Abuses of Power

11.04.13

Horace Mann on the Potomac

A former teacher was convicted of molesting five students at Virginia's elite Potomac school. The victims want to know if the school did enough to stop him.

For almost 30 years, Christopher Kloman was a well-liked, well-regarded teacher and administrator at the tony Potomac School in Virginia. He arrived at the elite prep school in 1966, a handsome and energetic 27-year-old who taught mathematics and geography to middle schoolers.

But Kloman’s passion for teaching apparently wasn’t just based on altruism or a desire to nurture the next generation. Instead, he used his position to sexually groom young girls. Last month, a 74-year-old Kloman was convicted of molesting five female Potomac students and sentenced to 43 years in prison.

Kloman would likely still be teaching today but for the fact that one of his victims, Anne Sullivan, saw him in 2011 at the Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was a substitute teacher at the time. “Imagine my surprise, walking down the hallway of my son’s school a couple years ago, and seeing Mr. Kloman, the seventh grade teacher who assaulted me in a swimming pool 40 years earlier,” she said in a press conference after Kloman's sentencing in a Fairfax County Court. “Kloman still had access to kids? My son’s classmates could be his victims? Enough.”

Cricket Beauregard was in the second term of 9th grade when Kloman began sexually pursuing her. “He wasn’t my teacher, but he was young and cool and kind of irreverent,” she told The Daily Beast. “Most of Potomac’s teachers were elderly ladies at the time.”

Being relatively “young” and comparatively “cool,” Kloman groomed a number of young girls—who believed his attention made them special. “A trusted authority figure in your school starts grooming you and being nice to you and you think it’s because they think you’re a nice kid or a cool kid or special,” Beauregard says. “He would ask, ‘What are your hopes and dreams for this year?’ 'I really want to learn how to drive a car and downhill ski.' ‘I’ll teach you how to ski. I’ll teach you how to drive if you want.’ Those were dreams come true.”

One parent of a former student, who asked not to be named in this story, said that she “just intuitively...felt that Kloman was a monster. I had seen him interact at Potomac.” But most other parents, she said, merely saw a “very charming, very good-looking” teacher. “The problem is always the disconnect between the parents and the kids. The parents would just see this charming, preppy guy.”

Beauregard made an agreement with Kloman that she would clean his apartment in exchange for skiing and driving lessons. Everything was “normal” the first time, but she says that when he asked her to come back one day to clean again, he answered the door in a short, blue terrycloth bathrobe and led her to front of the house. “He spun me around so fast, sat down in a chair and pulled me on top of his naked lap. When she asked what he was doing, she says he calmly replied, “Don’t worry, I do this all the time with your best friend.” He asked her to go upstairs. “And believe it or not, I did. From that moment, I just completely shut down emotionally.”

Over the next five months, Beauregard says Kloman raped her eight times. “He always used protection, though I had no idea what it was at the time. My only sexual experience up until then was kissing a classmate.”

The Daily Beast's attempts to contact Kloman's lawyer and family members for comment on the allegations and Kloman's conviction were unsuccessful.

In 1969, Julia Craighill was 12 and in Kloman’s 7th-grade homeroom class when, during the first week of school, she says he invited her and a select group of students to his house at an estate in McLean for a pool party. She remembers him telling her he wanted to show her something and leading her into his carriage house. There, she says, he grabbed her by the arms and began “grinding up against me."

The survivors of Kloman's predation say it was curious that administrators at the Potomac School took no action against the teacher—particularly, they say, because the abuse was not hidden. “I’ve been told by another friend recently that she remembers him fondling me during the school day," says Craighill. While she says she avoided telling parents, administrators, or the authorities, she and other victims quietly developed strategies to avoid the prospect of abuse at Klomen's hands. “The important thing to me was to never be alone, in any situation where he could pull me aside. I remember I was always making sure that I was attached to someone throughout the school year.”

Faced with Kloman's abuses of power, other girls gave in to crippling teenage self-doubt. “Someone was paying attention to me,” says Beauregard, “and sometimes bad attention is still attention.”

Like so many previous school abuse scandals, Potomac administrators have been reluctant to answer basic questions regarding the abuse—and particularly the allegations that more victims have yet to come forward. (“There may be more pending,” a Fairfax County Police spokesman told the Fairfax Times.) A spokesman for the school issued a generic press release to The Daily Beast that noted the school has commissioned an independent investigation into the allegations, but declined to answer questions regarding the extent to which school administrators did or did not know of Kloman's abuses at the time, or whether further victims have yet to emerge from the shadows.

In a statement distributed by her lawyer, the celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, Beauregard stressed the inaction of her alma mater: “For my healing to move forward, I need a public apology and public acknowledgement from Chris Kloman AND The Potomac School.” Jane Gould, who was also molested by Kloman, unloaded on the school: “Instead of terminating the employment of a pedophile, Potomac promoted Chris Kloman, giving him more power and greater access to children.” Victim Laura Gill also expressed concerns that the school knowingly shirked its responsibilities: “What did Potomac School know and when did they know it? What actions, if any, did the school take to address Kloman’s abusive behavior? What did Potomac do to minimize the dire effects his sexual abuse had on his victims?”

They are eminently reasonable questions. While Kloman’s victims might have received a small measure of justice now that their tormenter will likely expire in prison,
one can only wonder what else the police inquiry—not to mention the Potomac School’s independent investigation—will turn up.