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Sidwell fired teacher over sex allegations

Police in Montgomery and Queen Anne's counties have charged a Sidwell
Friends middle school teacher with sexual abuse of a
minor and other sexual offenses, according to law enforcement officials.

On Wednesday, the private Northwest Washington school announced that
it had fired social studies teacher Robert A. "Pete" Peterson, 65.

Peterson taught seventh and eighth grades and was director of the
school's Camp Corsica on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He was placed on
leave shortly before the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

Peterson has not been permitted on campus or at school-sponsored
events since then, school officials said. He was dismissed Jan. 14.

According to Montgomery County charging documents dated Jan. 14,
Peterson befriended a male Sidwell student and repeatedly invited him
to his Silver Spring home. Peterson showed the student pornography and
touched him inappropriately, the charging documents say.

He is charged with sex abuse of a minor and two counts of
fourth-degree sex offense, the documents say. He was released on
$250,000 bond.

A phone message left at Peterson's Silver Spring home Wednesday
evening was not returned, and nobody replied to a knock at his door.
His attorney, Barry Helfand, said: "I think everyone has to remember
that these are only allegations. We expect to challenge it in court."

Sidwell officials alerted parents and other members of the community
to the actions against Peterson in an e-mail Wednesday.

"The allegations against Mr. Peterson are obviously deeply troubling,"
said Stephen K. Barker, interim head of school. "We are now focusing
on the needs of our students, families, faculty and staff, as we begin
to cope with this sad and challenging situation."

The school is using counselors to help students cope with news of the
allegations. President Obama's daughters, Malia and Sasha, attend
Sidwell. Sasha is 8 and is in third grade. Malia is 11 and is in sixth
grade. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Peterson had been director of Camp Corsica, the school's sleep-away
camp on the Chester River just outside of Centreville, Md., since
1993. From 1979 until 1987, he taught fourth grade; after that, he
taught middle school.

In Queen Anne's County, home to Camp Corsica, Peterson was charged
with second-degree assault, fourth-degree sex offense and sex abuse of
a minor, said Lt. Dale Patrick, a spokesman for the sheriff's
department there.

He said the charges resulted from an incident last
summer involving an underaged boy, but Patrick did not know whether
the victim was the same as in the Montgomery County case.

Follow all the Post's Education news and blogs at

By Bill Turque  |  January 20, 2010; 6:01 PM ET
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Daym shame.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 20, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

"Sleepaway camp." Yeah, right.

Posted by: BaracksTeleprompter | January 20, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

This is disturbing... I had him as a teacher, and went to said camp for years.

Posted by: sosbrigadier | January 20, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

He's been working there since 1979! You can bet this is just the tip of the iceberg then.

Posted by: sheckycat | January 20, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, one has to be weary of any male who teaches middle schoolers or younger. What better opportunity for a predator than being a teacher? I would never trust a male teacher or Catholic priest with my child, especially if it involves "sleep away" camp.

Posted by: jabreal00 | January 20, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

So are we to assume, Jabreal00, that all males are sex offenders, or that every male teacher is a predator. This is narrow sighted and unfair to assume such. Despite your perception that kids are unsafe with adult males, tell me were you ever touched by any of your adult teachers when growing up? If no... than not all male teachers are predators. This is unfortunate to have happened and truly sad, but no reason to making sweeping bigotted statements.

Posted by: pjbus722 | January 20, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

jabreal00, get a life. Your sexism and mistrust of teachers in general has no place in this discussion. Go back to the stone ages.

As for this case, it's very troubling. I'm a Sidwell alum and I know the accused. He was a gregarious public presence, but he apparently struggled with some serious personal problems and sadly brought them upon defenseless victims.

It's a wake-up call to us all, and my heart goes out to the abused kids... as well as to Mr. Peterson, who is a good man but apparently needs serious professional help.

Let's hope that all involved can recover from this truly sad piece of news.

Posted by: drischord | January 20, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

I go to this school, and let me just say that I think that it is outrageous that you would even post an article like this! This is a private issue, and I don't think it has anything to do with anybody that isn't affiliated with this school! Pete Peterson is a great teacher, and even if the accusations are true, it is nobody's business but those who need to know. And most of the people who will read this article don't need to know! Also, it is incredibly STUPID that you would even include Obama and his daughters in this, because it has nothing to do with them, and it will only cause more criticism for Obama. So next time Bill Turque, DC Schools Insider, keep your mouth SHUT. This is already causing a lot of problems for Pete, Sidwell, and all of his students, and now you have any reader of the Washington Post all up in our business.

Posted by: jetplaneguy | January 20, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

To jetplaneguy: I'm a Sidwell alum, and I'm sorry my friend but sexual abuse is NEVER, EVER a private matter. Even in exclusive private schools that enjoy high status profiles. Mr. Peterson may very well be a great teacher, but teaching talent is irrelevant to serious allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. So too is the presence of the Obama daughters. One of the reasons sexual abuse often goes undetected is that people sometimes try to keep it private. It is ugly, awful and embarrassing. But abuse thrives in the dark and perpetrators who do not fear getting caught will abuse over and over again. Public exposure and accountability can keep this from happening to another kid. Sexual abuse is everyone's business. So is stopping it.

Posted by: hype1 | January 20, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, hype1, because that really did calm me down. Seriously, it did. And I realize that sexual offenders should be stopped, but I just wish it could have been stopped in a less private way, even if it involved not telling people until a later date and time.

Posted by: jetplaneguy | January 20, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Let's not jump the gun and assume guilt here. These are allegations, no other students have come forward and Pete hasn't had his day in court. I'm a Sidwell alum and had him as a teacher and I doubt the charges are true.

I'm not sure exactly when he started but if it is 1979 that's 30 years. Do any of the other alums believe that if Sidwell students were molested that they'd be inclined to keep quiet about it?

In all likelihood, the school dismissed him to err on the side of caution. It was a lose/no-win situation for Sidwell and they took the path of abundant caution for the sake of the students and the schools reputation.

It is a tragedy... for Pete.

Posted by: cuadro | January 20, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

so most of you assume guilty until proven innocent? Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Posted by: swymmer1 | January 20, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, whether this is true or not, the teacher has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.

I am in the education industry and appalled at the statement that any male teaching middle school or younger is a predator. But that is just me ...

I am hopeful that the lawyer is right - that they will in fact disprove these charges. As a society lets be patient and let the court of law run through the legal process. And if he is guilty then may he rot in hell. If he is found innocent then lets make sure the youngster making the accusations gets serious mental help!

Posted by: racenite2006 | January 20, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

I went to Sidwell and had Pete as a teacher for 2 years. I attended Camp Corsica, and went on camping trips with the guy. When I clicked on this link, I was thinking of all the people who might be capable of something like this, and Pete is the last guy I would ever suspect.
In the time I've known him, I've had nothing but positive, appropriate interactions with him. He had ample opportunities to try any number of inappropriate things and he never did, nor did I ever suspect that he would. I never heard anyone accuse, or even suspect him of anything inappropriate. In my experience, he's never been anything but a kind person and a man of character.

Posted by: sidguy10 | January 21, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Peterson need the death penality for
what he did. Very sad you can trust nobody these tough time. I hope he never teach again and try to hurt another child.

Posted by: JohnEHill | January 21, 2010 2:09 AM | Report abuse

I just don't get this lust that some men have for young boys that they would risk their livelihoods, their careers, to touch under-age boys. And I feel so bad for the many men I know who teach and are not pedophiles, who are suspect over the actions of a few.

Posted by: chelita | January 21, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

JohnEHill- its pretty clear you are no Sidwell alumni. Get off this post and go back to school, you need it..

I know Pete as well and he is a great guy. I'm saddened to hear of these allegations and hope they are not true. Sidwell is a pretty close-nit community and I'm sure the truth will come out one way or another. These situations are a nightmare for any institution no matter what the outcome. The damage is done.

Posted by: notreadingthepostwhileatwork | January 21, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Um, notreadingthepostwhileatwork, a "close-nit community"?? I hope YOU aren't a Sidwell alumnus, unless you're talking about a lice infestation.

Posted by: notation | January 22, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

yup i made a typo. get a life...

Posted by: notreadingthepostwhileatwork | January 22, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

No, dear. A typo consists of hitting the wrong key. You screwed up. If you had any real education, you'd know that the term for an individual who graduated from a school isn't "alumni". It's "alumnus" or "alumna". Quit posing.

Posted by: notation | January 22, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Charges in Queen Anne's county occurred in December so why was he still working at Sidwell for another month??

Posted by: dianelane2477 | January 26, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

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