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May 29, 2024
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Teacher at New England boarding school accused of preying on female students

Teacher at New England boarding school accused of preying on female students

A veteran teacher at an upper-crust Massachusetts boarding and day school for girls has resigned amid allegations that he groomed several students for sex during the 30-plus years he taught at Miss Hall’s School.

Matthew Rutledge, who is 62 and mainly taught history at the school in Pittsfield, was placed on administrative leave on March 27 and resigned days later after a former student came forward and reported him to the school administration for allegedly sexually abusing and exploiting her when she was a student and after she graduated, according to a letter the school sent to alumni on April 3.

That former student, Melissa Fares, disclosed that she reported Rutledge to the school in a post on April 8 to a private Facebook group of Miss Hall’s School alumni.

Since then, two other women have come forward with claims that Rutledge also preyed on them, said one of their attorneys, Eric MacLeish of MacLeish Law.

“He was very good at exploiting girls,” MacLeish said.”

Julia Heaton, the head of school at Miss Hall’s School, released a statement Tuesday in response to the reports that two more former students were accusing Rutledge of sex abuse by stating that they are “initiating a neutral, external investigation in response to the information we have received from the courageous women who brought their experiences to the attention of the School and broader community.”

MacLeish, who is best known for representing hundreds of Catholic priests’ sex abuse victims in Boston, said “since Melissa came forward we’ve received calls from other women.”

So far, MacLeish said, three women have signed “representation agreements” with him and another lawyer working on these cases, Kristin Knuuttila of Knuuttila Law, LLC.

Founded in 1898 and located on a leafy campus in the Berkshires, Miss Hall’s School is one of the first girls’ boarding schools in New England. It’s for girls grades 9 through 12 and for those who board there the tuition is about $60,000 a year.

Miss Hall’s School has a reputation as a progressive haven where young women can get a quality education. Its keynote speaker at the school’s 125th anniversary dinner last year was Lucia Stoller Evans, a 2001 graduate of the school and a former actress who was one of the women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault.

Last week, Heaton, who’s been in her position for nearly a decade, told The Berkshire Eagle, which first broke the story about the accusations against Rutledge, that she was not aware of any other allegations against the former teacher.

Then on Monday, Nancy Ault, president of the school’s board of trustees, released a statement confirming that they have been in touch with lawyers “representing three alums who have shared that former History teacher Matthew Rutledge sexually abused and/or engaged in other sexual misconduct with them between the years 2001-2010.”

In the letter she said that Rutledge “was banned from campus and will not return.”

“We are deeply saddened by this, and we commend these women for their extraordinary courage in coming forward,” Ault wrote on Monday.

Heaton said the school has informed the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families about the situation and had also been in touch with the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office. NBC News has reached out to both agencies for comment.

Fares, a freelance journalist who at one point worked for Reuters and was an intern at The New York Times, did not return a request for comment.

“I made the decision to report to the School administration that Mr. Rutledge sexually abused and exploited me while I was his student,” Fares wrote. “He used his power and control as a teacher (and as my advisor) to groom me for his own gratification.”

She added that on March 29 she spoke with another of Rutledge’s alleged victims and they “wept together” after sharing their experiences.

Former student Alison Cowie told NBC News there were rumors about Rutledge having inappropriate relationships with students when she attended the school from 1997 to 2000.

While she didn’t have any direct issues with him, Cowie said, “I was warned that he had partnerships with some students and to stay away from him.”

Another former Miss Hall’s School student, who asked to remain anonymous because she has family ties to the school, said she was aware of rumors that Rutledge had inappropriate relationships with students when she attended the school in the early 2000s. She said she took several of his classes and that he was an excellent history teacher.

“Charismatic is the word that best describes him,” she said. “We all knew he had a wife and kids, and that gave him an air of security. He was also very popular with the other teachers. But at the same time, we all knew he was very close to some of the girls.”

Rutledge could not be reached for comment. NBC News could not locate a working phone number and his only available email was through his account at the school. In addition to being a teacher, he served as an “advisor, department chair, coach, and resident” at the school, Heaton wrote when she announced his resignation.

As for Fares, she wrote in her post that it was “very difficult for me to be writing this post, but I strongly believe that it’s necessary.”

“No sister attending our School should ever be in danger again, and all voices ought to be heard,” Fares wrote.

Corky Siemaszko

Corky Siemaszko is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital.

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