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The head of an all-girls prep school attended by the children of countless Hollywood luminaries is resigning after an investigation determined she failed to properly respond to students’ allegations that a teacher made inappropriate contact with them.
The Marlborough School announced Barbara Wagner had requested to resign, effective June 30, 2015. The school revealed the news while releasing the findings to a lengthy independent investigation into reports of the teacher’s misconduct.
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The school’s board of trustees formed an investigative committee earlier this year in response to an online essay former student Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie published in June 2014. In the essay, Gilbert-Lurie recounted having an inappropriate relationship with English teacher Dr. Joseph Koetters when she was in 11th grade. Koetters, who was 45 and married with children, allegedly told her he was in love with her. GIlbert-Lurie and her family complained to Wagner in 2012.
According to the board of trustees’ investigation, Gilbert-Lurie provided Wagner with numerous emails Koetters had sent her. Wagner agreed these emails were inappropriate, but after consulting with the school’s then-president of the board and its legal counsel, she allowed Koetters to remain employed with the school, under the stipulation that he would cease contact with Gilbert-Lurie and receive anti-harassment training.
Gilbert-Lurie, now a student at the University of Pennsylvania, is the daughter of prominent entertainment attorney Cliff Gilbert-Lurie, a senior partner at Ziffren Brittenham, and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a politically active figure in Los Angeles.
“You might think that he got slammed with a sexual harassment suit or at the very least immediately got fired and left ignominiously with a marred reputation,” Gilbert-Lurie wrote in her June essay. “None of that happened. He was not fired. His only punishment was counseling.”
The investigative committee also found that in 2005, another student had complained to Wagner about Koetters having inappropriate contact with her. The committee determined Wagner did not respond appropriately to this complaint, and instead of investigating, questioned that student’s motives for making the accusations. In July 2014, a different woman came forward to say Koetters had inappropriate physical contact with her more than 10 years ago, when she was a minor.
The committee also determined that “Koetters on many occasions attempted to engage students in improper conduct, often using his position of authority to prompt improper discussions and invitations for further contact.”
Koetters voluntarily left Marlborough in 2013 and took employment at Polytechnic School, a private school in Pasadena, but resigned in July of this year after the allegations surfaced.
Wagner spent 26 years with Marlborough. The board has hired Princeton, NJ-based consulting firm Wickenden Associates, which is known for helping independent schools search for new leaders, and is in the process of putting together a search committee to look for a replacement for Wagner.
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