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Quaker school says students allege abuse by former principal

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Carolina Friends School is a private pre-K through grade 12 Quaker school in Durham. Carolina Friends School is a private pre-K through grade 12 Quaker school in Durham.

A private school in Durham says five former students have claimed they were sexually abused by a former principal in the 1960s and '70s.

Carolina Friends School, a private pre-K to grade 12 Quaker school in Durham, said it learned in 2012 that several former students alleged their were sexually abused by former principal Harold Jernigan between 1969 and 1975.

The school said the former students claimed they were abused in their lower and middle school years.

In response to the allegations, the school hired two experts on child abuse and sexual misconduct to conduct an independent review. Through that review, five former students shared accounts of inappropriate touching by Jernigan.

One of the former students also said they were inappropriately touched in the spring of 1976 by Charles William Butcher, who was a former middle school teacher.

"We are fiercely determined to learn from this experience and will continue to do everything in our power to protect our children," the school said in a statement. "Even before this information came to light, we had engaged in an ongoing, comprehensive review of our existing policies and practices and have since taken a number of additional steps to strengthen the protection of our current and future students."

Carolina Friends School said it reached out to both Jernigan and Butcher, but only Butcher responded to inquiries.

The school said Butcher "did not wish to deny or contradict the allegations and expressed remorse for the anguish and harm he had caused."

Butcher told the school he would participate in the reconciliation process.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office investigated the alleged abuse, although the school said "the acts in question may be beyond the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution."

According to the March 1, 1975, issue of "Friends Journal," a monthly Quaker magazine, Jernigan was appointed the principal of Friends Seminary in New York City after leaving Carolina Friends Schools in 1975. The article said Jernigan was appointed to the position by the Schools Committee of the New York Quarterly Meeting of Friends.

When reached for comment, the New York Quarterly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends said it was unaware of the allegations against Jernigan and did not have a comment.

Carolina Friends School was founded in 1962 by members of the Religious Society of Friends.

Advocates for sex abuse victims say the act of coming forward with allegations, even 40 years later, will help shine a light on the issue and help other victims cope.

"What I hope that means is that society is at a place where we can come forward because a lot of the times the disclosure as an adult is really to move forward," said Monika Johnson-Hostler with the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "It's a healing process and often times you imagine 40 years later, for some of them it could be the beginning of their healing journey."

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