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Report to The Board of Trustees

of The Branson School

Nancy Kestenbaum & Clara Shin


Covington & Burling LLP
April 2019

The content of this report is sensitive,


personal, and graphic. Reader discretion is advised.
In the spring of 2018, three graduates of The Branson School each informed
Head of School Chris Mazzola that their soccer coach had sexually abused them
while they were Branson students in the 1970s. In response to these reports,
Branson’s Board of Trustees retained Nancy Kestenbaum and Clara Shin, partners
at Covington & Burling LLP, to undertake an independent investigation of any
sexual misconduct by Branson faculty and staff with Branson students.

On June 12, 2018, Branson sent a letter to its community about Covington’s
investigation and encouraged anyone with relevant information to contact us
through a hotline phone number or email address. Since then, we have spoken with
nearly 100 people, some of whom contacted us and others whom we contacted. We
did not reach out to graduates who reportedly experienced sexual misconduct but
did not contact us. We have also reviewed over 2,000 documents.

We heard directly from graduates from the 1970s to the 2010s about specific
instances of sexual misconduct. We use the term “sexual misconduct” to encompass
a range of acts, including sexual intercourse, inappropriate touching, and kissing,
by Branson faculty, staff, and volunteers (collectively, “educators”) with Branson
students. We recognize that other terms, like “rape,” “sexual abuse,” and “sexual
harassment,” may also be appropriate to describe certain acts discussed below.

Based on the evidence received, we find that four former Branson educators
engaged in sexual misconduct with Branson students: in chronological order,
Rothwell “Rusty” Taylor, Leslie “Les” Carroll, Richard “Rich” Manoogian, and
Alistair Grant. We received information indicating that additional Branson
educators engaged in sexual misconduct with Branson students, and those reports
are also described below. We did not receive any information about current
Branson students or reports that current Branson educators had engaged in sexual
misconduct with students.

Our investigation was independent. Covington has not previously


represented Branson, and the Covington attorneys working on the investigation
have no direct ties with the school. Branson gave us complete autonomy to conduct
our investigation, and it did not influence our findings.

We appreciate the cooperation and support Branson and its Board of Trustees
provided to our investigation. The school was extremely responsive to our
information requests and helpful in connecting us with current and former Branson
educators. In investigating past misconduct and deciding to make our report public,
Branson’s Board of Trustees and Head of School have demonstrated their
commitment to ensuring the health and safety of Branson graduates and students.
We wish to thank the members of the Branson community who spoke with us,
particularly those graduates who made the difficult and courageous decision to
participate in our investigation and describe the sexual misconduct they
experienced as students. We hope that this report will be of value to them and to
the broader Branson community.

Branson’s Policies and Culture

Beginning in the 1977-78 school year, Branson included in its handbooks a


policy prohibiting “verbal or physical abuse of individuals.” In the 1993-94 school
year, Branson explicitly prohibited sexual harassment, defined as “unwelcome
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical
conduct of a sexual nature, made by someone from or in the work or educational
setting.” The policy also stated that “[a]ny expression of sexual interest between
adults and students, regardless of reciprocity, is considered inappropriate and shall
be subject to discipline,” and it outlined employees’ obligations to report sexual
harassment. Between 1994 and 2018, Branson continued to update its policies
prohibiting sexual harassment.

In 2018, Branson issued a Code of Conduct, which addresses employee


interactions with “current students, applicants for admission, and any former
students under the age of 21.” The Code of Conduct requires adults in the Branson
community “to maintain appropriate boundaries between themselves and students
to ensure that they avoid even the perception of inappropriate conduct.” Among
other things, the Code of Conduct prohibits “communications to students of a
personal nature,” “unnecessary physical contact with a student,” “[i]ntentionally
being alone with a student off campus without parent and supervisor knowledge or
permission,” and “driv[ing] alone with a student except in emergency situations.”
Employees must report to the Head of School, as soon as possible, any
“inappropriate [behavior] between an adult employee and a student.” In compliance
with a state law enacted the prior year governing the distribution and publication of
employee codes of conduct, Branson posted the Code of Conduct on its website.

Branson educators and graduates alike described a close and tight-knit


community, in which teachers and students interacted with each other outside the
classroom. One graduate echoed the comments of many in praising this “wonderful
culture.” Some with whom we spoke, however, noted that when they were at
Branson the close relationships between educators and students resulted in blurred
boundaries, and they also described an environment in which some students may
not have felt comfortable reporting concerns about inappropriate conduct.

Substantiated Reports of Sexual Misconduct

In evaluating whether to name individuals accused of sexual misconduct, we


weighed a number of factors, including whether the reports of sexual misconduct
were corroborated, the strength of the evidence received, the existence of
contemporaneous documentation, and the number of reports made about any
particular individual. Where appropriate, we also name senior administrators who

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learned during their tenure at Branson about possible sexual misconduct involving
Branson educators and students. Language in quotation marks is verbatim from
interviews, unless attributed to another source.

A. Rusty Taylor

Rusty Taylor worked at Branson from 1972 to 1979, when he was in his late-
twenties to mid-thirties. Taylor served as the Director of Athletics and a soccer
coach. Throughout his career, Taylor has received numerous accolades, including
induction into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame in 2016. One witness described
Taylor as a “powerful sports figure.” After leaving Branson, Taylor worked at other
independent schools in Northern California.

Four Branson graduates told us that Taylor engaged in sexual misconduct


with them while they were students; some of this conduct overlapped in time.
Three of those graduates, Students 1, 2, and 3, described their experiences with
Taylor to Mazzola in May 2018, and Mazzola reported this information to the police.
A fifth graduate described sexual contact with Taylor in her first year of college. A
number of graduates and a former administrator heard from a sixth graduate that
Taylor was sexually involved with her while she was at Branson.

We wrote to Taylor and asked to speak with him. We informed Taylor that
we had received reports that he had “engaged in sexual misconduct with one or
more [Branson] students.” Through his attorney, Taylor declined our request.

Student 1

Student 1 graduated from Branson in the 1970s. She played on the soccer
team and Taylor was her coach. Student 1 said that in her sophomore year, when
she was 14 years old and after her braces had come off, Taylor stopped her as she
was leaving the cafeteria to tell her that she looked “fantastic.” She reported that
later in the year, when she was 15 years old, Taylor “cornered” her at school, pinned
her against the wall, and kissed her.

Student 1 stated that Taylor continued to kiss and touch her, including her
breasts and buttocks, into her junior year. Student 1 told us that in December of
that year, Taylor invited her to his home. Student 1 described how, once there,
Taylor kissed her and indicated that he wanted to go into the bedroom. Student 1
remembers saying to Taylor that she did not want to go any further, but that he
forced her into sexual intercourse and “rape[d]” her. Student 1 said that a few
nights later, in his car, Taylor took out his penis and told her to put her mouth on it,
which she did. Student 1 recalled that Taylor stopped pursuing her towards the
end of her junior year when she began dating another student.

Student 1 later told a number of alumni about Taylor’s conduct. One


graduate told us that she was at a dinner about ten years ago during which

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Students 1 and 3 discussed what Taylor had done to them while they were at
Branson. Another graduate who attended the same dinner said that Student 1
referenced an “experience” with Taylor. A third graduate stated that about two or
three years ago, Student 1 told him that Taylor and Student 1 had kissed and made
out in the girls’ locker room while she was a student, and said that “‘he raped me.’”
Student 1 told us that she discussed Taylor with Student 3 last year, and that it
was “emotional for both of us to realize we suffered from the same thing.”

Student 2

Student 2 graduated from Branson in the 1970s. She too played on the soccer
team coached by Taylor. Student 2 told us that Taylor was close to her family and
that he joined them for dinners. Student 2 recalled that starting in the fall of her
junior year, when she was 16 years old, Taylor complimented her looks and asked
her out. Student 2 said that the two went to dinner and, in his car, Taylor forcibly
kissed her. Student 2 told us that later, during soccer season, she was in or near
the locker room when Taylor again forcibly kissed her and put her hands down his
pants to feel his erect penis. Student 2 said that Taylor stopped pursuing her after
she pretended to have a boyfriend.

A classmate of Student 2 told us that she knew while they were at Branson
that “something bad was happening to [Student 2].” She recalled that Student 2
quit the soccer team and withdrew socially. That classmate said that Student 2 told
her more recently about Taylor’s misconduct and was “very graphic with what
happened with Rusty.” Another graduate recounted Student 2 saying “something
about being careful about Rusty Taylor,” while they were at Branson, which she
understood as referring to “predatorial behavior.” Three additional graduates,
including Student 3, recalled observing Taylor and Student 2 spending time
together; one of these graduates described seeing Taylor with Student 2 outside of
soccer practice and games, and hearing Taylor offer Student 2 rides home.

Four graduates told us that, in the last few years, Student 2 confided in them
about Taylor’s conduct. One of those graduates said that in 2015, Student 2 “shared
her experience of sexual abuse by Taylor,” and that, in 2018, Student 2 “shared in
more detail her experience at [Branson] and the sexual abuse by Taylor.” Another
of those graduates reported that, about two years ago, Student 2 told him that
Taylor had forced her to touch his penis, that Taylor repeatedly tried and succeeded
in kissing her even though she did not kiss him back, and that she stopped playing
soccer to avoid Taylor. The other two graduates told us that about a year ago,
Student 2 described Taylor’s conduct to them.

Student 3

Student 3 graduated from Branson in the 1970s, and was also a member of
the soccer team coached by Taylor. In her sophomore year, when she was 15 years

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old, Student 3 said that Taylor started touching her calves while taping her ankles
for soccer practice. Student 3 also told us that, by the end of her junior year, Taylor
had kissed her and she had spent a lot of time with Taylor, including at his home
where he instructed her on how to perform oral sex, had her perform oral sex on
him, and told her that it would “prove to be beneficial in the long run.” Student 3
said that their sexual encounters continued into the summer after her junior year.

Seven graduates told us that, when they were students at Branson, they
observed Taylor and Student 3 together in ways that, in the words of some of these
graduates, seemed “wrong” and “closer than most relationships, certainly between
teachers and students.” These graduates’ observations included Student 3 “always”
getting rides from Taylor, and Taylor and Student 3 spending time together outside
of school and at night, including at social parties, “in a way that felt inappropriate.”

After graduation, Student 3 confided in many people about Taylor’s sexual


misconduct. One graduate said that in 1989 or 1990, Student 3 told her about
Taylor’s conduct, which that graduate described as “something extraordinarily
awful and abusive.” Another graduate recalled that, in 2003, Student 3 shared
specific details about Taylor’s conduct, including that Taylor provided instructions
on “the best way to do oral sex on him.” As discussed above, one graduate told us
that she was at a dinner about ten years ago during which Students 1 and 3
discussed what Taylor had done to them while they were at Branson. Five
additional graduates and a current faculty member told us that Student 3 had more
recently confided in them about Taylor’s conduct.

Student 3 said that, before she spoke with Mazzola in May 2018, she reported
Taylor to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and that that Office referred
her to the Sausalito Police Department, where she filed a complaint against Taylor.

Students 4 and 5

Student 4 graduated from Branson in the 1970s. Student 4 reported that,


while she was a sophomore, she and Taylor had sexual intercourse in his home and
that Taylor indicated to her during sex that it would “reflect[] badly” on Student 4 if
she told anyone. Student 5, another 1970s Branson graduate who played on the
soccer team coached by Taylor, reported an experience with Taylor during the
winter break of her first year of college. Student 5 stated that Taylor, when driving
her home from a party in San Francisco, took her to a residence he was staying at,
kissed her, and put his hands down her pants. Student 5 said that she told him to
“get that out of there,” and he did so.

Student 6

Three graduates told us that at an alumni event in 2005, Student 6 disclosed


to them and others that she and Taylor had sexual intercourse while she attended
Branson. One of those graduates stated, “I remember her saying, ‘He raped me.’”

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All three of those graduates and a fourth who also attended the event said that
Student 6 was visibly upset when discussing Taylor. Shortly after the alumni
event, one of those graduates told her mother about Student 6’s statements. We
spoke with that graduate’s mother, who confirmed her daughter’s account. We also
reviewed emails sent by these graduates shortly after the alumni event, and they
are consistent with what the graduates told us about that event.

* * *
We could not find evidence concerning the circumstances of Taylor’s
departure from Branson, and many faculty and administrators who worked at the
school during Taylor’s tenure in the 1970s are deceased. We did not hear about any
reports made to the school, while Taylor worked at Branson, about his physical
misconduct. We heard, however, from many graduates that it was understood
among the student body, while Taylor was at Branson, that he was sexually
involved with Branson students. There are also indications that some Branson
faculty and administrators were aware at the time that Taylor’s conduct with
students was, at a minimum, inappropriate.

Students 1 and 3 each specifically recalled that a particular former history


teacher and coach was at Taylor’s home on at least one of their visits. We spoke
with that former teacher and he said that he spent time at Taylor’s home, but does
not recall either way if any female students were present. We also spoke with Basil
Hamblin, Dean of Students in the 1970s, who said that he hired Taylor based on
Taylor’s coaching success. Hamblin described Taylor’s behavior with female
students as “flirty,” and said he heard Taylor making “inappropriate,” “usually
sexual” jokes and commenting on students’ appearances such as “how cute they
were.”

We reviewed evidence indicating that Hamblin received complaints about


Taylor’s conduct, while they were both at Branson; Hamblin departed Branson in
the late 1970s. A graduate sent an email to classmates in May 2005, which stated
that Hamblin, during a conversation he had with the graduate that same day, “did
say that two separate families (of lower classwomen) met with him while he was
there about possible sexual harassment issues with Rusty. Nobody filed a lawsuit
or anything—they simply banned Rusty from coming to their homes.” Hamblin told
us that he did not remember Taylor being banned from students’ homes, but did
recall a complaint made by a Branson student’s parents that Taylor had made a
“flirty” comment to their daughter. Hamblin said that Taylor did not deny making
the comment but that Hamblin “defended” him because he (Hamblin) considered
Taylor to be “harmless.” Hamblin said he did not hear about any physical sexual
misconduct by Taylor until after Hamblin had left Branson. Hamblin told us that
Student 6 shared with him, at the 2005 alumni event described above, her
experiences with Taylor.

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Taylor continued to have a presence at Branson up until the school’s
announcement of our investigation, including through a current senior
administrator. After joining Branson’s administration in 2014, the administrator
recommended that Taylor be inducted into the Branson Athletic Hall of Fame and,
as recently as spring 2018, the administrator and Taylor attended a Branson soccer
game together. The administrator took those steps after having heard numerous
accounts of Taylor’s sexual misconduct with Branson students, and despite
believing those accounts to be true.

The administrator told us that Taylor had recruited him to Branson as a


student, coached him in soccer, and was an important mentor to him. The
administrator told us that shortly after graduating from Branson, he heard about
Taylor and Student 3, prompting him to ask Taylor over the years about his
relationships with students. According to the administrator, Taylor denied any
misconduct. The administrator also said that, beginning approximately 20 years
ago, he heard directly from Student 2 about her experiences with Taylor, including
Taylor telling Student 2 during her senior year that he would help her get into a
particular college if she had sex with him. The administrator told us that he had
also learned from Hamblin that Student 6 had “broken down” about Taylor at the
2005 alumni event. We have been told that several graduates have expressed
concerns about the administrator’s relationship with Taylor; in particular, we
understand that one graduate said that she lost “total confidence in the school”
after the administrator nominated Taylor to the Branson Athletic Hall of Fame, and
that she had worried about reporting Taylor’s abuse to Branson because of the
administrator’s close relationship with Taylor.

B. Les Carroll

Les Carroll was at Branson from approximately 1985 to 1989, and served as
the Director of Athletics and coached the soccer and basketball teams. Public
records indicate that Carroll was in his late twenties to early thirties during that
time. According to school records, Branson terminated Carroll because of his
“association with” Student 7.

We wrote to Carroll and asked to speak with him. We informed Carroll that
we had received reports that he “engaged in sexual misconduct with a [Branson]
student.” Carroll did not respond to our request. Student 7 also did not contact us,
but 16 people, including several former administrators, provided information about
Carroll and Student 7.

Student 7

One graduate told us that, while he and Student 7 were students, he saw
Carroll and Student 7 holding hands while walking together on school grounds. A
parent of a graduate stated that she observed Student 7 sitting on Carroll’s lap in

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the gym office. Another graduate said that it was “pretty well known within the
student body” that Carroll and Student 7 were “secretly dating.”

Branson educators were aware of at least some of Carroll’s interactions with


Student 7 while she was at Branson. A current faculty member said that Carroll
and Student 7 “spent a lot of time together” and that they had “a close relationship.”
Tom Hudnut, Head of School for a period of time while Student 7 was at Branson,
told us that he heard that Carroll and Student 7 “were keen on each other.”
Hudnut said that he did not recall if he had discussed that relationship with
anyone. Hudnut told us he knew Student 7’s parents well and “figured if [Carroll
and Student 7] had affection, [Student 7’s parents] would say something to me.”

Three administrators told us that, while Student 7 was at Branson, they


spoke with Carroll about his relationship with her. Coreen Hester, Branson’s
Interim Head of School during Student 7’s junior year, said that she questioned
Carroll after hearing that he was spending time alone with Student 7 in his office.
Hester recounted telling Carroll that “it was not appropriate,” and Carroll saying
that there was “nothing going on.” Rick Fitzgerald, Hester’s successor as Head of
School, told us that Hester and others alerted him the following school year to a
“situation” with Carroll. Fitzgerald recalled questioning Carroll on multiple
occasions, and that Carroll “aggressively” denied any inappropriate conduct.
Assistant Head of School Rebecca Upham reported that, toward the end of
Student 7’s senior year, she heard that Carroll was driving Student 7 home and was
“spending too much time with her.” Upham said that she spoke with Carroll and he
said that “‘nothing is going on.’”

Fitzgerald and Upham each told us that, shortly after Student 7’s graduation,
they learned that Carroll and Student 7 were intending to live together. Fitzgerald
said that Student 7’s mother informed him of this plan and she was upset about it.
Public records indicate that Carroll and Student 7 had the same residential address
beginning about eight months after her graduation. Fitzgerald and Upham recalled
confronting Carroll about his involvement with Student 7. According to Fitzgerald,
Carroll responded by saying that there was nothing Fitzgerald could do, because he
did not “‘catch’” Carroll before Student 7’s graduation. Upham said that Carroll
denied that anything improper had happened before graduation. Upham told us
that she did not find his denial to be credible, given the close proximity between
graduation and Student 7’s announcement that she was moving in with Carroll.
Fitzgerald and Upham said that they terminated Carroll after speaking with him.

The school subsequently made written findings, including that: (1) Fitzgerald
“heard repeated rumors that Mr. Carroll and [Student 7] were having a romantic
relationship”; (2) “[o]n several occasions,” Fitzgerald had “confronted Mr. Carroll on
this issue and he denied the accusations”; (3) Carroll had made a comment about
“[Student 7]’s anatomy” to another faculty member and “boasted that he would
marry her someday”; (4) Carroll and Student 7 “were holding hands on one occasion

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in the school auditorium”; (5) “a student’s parent observed [Student 7] and
Mr. Carroll having a candlelight dinner”; and (6) Fitzgerald had heard a report that
Carroll and Student 7 “were seen together at a distant ski resort.”

Carroll was not a U.S. citizen while he was at Branson. According to school
records, Branson offered to assist Carroll in his application for permanent
residency, to extend Carroll’s employment by several months (limited to “off-campus
advice”), and to make a salary payment of about $10,000 if he agreed not to dispute
his termination. Carroll requested that the school also help him extend his work
visa. We have not been able to determine whether Branson assisted Carroll with
his residency status or work visa, or paid him any additional salary. A former
administrator said that when the school received calls requesting references for
Carroll, she was instructed to state only his dates of employment.

C. Rich Manoogian

Rich Manoogian graduated from Branson in 1984. Manoogian returned to


Branson about a year later to assist the boys’ varsity basketball team on an unpaid
basis. Branson did not locate any school records relating to Manoogian’s coaching
tenure, but he is identified in various ways in Branson’s 1986 to 1989 and 1991 to
1992 yearbooks, including as “manager,” “coach,” and “assistant coach.”

We wrote to Manoogian and asked to speak with him, informing him that we
had received reports that he had “engaged in sexual misconduct with one or more
[Branson] students.” Through his attorney, Manoogian declined to speak with us.

Student 8

Student 8, who graduated from Branson in the 1990s, informed us about


sexual misconduct by Manoogian while she was a student. Student 8 told us that,
during her sophomore year, when she was 15, Manoogian kissed her “out of [the]
blue” in a parking lot by the gym. Manoogian was in his early twenties at that
time. Manoogian began driving Student 8 home and stopping at his residence on
the way. Student 8 said that their physical contacts progressed to “kisses, heavy
making out and touching,” and “oral sex,” primarily in Manoogian’s car or home,
and continued on and off through Student 8’s junior and senior years.

Student 8 told us about an incident when some basketball players saw


Manoogian and her kissing in the gym office. Two former basketball players
likewise recalled hearing about Manoogian and Student 8 kissing in the gym office
immediately afterwards from their teammates who had witnessed it. One of those
graduates, Graduate 1, said that he heard a commotion outside the gym office and
saw boys peering in through closed venetian blinds. Graduate 1 said that his
teammates exclaimed, “‘I can’t believe it,’” “‘Rich was kissing [Student 8] in the
office,’” and “‘Holy shit—Rich is like making out with [Student 8].’” Graduate 2 said
that he saw Student 8 in the gym office, and then saw Manoogian go in and pull the

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blinds down. Graduate 2 told us that “registered” with him because “no one lets the
blinds down” and he “knew it wasn’t cool.” Graduate 2 described his teammate
saying, “‘Wow, you won’t believe this’” and that he had seen “‘Manoogian kissing
[Student 8].’”

Student 8 told us that while she was a student, a current Branson faculty
member, who was also the head coach of the boys’ varsity basketball team at the
time, was aware of Manoogian’s conduct. Student 8 described her “long discussions”
with the coach about Manoogian, during which he expressed concern that he (the
coach) “would lose his job.” Student 8 said that the coach instructed her and
Manoogian to stop the conduct. According to Student 8, the coach was the only
Branson educator who knew about her involvement with Manoogian while she
attended Branson. Graduate 1 recalled Student 8 telling him a few years ago that,
while she was at Branson, the coach had told Manoogian to “knock it off and quit
bothering” her.

We met with the coach and asked him whether he was aware of any sexual
misconduct by adults at Branson, including any “part-time coaches” or “volunteers.”
The coach did not identify Manoogian the first two times we asked this question,
despite eventually acknowledging that he had been involved in removing
Manoogian as a coach from Branson as a result of Manoogian’s misconduct. It was
not until we asked the coach about Manoogian specifically by name that the coach
immediately responded, “Yes,” and then said, “Here we go.”

The coach stated that Student 8 called him during her first year of college,
and that he believes Student 8 told him that Manoogian had “kissed her” and “made
physical moves on her” when she was at Branson. The coach also said
that Student 8 “had been going up to [Manoogian’s] house at some point in her
senior year.” The coach did not recall informing anyone at Branson about this
conversation. The coach sent us an email after our meeting, which stated in part as
follows:

I did not remember the allegation about Rich Manoogian (from over 25
years ago) until I was asked about this in the interview. . . . Even
looking back at this now, I had no knowledge, or even suspicion, of
anything improper between Rich and [Student 8] until [Student 8]
called me when she was in college (as I said, I believe this was during
the spring of her freshman year of college). . . . When I confronted Rich
about what [Student 8] had told me, he denied it. Nevertheless, Rich
was removed as a coach at Branson and never coached with me or at
Branson again.

Student 8 reported Manoogian’s conduct to others at Branson in her first year


of college. Student 8 and her father described meeting with Assistant Head of
School Susan Clark to inform her about Manoogian’s misconduct. We reviewed

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Student 8’s father’s datebook from that year, and it reflects an appointment with
Clark on April 24: “[Student 8] talks to Susan.” Student 8, but not her father,
recalled that Head of School Rick Fitzgerald also participated in that meeting.

Clark stated that she did not meet with Student 8 and her father about
Manoogian, but she believes Fitzgerald dealt with the situation. Clark told us that
she learned, after Student 8 had graduated from Branson, that Manoogian had been
“involved” with Student 8, and that Manoogian was then “banned from the
basketball team.” Fitzgerald did not specifically remember meeting with Student 8
and her father, but said that he had a “vague memor[y]” of instructing the coach “to
tell Rich he couldn’t coach anymore.” The coach told us that he recalls Fitzgerald’s
instruction and relaying the message to Manoogian. The coach believes that
Manoogian left Branson at that time.

Student 8 stated that, after she reported Manoogian’s conduct to Branson, he


left a message on her answering machine filled with “crazy laughter” and asking,
“‘Did I sodomize you?’” Student 8 told us that she played the message for her
parents. Student 8’s father recalled two “taunting” messages from Manoogian, and
his datebook from that year has a June 27 entry stating “Rich,” “Obscene Phone
Call from R,” and a July 21 entry stating “Rich 10:09.”

Student 8 and her father told us that, after reporting Manoogian to Branson,
she filed a report with the Ross Police Department. In our interview, the coach said
that shortly after his call with Student 8 about Manoogian, the Ross Police
Department contacted him. The Ross Police Department informed us that any
records of Student 8’s report would have been purged pursuant to its document
retention policy.

Student 8 said that in her first year of college she also discussed Manoogian
with a Branson classmate and the classmate’s mother. The classmate remembers
Student 8 saying that she and Manoogian had interactions while she was at
Branson that involved kissing, and the classmate’s mother recalled a separate
conversation with Student 8 about “inappropriate touching” by a Branson coach.

Manoogian declined to speak with us, but his attorney agreed to answer some
of our questions. According to Manoogian’s attorney, Manoogian assisted the boys’
basketball team in an unpaid position on two separate occasions with an
intervening period of two or three years. Manoogian’s attorney stated that an
“issue” arose during Manoogian’s first tenure, that Fitzgerald and Clark discussed
this issue with him, and that the school did not make any negative findings.
Manoogian’s attorney said that Manoogian’s subsequent departure from Branson
was voluntary. Manoogian’s attorney said that Manoogian later returned to
Branson, and then left again because the school wanted to replace him on the boys’
basketball team with a Branson teacher and asked him to take over the girls’ team
instead. This account conflicts with the statements of Clark, Fitzgerald, and the

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coach. The coach also said that there was “no way” that the school would have
asked Manoogian to coach the girls’ team.

D. Alistair Grant

Alistair Grant was a Branson college counselor from May 2011 to June 2013,
and he remained affiliated with Branson as a consultant until December 2013.
Grant was in his mid-thirties at the time. Two Branson graduates contacted us and
each described sexual and emotional misconduct by Grant. We spoke with more
than 25 additional people about Grant.

A number of Branson community members said that Grant was “very


helpful” in the college placement process and especially dedicated to his students.
Others described Grant as having a “cult of personality” and someone who needed
“a lot of adulation.” One graduate said that Grant had “wrapped everyone around
his finger” and convinced parents “there was no way he was a bad guy.”

Current and former faculty and administrators, as well as graduates, said


that Grant developed unusually close relationships with students. One graduate
said that Grant’s college counseling sessions were “like therapy session[s].” A
Branson educator referred to Grant’s “blurred boundaries around propriety,” and
noted that Grant’s office couch was known among students as the “crying couch.”
Another Branson educator described Grant as “voyeuristic” in pushing students to
tell him about their “traumatic” experiences as part of the college essay writing
process.

We wrote to Grant and asked to speak with him. We informed Grant that we
had received reports that he had “engaged in sexual misconduct with one or more
[Branson] students.” Grant provided a written denial: “Any allegation that I
committed misconduct against one of my students is false. I never committed any
inappropriate conduct with any students at Branson or anywhere else.” Grant’s
attorney followed up to say that Grant would not speak with us.

Student 9

Student 9 told us that she began interacting with Grant during her
sophomore year, and then was assigned to Grant’s college counseling group in her
junior year. Student 9 said that Grant almost immediately began asking about
“very personal” aspects of her life, including her family relationships. Student 9
said that Grant discouraged her from confiding in her mother and insisted that he
was a “‘better support system.’” Student 9 recounted that Grant also shared
intimate details about himself with her, including about personal traumas.

Student 9 said that beginning in the fall of her junior year, she and Grant
went on walks, hikes, and to at least one movie. She told us that Grant also invited
her to his home, which she described in detail. Student 9 recounted going into

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Grant’s bedroom and watching movies together on his bed. She said that Grant
compared the two of them to a couple in a romantic movie.

After visiting Grant’s home a few times, Student 9 said that Grant kissed her
and then proposed that they have sexual intercourse. Student 9 said she initially
declined and that she told Grant she was a virgin. She said that Grant persisted in
proposing intercourse, and she eventually agreed. Student 9 said that she was then
in her junior year and 16 years old. Student 9 described Grant commenting that
sex would be fine because she would be 18 in a year, incorrectly assuming that she
was then 17. Student 9 also recalled Grant saying that society deemed their
relationship to be “bad,” but that “age was just a number.”

After they had sex, Student 9 said that Grant “freaked out” and told her that
he could go to jail. Student 9 told us that she assured Grant that she would not tell
anyone. She described sending Grant a text message to apologize for bleeding on
his sheets, and Grant instructing her not to send “‘things like that’” and to delete
everything she texted him, which she told us she did. Student 9 said that she and
Grant had intercourse and oral sex a number of times.

Student 9 kept a journal in high school; she told us that she intentionally did
not name Grant in her journal, “in case someone found it,” and verified that the
entries below, dated in her junior year, refer to Grant:

What am I to him? An occasional fuck? Someone to relieve his sexual


tensions? . . . . I didn’t want it to be like th[i]s, I didn’t want to lose my
virginity like this, because right now, I am in so much fucking pain. I
feel like a child but I need him.

He is always going to be the one who took my virginity. . . . Everything


is working out for him. His new business is thriving . . . .

Corporate records indicate that HighGround Education, a Bay Area-based college


counseling company founded by Grant, was registered with the State of California a
month prior to the above entries.

During the summer after her junior year, Student 9 and other students
participated in a program which Grant organized to write college essays at his
parents’ property in Scotland. This program was not sponsored by Branson.
Student 9 told us that she and Grant had sex in Scotland. A classmate, Graduate 3,
who attended the Scotland program, said that Student 9 was the only student he
recalled who spent time in Grant’s parents’ home. Graduate 3 also observed that
Student 9 seemed more stressed and not herself during the program.

Student 9 said that, while in Scotland, she told her mother personal
information about Grant that he had shared with her. We spoke with Student 9’s

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mother, who confirmed that discussion. Student 9’s mother said that she contacted
Grant in Scotland to convey her discomfort with the personal nature of his
discussions with her daughter. Student 9 told us that Grant was upset by this
communication and said to Student 9 that she had “‘violated a really sacred trust.’”

We reviewed a journal entry Student 9 made while she was in Scotland.


Student 9 told us that the “A” in the excerpt below refers to Alistair Grant:

I don’t think I will ever forgive myself. . . . I trusted [my mother], and
god I was so foolish. He no longer looks at me and feels the sacredness
of the relationship. He no longer looks at me and sees someone who he
can trust completely, who he can expose his heart and soul to. . . . He
was so cold, so distant, so hurt, and I could do nothing but watch
helplessly, knowing that his pain is entirely my fault. . . . I want him to
stay mine. And I want to be A’s.

After she returned from Scotland, Student 9 said that Grant invited her to
his home and they had sex. Student 9 told us that their sexual contact ended at
that point.

We spoke with three of Student 9’s classmates, including Graduate 3. Each


of those classmates told us that Student 9 had confided in them about Grant around
the time of their graduation from Branson, and conveyed that he had sexually
violated her. Graduate 4 said that Student 9 was “very shaken up” and “visibly
upset” when speaking about Grant, and that she “seemed very hurt and like
something bad happened.” Graduate 5 recounted Student 9 also telling her that
Grant had “freaked out,” “yelled,” and “was so angry with her” when Student 9
shared Grant’s personal details with her mother. Graduate 5’s father told us his
daughter relayed to him this conversation with Student 9, and that he had
previously heard from his daughter that Grant treated Student 9 “like a girlfriend.”
Graduate 5’s father also said that he had warned his daughter to “‘be careful’” with
Grant while she was at Branson, after hearing about the personal conversations
Grant initiated during college counseling sessions with his daughter.

Student 9 disclosed to a teacher what had happened with Grant. That


teacher then reported Student 9’s account to Woody Price, then Head of School, and
another faculty member. That same day, Price met with Student 9 and her family,
and immediately notified the police. Price also informed the Chair of the Board of
Trustees and, following a Board meeting on the next day, the school sent a letter to
Branson families stating that Branson had received a report that Grant “had
inappropriate sexual contact with a high school student” and that Branson had
notified law enforcement authorities. The school, through Price or its outside
counsel, spoke with the police on several occasions. The school’s lawyer informed us
that, in April of the following year, she spoke with the police and was informed that

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the investigation was closed but might be revisited. The school did not separately
undertake an investigation of Alistair Grant’s conduct at that time.

We have been told that Branson parents, including members of Branson’s


administration and Board of Trustees, have continued to hire Grant to provide
private college counseling services to their children.

Student 10

Student 10 was assigned to Grant’s college counseling group in her junior


year when she was 16 years old.

Student 10 said that her meetings with Grant quickly became “deeply
personal,” and that he offered unsolicited advice about her life. Student 10 told us
that Grant provided her with private college counseling, and that he “worked his
way into [her] family” and would join them for dinner. Student 10 recounted that
Grant would, at the same time, criticize Student 10’s mother to her and “driv[e]
wedges” in her family.

Student 10 told us that she and Grant worked on her college applications in
her bedroom with the door closed. Student 10 recalled Grant instructing her to list
things she loved and hated about herself and, after reviewing it, Grant saying that
she was “‘too fucked up’” to help. She said that, over time, they sat together on her
bed. She described Grant as “always holding my hands or touching my shoulders or
giving me hugs.” Student 10 said that Grant also “did a lot of crying,” in person and
during phone calls, and that Grant would get “so emotional” about her that he
“would get choked up.” Student 10 told us that she felt “guilty” and “didn’t know
what [she] was supposed to be doing.” Student 10 said that in her senior year,
Grant kissed her on her cheek and told her that he loved her. She described how
Grant, at one point, touched her upper thigh over her clothing and that, more than
once, while commenting on his healthy lifestyle, instructed Student 10 to feel his
bare stomach, which she did.

Student 10 said that she and Grant spent a lot of time together, including
hiking, walking around the city, and watching a movie at Grant’s home, and that
they often held hands. Student 10 described Grant’s home with great specificity.
Student 10 said that Grant shared intimate information about himself with her,
including past traumas. She told us that Grant would text and call her frequently,
and would get angry if she did not respond.

Student 10 told us that, for her “capstone” senior project, Grant encouraged
her to choose “Camp Alistair” rather than an internship. We reviewed an email
Grant sent Student 10, in which he described “Camp Alistair” as time every
weekday “for an adventure” such as “driv[ing] to the Santa Cruz mountains” or
“go[ing] to the gym” with him.

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Student 10 kept a journal, with entries, among others, dated in her senior
year and the year following, referring to Grant by name:

Alistair: “I love you[.]” Me: “You too” and I do.

I am so mad at Alistair Grant and for absolutely no good reason. . . .


Maybe you are a child creep. For showing me your stomach fat. . . .
For the kiss. And for making me feel special. For making me feel
cared about/loved.

I almost started crying because all I could think about was Alistair and
the disgusting things that he did to me.

I had a lot of time to consider my relationship with Alistair. Thinking


about him makes me feel like I’m going to throw up. Everything that
happened between us (the small, inappropriate touches, the obviously
inappropriate touches, the verbal boundaries crossed, the emotional
boundaries crossed, the physical boundaries crossed, the “grooming” he
did of me and my parents . . . to slowly integrate himself more deeply
into our family, etc.).

Student 10’s journal indicates that she informed her cousin the year after her
graduation from Branson about an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship,
and recounts that conversation:

“And I let someone abuse me for, like, a year and a half.” The first
thing she said was perhaps exactly what I needed to hear,
“[Student 10], nobody lets someone abuse them. You can say that you
were abused but you cannot say that you let someone abuse you.” . . .
Then she asked, “Emotional? Sexual?” “Everything,” I answered.

We spoke with Student 10’s cousin, who said that Student 10 told her that
“things happened” with “one of her teachers.” Student 10’s cousin said that she
then researched resources and contacted a hotline for survivors of sexual abuse.

Other Reports

We received other reports of sexual misconduct, as described below.

Six graduates reported that a former teacher and coach had a close
relationship with a classmate in the 1970s; this student did not contact us.
Witnesses described seeing the teacher, who was in his early thirties at the time,
and the student on school grounds holding hands or with their arms around each
other. A former administrator said he heard from the Head of School at the time
that the teacher was “dating” a student and that Branson had instructed the

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teacher to stop doing so. One graduate stated that he saw the teacher and the
student together at the student’s college after she had graduated from Branson.

We spoke with this former teacher. He recalled the Assistant Head of School
speaking to him and other coaches about students spending “too much time” around
their offices. The teacher told us that he and the student had a “close friendship,”
but not a “romantic relationship.” When asked about being seen with the student at
her college, the teacher acknowledged that he had visited her several times because
it “seemed like there might have been some special feeling, . . . but that didn’t pan
out.” He said that he may have held hands with the student during these college
visits, but denied any other physical contact.

A 1970s graduate reported to us that her math teacher, whose name she did
not recall, kissed and touched her breasts while they were hiking together. The
graduate described pushing him away and running back to school. The graduate’s
classmate contacted us to say that the graduate had told her about the interaction
around the time it occurred. Another 1970s graduate told us that a now-deceased
staff member grabbed her breasts and attempted to kiss her. The graduate shared
this incident with a classmate, who also told us about it.

We received a number of other reports of sexual misconduct, including


reports about sexual intercourse or other inappropriate interactions between
Branson educators and students. We were unable to corroborate those reports or
gather sufficient information about them.

Conclusion

Our independent investigation has come to a close. If members of the


Branson community have additional information about sexual misconduct at
Branson, please contact Michelle Jones, Director of Human Resources, at
michelle_jones@branson.org or 415.455.7126.

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