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Marlborough School chief resigns in wake of investigation of teacher

Head of Marlborough School to step down in wake of investigation of teacher sexual harassment allegations

An investigation into alleged sexual harassment of students by a former teacher at an elite private all-girls high school in Hancock Park found a “pattern of misconduct” by the teacher and “mistakes in judgment” by top school officials, leading to the resignation of the school's chief administrator.

Barbara Wagner, the head of Marlborough School, will step down at the end of the current school year, school board President Christine Ewell and trustee Debra Wong Yang told the school community in a message sent out Friday.

Wagner could not be reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for the school said in a statement, "The Marlborough board of trustees expeditiously moved to ascertain what and how events happened, and diligently worked to minimize the risk that similar incidents would happen again."

The message from the board of trustees sent Friday detailed the findings of an investigative team commissioned by the board and led by Yang, a former U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. The panel hired lawyer Mark Holscher, a former assistant U.S. attorney, to investigate the allegations.

Holscher's team found "instances of improper physical contact and communications with multiple Malborough students" by the former teacher, who worked at Marlborough for more than a decade and then briefly at Polytechnic School in Pasadena. The school board statement identified the former teacher as Dr. Joseph Koetters.

Sexual harassment allegations against the former teacher surfaced in an essay by former Malborough student Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie published in the online magazine xoJane in June.

Gilbert-Lurie described sexual advances made by her high school English teacher beginning when she was 16. She wrote that she was upset when she reported the conduct and the teacher was not fired.  

The investigation found a "need to improve school policies, procedures, and training as well as to increase board oversight." The school has since changed some of its policies, including requiring bullying and sexual harassment complaints to be reported to a group of five senior staff members and two trustees.

It also found that Wagner “did not fulfill several crucial management and oversight responsibilities” in her response to the allegations. The statement released Friday said Wagner had not fully investigated Gilbert-Lurie’s complaint in 2012 or a previous complaint about Koetters by a different student in 2005.

A third former student came forward after Gilbert-Lurie's article was published and told school officials that Koetters had sexually harassed her more than a decade ago.

The investigators also looked at two other instances of alleged sexual harassment involving other school employees. In both cases, the employees were fired, but no further investigation was done.

The trustees' message praised Wagner's "significant contributions and 26 years of dedication to Malborough School" and said she will have the "support of the administration and board throughout the remainder of the school year." 

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella.

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