A longtime teacher at Sidwell Friends School has been charged with sex abuse of a minor while serving as director of the posh private school’s summer camp in Queen Anne’s County.
Robert A. Peterson, who was employed at Sidwell until last week as a 7th and 8th grade teacher of social sciences, was criminally charged on that same day with 4th degree sex abuse, sex abuse of a minor and 2nd degree sex assault.
Sidwell, which both of President Obama’s daughters attend, issued a statement today that read: “Immediately before the 2009-10 academic year began, the school first learned that Mr. Peterson had allegedly engaged in inappropriate conduct away from campus. As soon as it became aware of the allegations, the school notified the authorities and placed Mr. Peterson on Leave.
“The leave began before classes commenced. Sidwell Friends terminated Mr. Peterson’s employment on January 14, 2010, upon learning that charges were being brought. The school continues to cooperate fully with the authorites.”
Peterson, age 65, was identified by the Queen Anne’s County sheriff’s office as a longtime employee of the school who lives in Silver Spring, Md.
Sidwell Friends identified Peterson as the former director of the school’s “Camp Corsica.” Sidwell said Peterson was in charge of its summer program at the camp from July through September of last year.
“Charges state that Peterson allegedly touched the (child) inappropriately on one occasion during that time,” according to the sheriff’s office.
Peterson also was charged with similar offenses in Montgomery County.
In its statement Sidwell said, “The school administration has informed the Sidwell Friends community of the charges against Mr. Peterson and has arranged for additional counseling support.”
Stephen K. Barker, interim Head of Sidwell, said, “The allegations against Mr. Peterson are obviously deeply troubling. We are focusing on the needs of our students, families, faculty and staff, as we begin to cope with this sad and challenging situation.”
According to the DC Examiner, Sidwell Associate Head Ellis Turner said Peterson had taught in the middle school since 1979. Turner said, “I can tell you that we’ve never dismissed a teacher for similar cause in the three decades that I’ve been here.”
Sidwell, one of the nation’s premier private schools, has been home to the heirs of Washington elites. In addition to Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, it has taught the daughters of Presidents Nixon, Carter and Clinton, and three grand-children of Vice President Joe Biden.
While the sheriff’s office identified the site of the offense as Camp Pecometh, on Bookers Wharf Road, that appears to be not quite the case. According to the Rev. Jack Shitama, Pecometh’s director, explains that Sidewell rents the facility for four weeks every summer to run its own Camp Corsica and the two operations are entirely separate.
“They rented the facility from us and provided their own counselors and superintendents and even provided their own cooking and food service,” says Shitama. “They are defined as a ‘user group’ and they have responsibility for children in their custody. We are actually n ot the party responsible for those children, and we want to make sure we never see this happen in any situation.”