Former Country Day teacher, accused of abuse, worked with kids through last year

GREENWICH — Former Greenwich Country Day School teacher Peter French — who the school said sexually abused children during his four-decade career there — continued to work closely with children through last year, sources close to the case confirmed.

An investigator from Shipman and Goodwin, the law firm investigating the allegations of abuse, confirmed Wednesday that French taught golf to kids at Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown, Mass. through the 2017 golf season.

French taught biology at Country Day from 1961 to 1999. He “engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with at least five students from the 1960s through the 1980s,” Headmaster Adam Rohdie informed school families in an email Friday.

A profile from last June in The Berkshire Eagle said French taught a weekly golf clinic for 6- to 13-year-olds at the Williamstown course for several years.

Several former students at Country Day and a retired Greenwich teacher who knew him told Greenwich Time they recognized French from photographs in the newspaper profile.

Local investigators notified the police department in Williamstown, which subsequently contacted the golf course, they said.

Williamstown police did not return messages Wednesday. Efforts to reach French were unsuccessful.

Michael Deep, owner of Waubeeka Golf Links, said French has been teaching there for many years, but announced his resignation last Wednesday.

French’s weekly clinics were always outdoors and in public — with himself, parents and others as spectators, Deep said.

“There has been certainly nothing that we were aware of and are aware of at this time that Mr. French did while at Waubeeka,” he said. “He’s a very good golf instructor. We are one of the finest golf courses in the state of Massachusetts, and we promote youth as best we can.”

French, who investigators said admitted his actions, was not the only former Country Day teacher who allegedly molested children. Jim Arden, who taught there from 1970 to 2001, abused at least three students, Rohdie told parents. Arden died in 2016.

French has not been charged by Greenwich police. And there is no record of any charges by Williamstown police. No indication of charges against French elsewhere could be found.

For crimes of sexual abuse against children that occurred before 1993, there is a statute of limitations, according to Connecticut State Law.

Before 1990, the statute was five years from the time the crime was committed. From 1990 to 1992, the statute of limitations was changed to two years after a victim turned 18 or seven years after the crime. In 1993, the statute of limitations was changed again, to up to two years after a victim turns 18 or up to five years from the date police are notified — but the change was not made retroactive.

“We recommend that anybody that is a victim to get therapy about it or whatever counseling they may need,” Lieutenant John Slusarz of the Greenwich Police Department said Wednesday. “When something like this happens, it has an impact on somebody for the rest of their lives.

“But in order to prosecute people for a crime, you have to have a crime: a victim and offender,” he said. “The statute of limitations cannot have expired. Then the evidence has to be brought forth to court, so the same goes in Massachusetts — a crime’s got to occur within their jurisdiction.”

Former Country Day students have had strong reactions to the revelations in the past week.

“I’m glad its coming to light,” said David Wilder, who graduated with the Class of 1982 and was taught by both men accused of abusing children at the private school.

“French was more kind of, sort of like a man with a military bearing,” Wilder said. “He was the more serious of the two — they couldn’t have been more different.

“But both were considered senior faculty,” he said. “I think they got the title of ‘Master Teacher’ according to the yearbook later on. So basically ... they were among the most respected at the school. They had longevity.”

Another former student, Jim Ramsey, from the Class of 1976, said he also was taught by both men. While he didn’t have any negative experiences with either, Ramsey said he winced when he read the headmaster’s email.

“It puts a cloud over the lens of some of my memories from the Greenwich Country Day School, a school that I hold in high esteem — partly because of my rare situation that my dad was faculty there for 25 years,” Ramsey said.

Alumni had received an initial email several weeks ago informing them an investigation had begun.

”I was hoping that it was teachers that I did not know or were not there in my tenure,” Ramsey said. “I was a student there for 11 years and lived across the street for another 10.

”I feel badly about it,” he said. “And that certainly doesn’t compare to the feelings of the brave students who came forward to file those allegations. And certainly, there are likely others who did not have the courage to come forward and file those types of complaints — and they have had to live with much worse feelings on a daily basis.”

Wilder said what’s eating at him now is what he doesn’t know.

“My concern now is if these two individuals, who were not the likely candidates for this kind of behavior, what else is coming down the pipe?” he said. “Who else might have had the same opportunities, and the same abuse of their position? I don’t know. I don’t have any other people to suspect, but I’d find it hard to believe other names and faculty don’t arise.”

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