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Aug 7, 2017 3:49 PM

Despite multiple sexual assault allegations, 2 NH private schools rank top in the nation

NH1.com

Two schools in New Hampshire ranked among the best private high schools in the country despite multiple sexual assault scandals.

Niche, a website that analyzes schools and neighborhoods, placed Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter as the second best private high school in America, with St. Paul's School in Concord coming in third. The website used factors such as SAT/ACT scores, college enrollment and "millions of student and parent reviews" to determine the rankings; however, sexual assault allegations did not appear to be a factor.

Phillips Exeter Academy

Phillips Exeter Academy made national news in 2016 after a school minister proposed a student bake bread as "an act of penance" following a reported sexual assault.

READ: Phillips Exeter Victim: Punishment for alleged sexual assault was baking bread

The prosecutor called off a trial for Chukwudi Ikpeazu, of Parkland, Florida, in June after saying the case was dismissed with conditions that the female student agreed to.

Incidents of sexual assault proved to be prevalent at the academy well before 2016. In March 2016, an investigation conducted by Holland & Knight revealed that five former staff members had performed some type of sexual misconduct.

READ: Sex misconduct accusations at NH school include man convicted on child porn charges

One of these incidents dated back to 1962 and others ranged from a psychologist engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior to a drama/theater teacher allegedly videotaping students in dorm rooms and bathrooms.

Most recently, a former Phillips Exeter Academy admissions counselor who allegedly sexually assaulted a 14-year-old prospective student 43 years ago avoided jail time after pleading guilty.

READ: Ex-Phillips Exeter admissions officer, Teacher of Year admits sex assault

Arthur Peekel, 75, received a suspended 12-month sentence as part of an approved plea agreement. He had to pay a $1,200 fine and has to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.

Peekel can continue to retain his pension of nearly $76,400 a year because the charges against him were misdemeanors, said Dave Urbanek, Teachers' Retirement System spokesman.

READ: Teacher convicted of sexual assault in NH can keep pension

Despite these cases and allegations of sexual misconduct, Niche also ranked the academy as the best boarding high school in New Hampshire, the best college prep private high school in New Hampshire and the best high school for STEM in New Hampshire.

A culture and safety poll that the website conducted resulted in 83 percent of students agreeing that they feel safe at their school. The poll garnered 12 responses.

The majority of reviews rated the academy as excellent or very good, with only one review in the terrible category. This review posted in December 2014 read, "The sexual assault policy is severely inadequate, resulting in many incidents but no reports."

St. Paul's School

St. Paul's School made international news in 2014 when Owen Labrie had been accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student as part of a game of sexual conquest at the school known as "Senior Salute."

The victim, Chessy Prout, publicly revealed her identity on Today after the trial.

Labrie was acquitted in 2015 of the most serious of the sexual assault charges but was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault and child endangerment, as well as a felony computer charge that requires him to register as a sex offender for life.

READ: Owen Labrie appeals court denial of a new trial in NH private school sex assault case

Labrie filed an appeal in May after a judge denied his request for a new trial in April.

Along with this highly publicized case, St. Paul's School also came under fire following the release of a May report claiming 13 former faculty and staff members engaged in sexual misconduct dating back to the 1940s.

READ: Report: Misconduct ranged from repeated sexual relationships to rape at NH private school

Boston law firm Casner & Edwards LLP conducted an independent investigation into cases of sexual misconduct against 34 former and current faculty and staff members. The school substantiated 13 of those allegations.

Out of the accused sexual predators, five remain free, one is in prison for sexual abuse charges that stemmed from his time at St. George's School in Rhode Island, and the other seven are deceased.

READ: 5 accused sexual predators remain free after NH private school misconduct report

The Attorney General's Office announced their investigation into these claims and others in July.

READ: Sexual assault allegations at NH private school sparks AG investigation

The AG's office planned on initially focusing their investigation on the issue of whether the school engaged in conduct constituting endangering the welfare of a child.

"Protection of children is a paramount priority for law enforcement," Attorney General Gordon MacDonald has said.

Following the announcement of the AG's investigation, the head of the school announced that male students who recorded relationships with girls on a cardboard crown this spring violated campus rules but not the law.

READ: NH prep school: Relationship 'crown' violated rules, not law

The crown incident was among those cited by the AG's office when it began its investigation into the school.

A private investigation revealed that five boys violated a school rule by documenting their relationships and all had been disciplined, Rector Michael Hirschfeld said.

In spite of the school's several sexual assault allegations, Niche also ranked St. Paul's School as the best Christian high school in New Hampshire, as well as the second best boarding high school in New Hampshire and the second best high school for STEM in New Hampshire.

A culture and safety poll gathered seven votes, in which 86 percent of students agree that they feel safe at their school.

St. Paul's School, like Phillips Exeter Academy, received mainly excellent and very good ratings. St. Paul's did not receive any poor or terrible ratings, and no reviews mentioned sexual misconduct.

NH1 News reached out to Niche to find out if sexual assault allegations factored into the rankings and why or why not. We are awaiting a response.

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