Probe into abuse at America's oldest deaf school finds 'appalling truths'

Officials apologized for the "inexcusable actions" of staff and faculty members and the "fact that the school did not prevent or stop them."

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By Tim Stelloh

An investigation into inappropriate conduct at America's oldest school for deaf people corroborated multiple allegations of sexual and physical abuse that stretched decades, school officials said.

In a report, officials at the American School for the Deaf, in West Hartford, Connecticut, said Friday that the allegations involved former dorm supervisors, a maintenance worker, a dean and the school's longtime executive director.

The alleged abuse occurred from the 1950s to the 1980s, the report said. The school was founded in 1817.

A lithograph from around 1855 made available by the Library of Congress shows a monument by Albert Newsam in front of the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut.Library of Congress via AP

"The results of this investigation reveal startling and appalling truths," Executive Director Jeffrey S. Bravin and Catherine Burns, president of the board of directors, said in the report. "As a school community, we offer a sincere and heartfelt apology to the survivors of the inexcusable actions identified in this report and for the fact that the school did not prevent or stop them."

The investigation, which was conducted by an outside legal team, began last February after officials learned of allegations of abuse at the school and a camp connected to it. The school said it immediately reported the allegations to West Hartford police, the state Education Department and the state Department of Children and Families.

The team interviewed 81 former students, faculty and staff members and found 20 direct, credible allegations of sexual abuse, the report says. Investigators uncovered 20 more allegations from witnesses who had either seen or heard about abuse that happened to others.

Dozens more people reported physical abuse that included being punched and struck with sticks, belts and paddles, the report says. Students described being restrained with belts, sheets and straitjackets, being forced to walk on their knees and eat until they threw up, and being put in dark places like closets.

Several of the former faculty and staff members named in the report are dead, including Edmund Boatner, the school's executive director from 1935 to 1970.

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For several years, the report alleges, Boatner groomed and had "sexual contact" with a student.

Other people named in the report declined to speak to investigators.