Google Earth view of The Thacher School in Ojai, CA. (Google Earth)

The Thacher School Releases Special Committee Report Outlining History of Sexual Misconduct

The Thacher School founded in Ojai, California in the late 1800’s is one of the most prestigious private boarding schools in the California and the United States. The 2021 tuition for boarding students is $64,700 and $49,800 for day students.  

In the summer of 2020, The Thacher School received reports of sexual misconduct by faculty, staff, and students. This followed the creation of the anonymous Instagram page @rpecultureatthacher, which was created as “A safe space for those who have experienced r*pe culture at Thacher.” @rpecultureatthacher allowed those who had experienced sexual harassment, assault, or rape at The Thacher School to share their story and find resources, while revealing a history of sexual misconduct at the School.

As a result of these reports, The Thacher School’s Board of Trustee’s (similar to the practice that other private schools like Choate Rosemary Hall have done in response to their sexual abuse scandals) formed a “Special Committee” to take action. The Special Committee retained Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP to conduct an independent investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct experienced by Thacher students and alumni and to provide recommendations for improving the school’s prevention and handling of sexual misconduct.

On June 16th, 2021, The Thacher School publicly released their Report to the Board of Trustees, along with Conclusions reached by the Board of Trustees, Corrective Actions to be implemented, and statements from Dan Yih (Board Chair), Blossom Beatty Pidduck (Head of School), and Michael Mulligan (Former Head of School).

The report names 6 alleged perpetrators who are former faculty members—Timothy Regan, John Friborg, Willard “Bill” Wyman II, Derick Perry, Dana Vancisin Schryver, Rod “Jake” Jacobsen—as well as other unnamed faculty members, students, and non-faculty personnel.

Our firm, Paul Mones, P.C., represents a victim of one of these accused teachers, the former Associate Director of Development, Director of College Counseling, and coach of boys’ and girls’ soccer teams at The Thacher School from the Fall of 1987 until his resignation in July 1997.

According to the report, prior to working at The Thacher School, John Friborg was a teacher and soccer coach at The Governor’s Academy in Massachusetts, where he worked with future Thacher Head of School Michael Mulligan. While at The Governor’s Academy, the report alleges that Friborg had an “inappropriate relationship” with a student on the girls’ soccer team, which Mulligan noticed and reported to the former headmaster at the Governor’s Academy. According to the report, Friborg was asked to leave the Governor’s Academy at the end of the school year because of the “inappropriate relationship.” 

According to the report, when Friborg was hired at The Thacher School in 1987, both Mulligan (then the Assistant Headmaster for Student Affairs) and Headmaster Willard “Bill” Wyman II (who is also listed an alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment in the Special Committee’s report) were aware of Friborg’s so called “inappropriate relationship” at The Governor’s Academy. According to Munger, Tolles & Olson’s report, “Mulligan told us that he supported Friborg’s hiring at the time because he knew that Friborg was a great soccer coach and it was “inconceivable” to him that Friborg would make the same mistake at Thacher that he had made before.”

Munger, Tolles & Olson received firsthand reports of sexual misconduct by Friborg involving four then-current students and two students who had graduated less than a year before the misconduct. “The misconduct spanned multiple years and ranged from grooming to giving the students massages to sexual touching.” They also spoke to two witnesses who reported that Friborg made unwanted sexual advances on them at their five-year reunions.

In a recent interview with the LA Times, Paul Mones remarked on the culture of The Thacher School, “Because these are closed environments, where the teachers live on campus by and large, and the students live there, the lines of appropriate behavior, even the grooming behaviors, are blurred,” said Mones, adding, “It seems here that the teachers there really were able to operate or run their lives with these students with complete impunity.” 

Based on this investigation, The Thacher School’s Board of Trustees has reached conclusions on the failings of the School to properly protect its students and alumni and outlines the failings of The Board of Trustees and The School. The Board of Trustees have also outlined Corrective Action to be taken regarding the prevention of sexual misconduct.

You can read Special Committee’s report (by Munger, Tolles, & Olson LLP) on their investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct at The Thacher School’s here:

Students of all schools, including Thacher, have the right to be protected from sexual abuse by their teachers. Schools must ensure that they place a priority on their student’s safety over the reputation of the school. 

You can read the Ventura County Sheriff Office’s statement about The Thacher School’s report here.