RI prep school scandal has ties to Tampa Prep

A choir director who was fired from a prep school in Rhode Island for sexual misconduct with students, went on to teach at Tampa Prep for more than a decade.

Attorneys for victims of students at St. George’s School say Franklin Coleman is accused of fondling students, “grooming” them by providing alcohol and companionship before abusing them. He was fired from the school in 1988 and began working at Tampa Prep in 1997.

Kevin Plummer, head of Tampa Prep, told FOX 13 News in an email that the school first learned about the allegations against its former choir director on Tuesday. Attorneys representing alleged victims of Coleman and other staff at St. George’s School say Tampa Prep was notified by at least one victim in 2004.

Coleman continued to work at the school until 2008, when he was given an award for outstanding faculty from Tampa Prep alumni, according to the school’s website. Plummer said Coleman left the school “of his own volition.”

“I am also unware of any student complaints against Mr. Coleman during his time at the school,” he said, adding that the school notified parents and alumni about the allegations. 

The allegations surfaced in the midst of a growing sex scandal at St. George’s School. More than 40 people have come forward alleging they were sexually abused by three faculty members and fellow students in in the 1970s and 1980s.

Attorneys for the victims say the Rhode Island school failed to report the abuse to law enforcement and attempted to silence victims, putting “gag orders” on victims who settled claims.

Coleman was fired for sexual misconduct with students in 1988. The school did not report allegations to law enforcement at the time, though required to by law.

In a news conference in Boston on Tuesday, victims called for an independent investigation into how the Rhode Island school handled the claims.

“What we're talking about today, in terms of what the administration of what the school knew, is not from the distant past. We're talking about reports that were made to the school in 2004, 2006, 2011, 2012 and ongoing,” said Eric MacLeish, an attorney for the St. George’s School victims and an alumnus of the school.

Efforts to reach Coleman were unsuccessful.

"We want to know whether this is like the Catholic Church, whether the bad apples got farmed out to other places where they'd have a feast on unsuspecting victims,” said MacLeish, who represented victims of abuse by Catholic priests. His involvement was recently portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.” 

Schools are required by law to report abuse allegations to law enforcement, but the victims’ attorneys said the school did not report abuse allegations to law enforcement until a few months ago, after a Boston Globe reporter contacted the school for a story.

Rhode Island State Police began an investigation into the abuse claims in November.

Tampa Prep found itself in the center of an abuse investigation in the past. In 2007, the school’s swim coach was arrested for recording girls as they tried on swim suits. Kimberly Brabson was convicted of voyeurism in 2011, served time in prison and is out on probation.