Therapist who didn’t report prep school abuse keeps license

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A psychologist accused of failing to report abuse at a prominent New England boarding school in the 1970s and 1980s has kept his license after former students tried to get it revoked.

Peter Kosseff, who was a part-time therapist at St. George’s School in Middletown for 35 years, was not disciplined by state licensing officials, according to information the Department of Health sent this month to one of the former students who filed a complaint against him.

“I’m incredibly disappointed with Rhode Island for allowing him to just get away with everything he’s done,” said Katie Wales Lovkay, one of the women who filed a complaint against Kosseff more than three years ago.

Kosseff did not return phone messages seeking comment. He previously told The Associated Press that he acted ethically when he worked at St. George’s from 1979 to 2014. Papers filed in the case show that Kosseff disputed some of the allegations against him and that his lawyers argued that he was not required to report what he learned to authorities under the laws at the time.

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An independent report into St. George’s in 2016 found widespread abuse of dozens of children by multiple staffers and students. The school settled that year with more than two dozen former students under terms that have not been disclosed.

The report found that Kosseff took action in some instances, such as helping to fire a choirmaster in 1988 for inappropriate sexual contact with a student. But no one at the private high school ever notified authorities, and the choirmaster went on to find work at another school. The investigation also found that at other times, students came to Kosseff with reports about misconduct and he didn’t move quickly to stop it.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Department of Health, confirmed the department had not issued any disciplinary actions against Kosseff but would not comment on the specifics of the case. However, he wrote in an email that laws can change over time.

“For example, a school psychologist is now required to report allegations of abuse or neglect to the administrative head of the school. That was not the case in the 1980s,” he wrote on Thursday.

Lovkay was one of at least 31 girls at the school who was abused by athletic trainer Al Gibbs. She said she told Kosseff in 1979, but as far as she knows, he never reported it to authorities.

The Department of Health sent Lovkay an email July 11 saying it had completed “a thorough review and investigation.” The email said the outcome was consistent with state laws and regulations in effect at the time covered by the complaint.

Lovkay said she felt like the system had failed her yet again. She said the licensing board had asked her if she would testify, and she offered to do so, even by teleconference, but then they never called her. She was highly critical of the decision.

“Their concern for the kids is not what it should be, they totally broke our trust. It took me 20 years to get in and see a psychiatrist after that. Because of trust,” she said, adding, “It just feels like those of our generation whom this has happened to, there’s no recourse, especially in Rhode Island.”

Wendelken said the department takes every complaint seriously and is grateful to those who come forward.

It’s not clear whether Kosseff is still practicing. Three phone numbers that Kosseff once used professionally, including for his offices in South Kingstown and Newport, were no longer in service this week.

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