The School For Scandal

For generations, one of the attractions of New Hampshire's Phillips Exeter Academy has been the intimate learning environment, with no more than a dozen students in most classes. But now parents at the prestigious coed boarding school may worry about where that intimacy could lead. Last week a drama teacher was indicted on federal child-pornography charges after police raided his home. It took five officers six hours to cart away 650 videos, picture books and photographs from the apartment of Larry Lane Bateman, who had taught at Exeter since 1980. According to court papers, Bateman's tapes feature at least one former Exeter student, along with shots of a pupil Bate man taught at a Glen Head, N.Y., school in 1979.

At his arraignment, the 51-year-old teacher pleaded not guilty to 38 counts of shipping child pornography across state lines. But police say his school-owned apartment on the edge of the campus contained state-of-the-art facilities: five video cameras, editing equipment, a metal box of paraphernalia and a case of lubricant. Most of the material was found in a room where Bateman had built floor-to-ceiling shelves for his tapes, police say. Some were commercial movies edited to include sexual imagery; one altered video was "The Dead Poets Society," a film about a male teacher at a boys' school. Bateman allegedly mailed picture books with such titles as "Like 'em Young, Like 'em Hot, Like 'em Horny" and "Men Together With Bad Bad Boys."

Exeter officials tried to quell the scandal at the 990-student school, where tuition is $17,050 and dozens of graduates each year go on to Harvard and Yale. Principal Kendra Stearns O'Donnell fired Bateman, ordered him out of his apartment and sent a letter about the case to 25,000 faculty, students, parents and alumni. Stephanie Casale, assistant director of communications, defended firing Bateman before his October trial: "The question ... was not whether he was guilty or innocent. It was: could he continue to be an appropriate role model."

That's a major issue at Exeter, where teachers are required to live on campus and interact with students in and out of class. For 10 years all teachers must live in an apartment in a dorm. Then they get free housing near campus. Bateman finished his dorm stint in 1990; he lived alone.

Police were tipped off by the former Glen Head student, identified in court papers as PC. He was 17 when he met Bateman in 1979. According to court affidavits, Bateman proposed that PC work on an extracurricular video project at Bateman's house. There, PC said, Bateman gave him alcohol and marijuana and asked him to pose nude on tape. When PC returned to view the video, Bateman told PC that he wanted to have sex with him; PC said he consented in order to please him. The relationship continued during PC's junior year; they stayed in touch through letters and phone calls until 1991. Over the years, PC said, Bateman sent him hundreds of tapes and photos of child porn.

In one tape that PC said he received from Bateman in 1990, the young man recognized a student he met during a visit to Exeter. When police showed PC a yearbook, he identified the young man as a student at Exeter from 1982 to 1985. Authorities would neither confirm nor deny reports that other former Exeter students appeared on the tapes.

Bateman's lawyer, Mark Sullivan, says the case is greatly exaggerated. "They're looking for [pornography] rings," says Sullivan. Instead, he contends, police found a middle-aged drama teacher who allegedly had some child porn mixed in with his video collection. But even if Bateman is acquitted, the case may have wider repercussions. Exeter prides itself on being socially progressive by educating students about homophobia. Gay teachers are not excluded from dorm residency and gay graduates are invited to speak on campus. The Bateman case could jeopardize those efforts.

Bateman's Ph.D. thesis at Southern Illinois University included two plays he'd written about a gay male teacher having affairs with his students. At Exeter, officials hope to bring the curtain down quickly on this new drama-without answering too many questions about how Lane Bateman was able to keep his videos a secret for so long.