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Globes with article on 
Berkshire School
sell out in S. County

By Ellen G. Lahr
Berkshire Eagle Staff
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
(The article below is reproduced on this Web site without permission.)
The Boston Globe's long-anticipated report on the troubled Berkshire School in Sheffield was a hot seller Sunday morning in South County.

According to news dealers and some witnesses, one person in a baseball cap drove around to various stores, buying every copy in sight. Regular buyers  and those wanting to read the "School for Scandal" article in the paper's Sunday magazine section found themselves out of luck. 

"One person came in and bought what was on the rack -- we get 38 copies -- and apparently he went all over the area buying up papers," said Bonnie Kosik, proprietor of Ted's Smoke Shop in Great Barrington. "I guess they didn't want the article to be seen."

The article was the result of a lengthy investigation into the pending sexual harassment case against Paul Christopher, the headmaster of Berkshire School. The case has been covered in detail by The Berkshire Eagle and other local media, but the Globe article uncovered new allegations and presented new findings in detail, without coming to any conclusion.

The case, under investigation by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, has caused turmoil, divided loyalties and bitterness at the campus since last winter, sources have told The Eagle in recent months.

Even the dining hall became divided, with the two camps seated separately, in support of either the woman who brought the complaint, Laura Smith, or Christopher, The Eagle has been told. 

And more recently, Christopher's prime accuser, Smith, the wife of a faculty member, alleged she was the victim of foul play by an angry school employee and Christopher ally, The Globe reported.

Smith contends in a court complaint that a school employee who is loyal to Christopher attempted to run her car off the road one day last fall. A magistrate's hearing is scheduled on the complaint.

In a letter sent to The Eagle on Sunday, Dale Alden of Sheffield wrote that "I tried to purchase the paper at most South County newsstands and venues on Sunday morning.  The employees of the places I stopped related that a tall man wearing a baseball cap had bought out all the issues."

Alden finally found a copy in Lee, he wrote.

"I leave it to your judgment as to this person's motive in his actions," Alden wrote. 

School didn't buy copies

James Harris, spokesman for Berkshire School, said the school had nothing to do with the mass purchase of Globes. 

"I can't be any more emphatic about that," he said yesterday. "It would not serve the school well at all; those are Stalinist Russia tactics and only give the story more credence."

Smith, who worked until June in the Berkshire School library, was not surprised that someone would want to prevent the article from being read locally. 

When The Berkshire Eagle arrived at the school library last year with articles about the MCAD complaint, the librarians were instructed to remove them from the shelves, said Smith. Although she now works at a private school in nearby Connecticut, Smith still lives on the school campus with her husband, a longtime English teacher at the school, and her young daughter.

Marion Whitman of Sheffield said she went to stores in Sheffield and Great Barrington to find a paper early Sunday and was told the same person had purchased all the papers. 

"This whole thing has been so stupid, the way it's been handled," said Whitman, who said she has no connection with the school but has been following the stories that appear locally.

'Bad neighbors'

She said she holds the school responsible for the run on papers, and takes it as an insult. 

"They have no respect for people in the community where this school is located, as if we should not know about this story. This makes them very bad neighbors," said Whitman.

Harris said the school intends to be a good neighbor, and would never authorize such a run on papers.

Laura Smith said she had reserved three copies of the paper at the Sheffield Market, but when she got there, all other shelf copies were gone. She was told a single person had bought the papers, she said.

Yesterday, a clerk there said there were a couple of copies still available, perhaps from people who didn't pick up reserved copies on Sunday.

The article, which presented numerous details already published by The Eagle, also included some new information.

Among the new findings:

  • While the school board of trustees has repeatedly stated its support for Christopher and predicted his exoneration, Christopher was reportedly fined for his conduct. The amount of the fine was not disclosed. The Globe attributes this information to two anonymous school sources familiar with the matter. Christopher, when queried about the fine, did not deny it but referred the Globe reporter to the board of trustees.
  • Christopher allegedly engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with many women other than Smith, about 20 of whom have either made oral or written statements in support of Smith's case. 
Among the named sources are Sandra Charles, wife of the former dean of faculty, who related being kissed "full on the mouth" at a trustees dinner. 

Others, who spoke to the Globe on condition they not be identified, related similar inappropriate kissing and groping, lewd comments, gestures and sexual propositions. Smith herself alleges the range of conduct in her MCAD complaint, stating that it became more aggressive over time.

Response to complaint

Globe writer Judith Gaines obtained a copy of Berkshire School's official response to Smith's complaint. It essentially states that Smith is a disgruntled employee.

The school states: "After a couple of appointments to discuss school-related matters, Ms. Smith became increasingly flirtatious, suggesting that Dr. Christopher explore a relationship with her."

When he rejected her sexually, and denied her request for a particular campus job, it states, "she filed her MCAD complaint."

The school refers to several e-mail messages sent by Smith to Christopher, with whom she had a professional but apparently close friendship. 

The e-mails reveal a level of intimacy and comments that suggest some flirtation, but no overt sexual overtures from Smith. 

 "I have so much more I would like to talk about, but in a more relaxing way than in your office," she wrote in one e-mail. "Conversations are so exciting with you because they are so multi-leveled and you are always one step ahead.

In another, she says at the end of a message, "I miss the sound of your voice, the pauses between, and mostly your smile."

Smith counters that her e-mails have been misinterpreted, and that her natural caretaker personality was twisted into a sexual invitation by the school. The Globe makes no references to any e-mail responses Christopher may have made.

39 women interviewed

The Globe article states that at least 20 women formalized their own complaints after Smith came forward; the writer stated she conducted 39 interviews with various women. 

She also found a number of adamant supporters of Christopher, veteran female faculty members, some with high-ranking positions at the school, who say they have never been inappropriately treated by him.

Smith said yesterday that she believed the Globe story was fair.

Harris said that he, too, believed the story was fair. 

He said the school had no role in providing the Globe with its official response to Smith's complaint. 

* * * * * 

Ellen G. Lahr can be reached via e-mail at ELahr@berkshireeagle.com

© 1999-2001 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and New England Newspapers, Inc.



The article above is reproduced on this Web site without permission.

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