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BUHS school board pressed about abuse response

Chair says board working diligently but ‘not able to be public about it’ as former student and writer demands transparency and a new name for the auditorium

BRATTLEBORO—It wasn’t on the docket, but Mindy Haskins Rogers brought it up, reading a statement into Windham Southeast Supervisory School board meeting on Nov. 9 in which she noted how “deeply disturbed” she is that the investigation into abuse at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) “has dropped completely off” the board’s agenda.

In response, and after interrupting her to tell her to stop naming people, Chair David Schoales made a brief statement of his own, saying one should not “be confused that we are not following up.”

“We are not able to be public about it,” Schoales said. “I think it’s important to say there has been no change in the board’s thinking with respect to this matter and future actions.”

The board has “been working diligently,” said Schoales. “So we’re able to fully support the needs of victims of these alleged crimes.”

What the board has done is hire Dr. Christopher Overtree to oversee a school climate study.

There was no further discussion.

In her statement, Haskins Rogers noted that months have passed since she published her Viewpoint, “No More Secrecy,” in The Commons, in which she exposed former teacher Zeke Hecker as an abuser and called for an independent investigation.

“The district has yet to take action toward accountability for the generations of students who were subjected to grooming and abuse at the hands of Hecker and others at BUHS,” she said, adding that multiple survivors have since been in touch with her.

“One word comes up frequently in relation to Hecker: he was ‘notorious,’” she said, adding that Hecker himself, in a letter to a survivor, referenced his “notorious sexual past,” also writing, “Yeah, I had other student lovers.”

Despite this, she said, Hecker was permitted by the administration, which included current Principal Steve Perrin as vice principal for some of those years, to chaperone overnight student trips, even after his retirement.

Haskins Rogers, a BUHS alum, says another former student told her of staying in an apartment with Hecker on an opera trip when he was “half naked with a glass of wine and just sat on the couch arms out and petting his chest.”

Haskins Rogers also said that theater director Bob Kramsky had received a copy of that letter and yet continued work with Hecker, who referred to himself as a “child molester,” directing several of his plays at the Vermont Theater Company over the ensuing years.

In 2020, said Haskins Rogers, when Kramsky announced his retirement, a survivor wrote emails to Perrin and then-superintendent Lyle Holiday, “pleading with them not to name the auditorium after this man.”

“When neither acted to stop the naming, the survivor wrote, ‘This is just another example of how the school department has failed victims.’”

She noted reports about other teacher abusers as well, including a former basketball coach and driver education teacher who told girls they would “get at A if they wore a mini-skirt on exam day.”

She said that Terri Mateer, a BUHS alum who went on to play pro-basketball, has presented a one-woman show around the country.

According to a review on theatermania.com, said Haskins Rogers, “she’s mentioned her high school basketball coach, who, during a driver’s ed lesson, taught her to give him a hand job.”

“It is statistically unlikely that Hecker stopped abusing kids,” said Haskins Rogers. “What is statistically likely is that recent victims have not yet reached the average age at which survivors come forward, which is 52, according to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.”

“If the school and the district wanted to avoid ‘triggering’ people, they should have taken action to stop the abuse,” she continued. “They should have responded supportively to survivors at any point before now.”

She urged the board to “move forward immediately with a truly independent investigation so that the district can begin steps toward accountability and healing for the entire community, of which its current students are a most vital part,” she said.

“And for decency’s sake, rename the damned auditorium,” she concluded.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #638 (Wednesday, November 10, 2021). This story appeared on page A1.

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