Sonoma Academy grad decries ex-school chief’s ‘failure’ to stop teacher’s harassment
A Sonoma Academy graduate who said she made multiple reports to top school officials about a teacher’s inappropriate behavior accused the former head of school in an open letter Tuesday of minimizing the extent of the teacher’s misconduct.
That enabled him to harm other teenage girls for years afterward, said Emma McAleavy, a 2008 graduate.
She said she made reports to school officials, including former Head of School Janet Durgin, three times over 11 years, but Durgin failed to take seriously her concerns and those of other alumni.
Their complaints were about longtime humanities teacher Marco Morrone, who was fired by Durgin’s successor, Tucker Foehl, in October 2020.
As a senior in 2007, McAleavy made her first report to a faculty member, who relayed her concerns to Durgin. She said she followed up with another complaint to Durgin in 2016 and informed another school official in 2018, a decade after she graduated from the prestigious private Santa Rosa high school.
“In conversations with me and with other alumni, you have always maintained that you could not act upon student and alumni concerns about Marco’s behavior because you didn’t have enough evidence. You have referred to our complaints as ‘rumors,’” McAleavy, 30, said in her open letter to Durgin.
“But here’s the thing, Janet: you chose not to investigate our allegations or report them to the authorities so they could do a proper investigation.”
Durgin retired in June 2020 after leading the school since its 2001 founding. She declined an interview request Tuesday but responded to McAleavy’s open letter with a short statement.
“I am deeply sorry for the pain that this situation has caused so many people,” she said. “I am shaken to the core because as Head of School for 20 years, I have always been deeply dedicated to the best interests of Sonoma Academy’s students.”
McAleavy provided her open letter to Durgin to The Press Democrat and posted it Tuesday on the website for The Athena Project, an initiative launched by seven women who graduated from Sonoma Academy from 2008 to 2014. The group includes those who said they were targets of sexual harassment by Morrone, as well as some who said they witnessed the behavior and now consider themselves advocates.
McAleavy is one of several of the women who told The Press Democrat they feel they were victims of grooming by Morrone during their high school years. Grooming, according to experts, is a process by which a person uses favors, compliments and other gestures to gain trust and intimacy with a child for purposes of manipulation, abuse or exploitation.
The women say they have not made reports to law enforcement, nor has the school. No lawsuits have been filed to date against Morrone or Sonoma Academy related to his behavior.
McAleavy said she wrote her open letter to Durgin in response to a statement Durgin issued over the weekend defending her own actions.
Beyond a 2007 complaint that resulted in Morrone’s discipline and counseling, Durgin acknowledged no other prior knowledge of complaints about Morrone’s behavior.
“In 2007, when a serious issue concerning a student was brought to my attention, I quickly addressed it and I believed it was taken care of with discipline and counseling for the employee. Subsequent to my retirement, a group of alumnae approached the school directly with names and additional information, at which point the school took appropriate action and the employee was terminated,” she said in the Saturday statement.
“A number of things have been said in the press about my role and my knowledge of the situation that are inaccurate and incomplete. During my 20 years at Sonoma Academy as an administrator and educator, I always acted in the best interests of the entire school community. I am proud of these young women who are now demanding that their painful stories be heard.”
McAleavy on Tuesday called Durgin’s proclamation of pride “offensive” in light of the additional reports McAleavy said she and other graduates made about Morrone, starting at least in 2007 and extending through 2019.
McAleavy referred to other women in The Athena Project, saying Durgin could have protected them by removing Morrone 14 years ago.
“I will never understand why you didn’t believe me,” McAleavy said. “All I know is that had you believed me, Clio, Savannah, Morgan, and Miranda never would have been harmed by Marco at Sonoma Academy.”
Durgin’s weekend statement mentioned only one concern raised about Morrone, in 2007, which aligns with the timing of McAleavy’s first report during her senior year. Durgin did not name Morrone, but said that she “believed it was taken care of with discipline and counseling.”