Report: 34 Sonoma Academy students exposed to misconduct by former teacher; two ex-staff members accused of sexual abuse
A longtime Sonoma Academy teacher acted inappropriately with at least 34 students over his 18-year tenure, according to a report from a law firm hired by the school after a Press Democrat investigation in June revealed allegations of sexual grooming and other improper behavior.
The 49-page report was released to students, parents and faculty by email Monday evening. It also revealed that two other school employees sexually abused three other students, and assigned blame to top administrators for routinely dismissing the concerns of students who tried to report the behavior.
The report states that Marco Morrone, a former humanities teacher, who was the subject of The Press Democrat investigation, behaved in an inappropriate, sexually charged way with 34 girls who graduated from 2005 to 2021.
The misconduct by Morrone involved grooming multiple students “for his own purposes,” investigators said, including sexual contact. Investigators spoke with a former student who said she and Morrone had sexual interactions after she graduated. The investigators found no instance of Morrone having sexual relations with the girls while they were students.
Debevoise and Plimpton, the New York-based law firm, also concluded that two other former staff members at Sonoma Academy sexually abused at least three students while they were minors. The staff members, a soccer coach and a filmmaking teacher, no longer work at the school — the coach was fired — but investigators found “no evidence” indicating anyone from Sonoma Academy reported the alleged criminal conduct to law enforcement at the time.
Investigators blamed top administrators at the prestigious prep academy for knowing about general complaints and specific allegations about Morrone’s improper conduct with female students for years. They failed to do enough to stop it, investigators said.
“Debevoise concludes that (Sonoma Academy) administrators showed a pattern of dismissing students' concerns, at least in some circumstances implicitly blaming them for the uncomfortable interactions they reported, and often accepting Morrone’s version of events without any challenge,” the report said.
Shannon Rake, a former star player at Sonoma State University, was the soccer coach accused of sexually abusing a Sonoma Academy female student between 2002 and 2003.
Adrian Belic, an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, was the teacher who sexually abused two Sonoma Academy students, investigators said. The abuse took place after Belic taught a documentary course at the school in 2004.
The firm interviewed 133 people, including alumni, current and former faculty, staff and trustees, current and former Sonoma Academy parents, and others to help produce its report. Investigators also reviewed 61,000 documents, including email, personnel files and yearbooks.
Sonoma Academy’s board said it had relayed findings from the report to local law enforcement.
Morrone taught at the school from 2002 to 2020, when he was fired for his behavior after an outside investigation commissioned by the new head of school Tucker Foehl. In the new report, investigators said he behaved inappropriately with students from the classes of 2005 through 2021.
Former and current staff members who were alerted to Morrone’s behavior multiple times during his 18 years at the school, including longtime Head of School Janet Durgin and Assistant Head of School Ellie Dwight, repeatedly failed to investigate complaints about his conduct with students, the report said.
School administrators at the time didn’t tell law enforcement officials about any of the reports made by students or graduates, investigators found.
“Examples of Morrone’s inappropriate behavior included directly or indirectly intimate, sexual and deeply personal journal entries as part of class assignments; inappropriately touching students; developing close emotional bonds with students through one on one meetings and emails; recommending graphic, sexually explicit or mature books; and giving students copies of his own sexually explicit manuscripts, one of which detailed a graphic sexual relationship between a student and her high school teacher.”