Sonoma Academy graduates detail sweeping allegations of improper behavior by former teacher
Seven women who graduated from Sonoma Academy, one of North Bay’s most prestigious private high schools, are accusing a popular former teacher of inappropriate, sexually charged behavior and misconduct — from improper touching to soliciting one-on-one meetings off-campus and routinely asking about their romantic lives and intimate feelings.
The women, who graduated within the past dozen years or so, say Marco Morrone, a humanities teacher at Sonoma Academy for 18 years, took advantage of his position as a trusted mentor and instructor and repeatedly crossed emotional and physical boundaries with them.
They accuse him of harassment and repeated requests to share and discuss with him their most personal feelings, often in journal-like assignments that were seen by no one else.
Morrone, 50, who was dismissed from the Santa Rosa school in October, has not been accused of sexual assault, and the women say they have not made reports to law enforcement, nor has the school. No civil lawsuits have been filed against him or Sonoma Academy related to his behavior.
But the seven women, who attended the school at different points from 2004 through 2014, have told The Press Democrat over the past six weeks that Morrone exploited the feelings that many of them, as impressionable 16- and 17-year-olds, had for him as an instructor and mentor.
Now in their 20s and early 30s, the women are pressing their case for a public reckoning about Morrone’s tenure in mediation talks with Sonoma Academy officials eight months after his departure from the school.
“Marco is not the only man to sexually harass us; he’s just the first one,” Emma McAleavy, a 2008 graduate, said in an interview last month. “And he initiated us into a tradition that is completely disgusting and insidious. And for that to happen with him at school is just unconscionable.”
Sonoma Academy leaders agree with the women that Morrone’s actions were wrong.
In an extraordinary and lengthy statement sent to parents, staff and alumni Wednesday afternoon, Tucker Foehl, the head of school, said its investigation last year of Morrone — prompted by the complaints of three of the women — confirmed the women’s allegations.
Foehl said Morrone was fired for “(engaging) in conduct that violated appropriate boundaries with students who were members of the classes of 2008 through 2014.”
“The investigator found no evidence that Morrone had sexual relationships with students or engaged in sexual abuse of students,” Foehl said. “The investigator did find that despite receiving discipline and counseling in 2007 for his comments and actions toward a student, Morrone continued to develop relationships with certain female students that crossed appropriate professional boundaries.”
The school has not received any reports of Morrone engaging in sexually inappropriate conduct more recently than 2014, according to Foehl, who took over as head of school in mid-2020. After his firing, Morrone was banned from school grounds.
Sonoma Academy, founded in 2001, serves about 330 students at its state-of-the art campus at the base of Taylor Mountain. Annual tuition is about $47,000.
Some of the seven women who have shared their accounts with The Press Democrat voiced mixed feelings about Foehl’s statement. It was a welcome step, several said; others said it minimized what they had experienced.
Clio Wilde, a 2011 graduate, said Foehl’s assertion that Morrone never engaged in sexual abuse of students felt like “a punch in the gut.”
She said she forwarded Foehl’s message to the other women and left work in Los Angeles on Wednesday to collect herself.
“It really felt to me like they clearly feel like they’ve done their job,” Wilde said. “(But) I know from my reaction and the reaction from the other women that it does not feel considerate of our experiences or what we have been asking of them. It really feels re-traumatizing to have this happen again.”
The school’s statement came six hours after two Press Democrat reporters knocked on Morrone’s door at his Petaluma home and left a two-page letter detailing the women’s accusations and asking for his response.