Sonoma Academy male graduates speak out on school’s handling of teacher’s misconduct
Three men who graduated from Sonoma Academy a decade or more ago are joining seven female schoolmates in sounding a public alarm about inappropriate behavior by a former longtime teacher, adding to the accounts of alumni who say the school failed to intervene and halt the misconduct.
Two of the men, now in their late 20s, recounted how they tried to alert school officials to the risks they saw in the continued employment of humanities teacher Marco Morrone. In addition to English and history, Morrone also led martial arts classes at the Santa Rosa school, including group and one-on-one sessions with boys and girls.
All three male graduates said they witnessed Morrone interacting with female classmates in ways they felt even at the time were inappropriate. They cited inappropriate physical contact and comments as well as Morrone’s hiring of female students to babysit for him at his house — something the campus code of conduct now prohibits.
“It just started to get to me more and more,” said Matt Reynoso, a 2011 graduate who said he tried to call attention to Morrone’s behavior in his senior year and again in 2019, eight years after graduating.
Reynoso, 28, said the rise of the #MeToo movement four years ago amid a wave of high-profile sexual harassment and abuse scandals made him think back to his alma mater, Sonoma County’s lone private, independent college-prep school, where annual tuition last year was nearly $47,000.
“I remember watching all this unfold and I was like, ‘Oh, well, Sonoma Academy’s going to get screwed,’” he said in a recent interview, speaking about how he viewed the school’s liabilities. Accounts shared by female classmates about Morrone’s relationships with students contributed to the feeling, he said.
On Saturday, Head of School Tucker Foehl said the campus had agreed to launch a second, wider investigation into student and alumni complaints about Morrone — a step the seven women have campaigned for after he was fired in October.
Investigators also will focus on student and alumni reports of misconduct by other staff or campus volunteers, as well as school officials’ handling of related reports over the years, Foehl said.
The school’s first investigation into Morrone, in 2020, confirmed many of the claims the women have publicly made about his behavior. Investigators found he repeatedly “violated appropriate boundaries with students who were members of the classes of 2008 through 2014,” according to a written statement from Foehl.
The women say he acted in a manipulative way that they say amounted to grooming. They have accused him of unnecessary touching in the classroom, soliciting one-on-one interactions off-campus, exposing them to sexually explicit literature outside of class and prying into their romantic lives and intimate feelings, including comments in private writing assignments, they say.
Morrone, 50, has not been accused of sexual assault. The seven women who have accused him of sexual harassment have not made reports to law enforcement, nor has the school. As of Friday, no civil lawsuits had been filed against him or Sonoma Academy.
Morrone has declined multiple requests for an interview and has not responded to written questions from The Press Democrat over the past two weeks.
Some of the men who were schoolmates of the women also recounted their own troubling run-ins with Morrone, including overly aggressive behavior they said they experienced in his martial arts classes
This story is based on 10 interviews in recent weeks with Sonoma Academy graduates, a longtime school counselor who is speaking out for the first time and a martial arts expert, as well as statements from school officials.
“People should know,” said Bolyn Smothers, another 2011 classmate. “Certainly, it's going to hurt the school for this to come out. And you know, what hurts more is that it was allowed to happen in the first place.”
A personal impact
Reynoso and Smothers are friends with Clio Wilde, who also graduated in 2011. Wilde is one of the seven women have who recounted their experiences with Morrone in interviews over the past month with The Press Democrat.
Before he was fired last year, Morrone had been a teacher at Sonoma Academy since 2002, a year after the school’s founding. His departure was first announced in December, but up until a June 9 statement from Foehl, Sonoma Academy students and alumni knew little about what led to his exit.
Foehl acknowledged for the first time in that statement he had fired Morrone after an investigation found he “engaged in conduct that violated appropriate boundaries with students.”