Traveling School rebuts accusation

Date: 2002-01-31

January 31, 2002
Traveling School rebuts accusation

Sentinel staff writer

The founder of a defunct Santa Cruz private school has been accused of improper conduct with a 15-year-old boy in Massachusetts, but many on the East Coast and in Santa Cruz say he’s being treated unfairly.

Stephen Myers ran Traveling School International from 1990 to 1999, shepherding Santa Cruz County students on trips around the world. Last week, he resigned as principal of Amherst Regional High School after the allegation was made public.

No charges have been filed, but the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, the Amherst Police Department and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office are investigating, according to David Angier, first assistant district attorney in Amherst.

The inquiry was sparked by an allegation that Myer asked the teen to bare his breast, Angier said. For the social services department, which removed Myers’ 8-year-old son from his custody, that was "an indication that all was not well with the situation," he said.

Myers’ lawyer, Matthew King, said the incident occurred while Myers was counseling the boy.

In a statement to a Massachusetts newspaper, Myers said the boy told him he had been teased about his breasts.

"I said words to the effect, ‘So, what are they talking about? Do you want to show me?’ He raised his shirt for a moment. I glanced across at him and said, ‘You don’t have anything to worry about,’ " Myers is quoted as saying in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

It has been "grossly misinterpreted by some," King said Wednesday.

Many in the Amherst community believe Myers has been treated unfairly, including nearly 600 students who signed a petition supporting their principal, King said.
Myers resigned because the school district handled the situation poorly, King said. The allegation was discussed at a public meeting instead of closed session, as personnel matters usually are.
Myers is held in high regard by some who knew him in Santa Cruz. His school earned recognition statewide.

"He was an exceptionally gifted educator, with a great vision about how to help kids academically and emotionally," said Peter Deutsch, who taught at Traveling School from 1995 to 1998. "He was unbelievably dedicated to his work."

Deutsch, who now teaches at Ark School in Santa Cruz, said he is "100 percent confident" that "nothing Steve did was inappropriate."

Myers arrived in Santa Cruz in 1981 as principal of Branciforte Junior High. He later founded the Traveling School as a program for the Santa Cruz City Schools district. When the district dropped the school in a cost-cutting move in 1989, Myers opened it as a private venture.

But he wanted the school to serve more than just affluent families, and tremendous effort was put into raising funds for scholarships, Deutsch said.

The constant fund-raising wore Myers out, and when he was offered a job in Colorado he accepted, said parent Denise Weatherwax, whose son attended the school for two years.

There must be "some kind of misunderstanding" in Amherst, Weatherwax said. "Steve is the only teacher who ever made an impact on my son, and (the Traveling School) was the only school that ever made an impact."

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