BRATTLEBORO — A former Brattleboro Union High School student is speaking out, alleging that Principal Steve Perrin made unwanted sexual and romantic advances over several years at the high school starting in 2010.
Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) Superintendent Mark Speno has remained silent for months about whether Perrin - who was abruptly placed on paid leave last spring days after the former student reported the pattern of behavior to authorities - will return to his duties.
The Commons has confirmed the identity of the former student, “Jane,” who spoke with the newspaper on condition of anonymity. To that end, the newspaper has also anonymized references to others adjacent to the story.
Just before spring vacation of this year (April 18–22), Jane reported the abuse to Windham County Safe Place and to the office of attorney Aimee Goddard, who is leading a sexual abuse investigation for the district. As a result of those reports, she also interviewed with the Brattleboro Police Department (confirmed by an incident report dated May 25).
Goddard did not reply to email or phone calls by press time.
Jane confirmed that she has now also been in conversation with the civil litigation firm Justice Law Collaborative, LLC, of North Easton, Massachusetts, which has already put the school district on notice of potential legal action, citing two former teachers reported by survivors as alleged abusers and letters sent to the WSESD [“WSESD notified of impending lawsuits over abuse claims,” News, Sept. 28].
“I can confirm that we will be sending the district additional Letters of Representation,” said Justice Law Co-founder and Partner Kim Dougherty on Monday, Oct. 3.
Jane was a student at BUHS in 2010, when she alleges the inappropriate conduct by Perrin started, after she was raped by a male student at an off-campus party. Another student reported the rape to the school.
She also has reason to believe that Perrin did not report her rape to law enforcement, as he was legally required to do as an educator and administrator. She said she was “never [again] called in to talk about that with anyone.”
In April, Perrin was placed on paid administrative leave without explanation. He has not returned to the school since spring break, and he continues to receive his $120,000 annual salary.
The Commons has made multiple efforts to contact Perrin, who did not return phone calls or email messages. Speno again declined comment on the principal's leave, and the school board has increasingly rebuffed questions from the public about the unexplained and prolonged absence of the school's top administrator [“BUHS principal's status still a mystery,” News, July 27].
Two years of unwarranted sexual harassment
“Throughout the majority of my sophomore to senior years [Perrin] took a romantic and sexual interest in me,” Jane tells The Commons.
“During the times I was alone in the office with him, he would frequently compliment my clothing, body, and face, and he would tell me how much he enjoyed being alone with me and how special I was to him,” she says.
This pattern of behavior began in the aftermath of her rape, alleges Jane, who says that soon after her assault, she was called out of class by Perrin - whom she had never met - to his office.
At the time, Perrin, one of three vice principals, had been named interim principal following the resignation of Jim Day, his predecessor.
Each of the three vice principals supervised a third of the full student body. Normally, Jane's vice principal would have been Christopher Pratt, but he was on vacation that day.
Jane says that after the other student reported the rape, Perrin confronted her about the assault, seeking details that she did not want to share.
“At one point, I remember him saying that if I didn't tell him what happened, he would call the police and say I filed a false report,” Jane says. “I still refused because I didn't want to talk with him about it.”
“He questioned me for many, many hours - most of the rest of day,” she says.
After what Jane describes as “a few hours in,” her parents came to the school.
“My dad and I were in Mr. Perrin's office alone for a moment, and he saw on the desk photocopies of the school IDs of the boy who assaulted me and the third party who reported it, so we knew that Mr. Perrin already knew what had happened.”
“After that, and for the rest of the time I was in high school, he was really creepy,” says Jane.
Perrin, she says, “would call me out of class constantly - like, multiple times a month - to chat with me about nothing, one-on-one.”
Jane also describes “a couple of times he would make me sit in the chairs outside the principal's office for, like, an hour and then when I finally went into his office, he said he wanted everybody 'to see what a bad girl I was.'”
She describes Perrin's behavior escalating, to the point where he “nearly [...] got physical multiple times.”
“I have very little doubt that he would push those boundaries further, given the opportunity,” she says.
An AP student, Jane alleges the principal tried to keep her from graduating - to such an extent that her family hired an attorney to make sure she did.
Jane describes approximately two years of numerous incidents with Perrin, including using his power “to strip me of class credits and moving me to remedial classes as punishment for not complying and pulling away from him.”
She says that the principal “attempted to keep me from graduating over trumped-up library fees.”
“He told me it was because he didn't want me to 'leave him' and go off to college, which, thankfully, I was able to do,” Jane says.
Asked to speak about Perrin's employment status and Jane's reports of abuse, Speno - whose job as superintendent of schools is to hire (and fire) principals - said, “I don't have a comment on that right now.”
The superintendent also declined comment as to whether Perrin ever made any report of Jane's rape by a fellow student, as required by mandated-reporter laws.
Perrin has worked at Brattleboro Union High School since 1995 and was formally named principal in 2011. He previously served four years as assistant principal there.
He taught chemistry and biology at the school prior to becoming an administrator. He also taught high school science for several years in Camden, New York, before moving to the Brattleboro area.
Others corroborate the behavior
Jane's story is corroborated by the mother of a friend from that era. That person told The Commons that at the time she spoke with Jane's father, who told her something of the situation his daughter was enduring.
“He was so upset,” the woman says. “I could tell it was something bad.”
Later, Jane herself told her friend's mother what had happened.
“When I mentioned I was raped when I was 19, she told me her story,” the woman told The Commons.
A female classmate who has known Jane since elementary school says the culture at the school clearly included knowledge of inappropriate sexual conduct and sexual abuse that was not addressed by several administrators over decades.
“Perrin took a pretty unhealthy interest in Jane,” says Jane's friend, who describes what she calls a “creepy vibe” from the principal.
“We weren't shocked that when the off-campus assault came, [Perrin] harassed her and ramped up,” she continues. “You could tell he was checking out [Jane], and you could tell he checked out other girls.”
“We knew it wasn't a high school where people cared about kids,” the friend says, noting the 2008 arrest and subsequent federal indictment, plea agreement, and sentencing in 2011 of former computer science teacher Eric Achenbach to federal prison on child pornography charges as pivotal in students' perception of their school.
The girls were sophomores when the investigation into Achenbach started. Jane's friend says knowing a teacher could be involved in such activity for years sent a clear and frightening message to students.
While there was no evidence he had molested anyone, including any students, Achenbach was sentenced to 79 months in federal prison on counts of possessing and receiving child pornography. He paid $33,126.83 in restitution to his victims and will serve a lifetime of supervised release with his name on in the National Sex Offender Registry.
“After something like that happens, any sort of thinking of school as a safe place goes out the window,” she says. “When [Jane] told me about what was going on, the culture was already such that I had no reason not to believe it.”
Why did Jane wait until now to report what happened to her and to tell her story?
She acknowledges “a lot of guilt” since she left the school, fearing that Perrin had “found someone, or multiple people, to repeat this behavior to.”
She also credits the essay “No More Secrecy,” written by BUHS alum Mindy Haskins Rogers and published in The Commons in 2021, for helping her find the courage to tell her story.
“When Mindy wrote her piece last August, I read it and thought a lot about it and started talking to friends who also went to the high school and talked with Mindy. She let me know that Aimee Goddard was doing the investigation,” Jane says.
“There's been a lot of frustration about the secrecy. At first, it kind of made sense, but we're reaching a point where it's harming the people who came forward,” she continues.
“The secrecy is how the sexual abuse was allowed to happen in the first place,” Jane says. “It's creating nervousness and making people who came forward feel more unheard and causing a lot of confusion and concern in the community.”
Jane says she had a difficult time recognizing that Perrin's alleged behavior “felt like classic grooming.”
“The whole thing was that he saw me in a very vulnerable position and a place of hurt and, frankly, thought it was kind of sexually interesting and then followed me around for years,” she says.
School advertises for administrator
Meanwhile, the school is shuffling administrators and hiring as its principal continues to be absent from the school.
Early this summer, Cassie Damkoehler was named assistant principal for grades 10 and 12. In mid-summer, Speno confirmed she would serve as interim principal. Tracie Lane continues as assistant principal and Hannah Parker as dean of students, rounding out the BUHS administrative team.
On Sept. 27, an advertisement of an immediate opening at the school for an interim assistant principal was posted on schoolspring.com, a recruitment site for the education field.
Speno said Monday the reason is to cover the assistant principal's work that Damkoehler is no longer doing.