Just down the road, across the rolling fields and woodlands where most of his congregation grew up, the most powerful corporation in Virginia plans to build a natural gas compressor station. Dominion Energy's facility is integral to the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will tunnel under the nearby James River and march across the county.
The pipeline has drawn protests along its planned path from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina. But the Union Hill community in Buckingham County, founded after the Civil War by freed slaves and near the geographic center of the state, is the only place in Virginia that faces the additional issue of a compressor station.
Federal documents say such stations - which keep the gas flowing - emit toxic chemicals that can harm health. They can be noisy, and they light up at night. Once in a great while, such facilities explode - causing damages and fatalities for a significant distance all around.
State regulators say Dominion has promised to take extraordinary steps to make the compressor station safe. Federal authorities say the station will have minimal impact because the area is sparsely populated. Dominion has touted economic benefits to the low-income county, claiming the 68-acre site will generate as much as $1 million a year in tax revenue.
The easiest path forlocal residents would be to shrug and accept it. But Wilson, who preaches on alternating Sundays at two Baptist churches in Union Hill, is leading his community down the harder path.
"They've approached us in the historical manner that big business and government approach communities such as ours," Wilson said, "and that manner has always been that 'we're going to do what we want to do.' "
Next month, after at least two years of marches and rallies, even getting arrested in Richmond to draw attention to their plight, Wilson and his community face what could be a final opportunity to try and prevent the compressor station. The State Air Pollution Control Board will hold a September hearing in Buckingham County as it considers a vital air permit due by the end of the year.
The choice to resist has put Wilson and his congregation in step with an unlikely group of allies. As he neared the end of his sermon this past Sunday at Union Grove Baptist, Wilson noticed a figure in orange just inside the entrance to the church.
"Swami Dayananda!" Wilson exclaimed at a diminutive woman with short gray hair and the robes of a Hindu monk. She had stopped by from the nearby ashram of Yogaville, bearing diet books to help the reverend in his quest to lose weight, and looking to plan their road trip the next day to meet with civil rights leaders and environmentalists at a conference in North Carolina.
If nothing else, the looming threat of the pipeline and compressor station has wrought one small miracle in Union Hill: The Baptists and the yogis have come together.
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Yogaville used to draw considerable suspicion around Buckingham County. Founded in 1979 by Sri Swami Satchidananda as a retreat for the study and practice of yoga, the 660-acre site on a bend in the James River welcomes as many as 8,000 guests a year.
It features a dramatic lotus-shaped shrine on an artificial lake that serves as an international interfaith center, with altars commemorating all the world's religions. "Many paths, one truth," was the outlook advocated by Satchidananda, who died in 2002 and is interred on the property.
The pipeline will cross under the James River alongside the Yogaville property. Building it will require blasting through bedrock. Residents at Yogaville, like everyone else nearby, rely on well water and worry about what could happen to their supply. Construction will disturb the tranquility of the site, and the finished pipeline will leave a 50-foot-wide bare path across the scenic landscape.
Despite their shared concerns, the Baptists at Union Hill were initially wary of Yogaville. Then Pastor Paul, as everyone calls him, paid a visit.
Wilson, 65, has been preaching at the Buckingham churches nearly two decades. Hecalls himself an evangelical, apostolic, pentecostal preacher who believes the Bible is the literal word of God. So when he went to Yogaville a couple of years ago, he was unprepared for what he experienced.
Standing on a hilltop next to a shrine to Lord Siva Nataraja, looking down across the pink and blue Lotus building, Wilson was lifted by a sense of holiness. When he went into the Lotus shrine and saw its altars to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many other faiths, he was overcome.
"All I wanted to do was pray and cry," Wilson said. "Because that place is spiritual . . . That was a major turning point for me over there."
He struck up a friendship with Swami Dayananda, 70, who has been at Yogaville more than 30 years. Eventually, he invited her to speak from the pulpit.
"I spoke about non-violence," Dayananda said. "I would be saying a few sentences and they'd be saying 'amen!' You know, I've never had [such] an experience - it was so uplifting!"
Church members began to grow accustomed to guests from Yogaville showing up at services and joining with them for potluck dinners. Charles White Sr., 88, recalls when two Gulf War veterans in the neighborhood expressed anger about the yogis in their midst.
White said he took the two to visit the Lotus shrine and see its message of religious tolerance. "Guess what one of those boys said? He said, "You know, if the whole world was like this, I wouldn't have been over there having people shooting at me.' "
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No one knows more about the forces that shaped Union Hill than White, who poured a lifetime of research into a book about blacks in Buckingham County called "The Hidden and the Forgotten."
White was inspired partly by the life of local native Carter Woodson, one of the first scholars to study African American history, to unearth the heritage of a place where blacks outnumber whites but were largely invisible in the public record.
It was difficult work. The county courthouse, designed by Thomas Jefferson, burned in 1869. Slaveholder records were destroyed.
White found that descendants of slaves were sometimes reluctant to dig up the past, and in some cases still lived alongside descendants of the white families that had owned the local plantations.
One plantation, known as Variety Shade, gave rise to the Union Hill community, White said. The plantation's families founded Mulberry Grove Baptist Church in the late 1700s, and brought their slaves with them on Sunday mornings to worship outside under a "brush arbor."
After the Civil War, those black Baptists started their own church - Union Hill Baptist, which later spun off the nearby Union Grove.
It was the descendants of the owners of Variety Shade - which lapsed into disrepair and was demolished by the 1970s - who sold a 68-acre plot to Dominion for construction of the gas compressor station.
A few years ago, community members discovered that the woods around the Variety Shade property are pocked with old graves. Hundreds of them, most unmarked, some with simply a rock at the head, a handful with crudely made headstones. Generations of slaves and their descendants lay forgotten under a thick carpet of leaves.
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Dominion says it is careful to avoid those burial grounds in plans for the pipeline and compressor station.
"We have a profound respect for the Union Hill and Yogaville communities," Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said in a lengthy email detailing the company's efforts. "We believe this pipeline is going to help build a better economic and environmental future for Buckingham County and communities across Virginia."
The company estimates that property tax revenue will jump more than $1 million a year, though it does not spell out how. It has offered to create a natural gas tap for a local industry that it says can help boost efforts to create an industrial park.
Through community input, Ruby says the company has modified plans for the compressor station - adding sound buffers and landscaping to conceal the facility from neighboring houses. It also promises to install "some of the strongest emission controls ever used by the industry to keep air emissions far below regulatory limits."
Environmental advocates say the federal permitting process gave short shrift to local concerns. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's 800-page environmental impact statement makes one mention of the compressor station's impact on Union Hill's "history of African-American settlement after the Civil War." But it says this is no problem because the pipeline's builders found that the area "does not exhibit a cohesive cultural landscape."
The lack of attention to history makes it seem "as if [the project] were to be built on the moon," Lakshmi Fjord, a visiting scholar in the anthropology department at the University of Virginia, wrote in a response to the federal report.
The report says compressor station emissions could include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds, and it notes that African American populations are more susceptible to related asthma.
But it concludes that Union Hill is not populous enough to be of concern.
That's based on Census data suggesting a local population density of about 28 people per square mile and a minority percentage of less than 50 percent. But Fjord says those numbers are wrong.
She and student volunteers from U-Va. have been surveying households in a one-mile radius of the proposed station. Though they have not finished, they have already identified 158 people living in that zone, and 129 of those people are minorities.
Opponents are racing to prepare their data for next month's public hearing of the Virginia State Air Control Board, hoping to thwart a permit that's necessary for work on the station to begin. Giving them heart: Recent federal court rulings that found other aspects of the pipeline permitting process to have been hasty or inadequate.
Gov. Ralph Northam, D, has frustrated pipeline opponents by proclaiming himself an environmentalist but failing to oppose the project. Like other Virginia politicians of both major parties, Northam has taken thousands in campaign donations from Dominion. But his administration says it is monitoring the compressor situation.
"We're listening to them," said state Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler, who has attended meetings in Union Hill. The draft air quality permit being considered next month "is designed to be one of, if not the most, restrictive compressor station permits in the country. [The state] is holding Dominion's feet to the fire."
As outside attention has started to focus on Union Hill, Dominion has contracted with a community liaison to explore ways the company can foster goodwill: Basil Gooden, who served as state agriculture secretary under former governor Terry McAuliffe, grew up in Union Hill.
He did not return voicemail asking for comment, but residents say they have talked with him about things such as scholarship funds, a recreation center, maybe even a fund to help landowners who want to sell but can no longer get full value. "We've heard a lot of good ideas, and we're exploring a number of them with community leaders and residents," said Ruby, the Dominion spokesman.
Even Charles White Sr., who adamantly opposes the project, said that if it is inevitable, the community is right to see what it can get in return. Maybe those burial grounds, he said, could be cleaned up and given some respect.
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Pastor Paul is well aware that Dominion has a lot of resources to spread around. He preaches about it.
"You know when folks start waving a few dollars that sure confuses a whole lotta folks," he told the congregation last Sunday.
These days Wilson always has the pipeline and compressor station in his mind when he preaches. He looks out at his aging, dwindling flock, and sees people who need to be reminded that they still count for something.
On Sunday he talked to Union Grove about the apostles Peter and John being arrested for healing a man. Brought before the most intimidating authorities of the land, they were asked, how dare they defy the law?
"There's a turning point," Wilson said. Peter, filled with spirit, replied that he was acting with God's authority. "Listen!" Wilson said. "It does not matter who you are. It doesn't matter where you come from." If you speak with moral righteousness, he said, you can face anyone.
"And y'all know I'm going to say something about the pipeline and the compressor. Y'all knew that was coming, didn't you?" he said from the pulpit. "When we question things about our water quality - listen! - and about the environment, when we question things about animal habitats, when we question things about land erosi . . . we better make sure that the answer is coming from God."
After the service, Wilson huddled with Swami Dayananda and Susan Liebl, another Yogaville resident. The three would travel the next day to North Carolina for an environmental justice summit with Rev. William Barber II, in hopes of getting him to journey to Union Hill to rally support.
Earlier this year, Wilson hosted the famed singer Krishna Das at Union Hill Baptist, and Yogaville and church members have been holding weekly prayer vigils - scaled back lately to monthly because of church revival season.
John Laury, 74, is a deacon at Union Grove who initially watched all this with dismay. He spent three decades in California before retiring to 98 acres near the Buckingham farm where he grew up. He was hoping to enjoy his cows and the changing seasons. Yogaville and the pipeline were distractions.
But no more.
"Yogaville - they've been with us," he said at home after church. His wife, Ruby, was preparing to go out collecting signatures for people to speak at the upcoming state hearing. "God loves all of us," John Laury said. "We're in it until the end. It's the resistance, standing against injustice."