More than 17 years after a jury found former Porter-Gaud School Headmaster Berkeley Grimball negligent in failing to stop child sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher, the Charleston private school has decided to remove Grimball's name from two buildings and a student award.
The school's board of trustees made the decision unanimously following renewed public interest in the case of Eddie Fischer, who taught at Porter-Gaud from 1972 to 1982 and later confessed to abusing at least 39 boys over the course of his career at several schools.
One of the buildings — the head of school's house — was christened in Grimball's honor in 2009, well after Grimball's negligence in the Fischer case came to light.
Guerry Glover, a Porter-Gaud alumnus who became one of the most outspoken survivors of Fischer's abuse, said Porter-Gaud either had to change the names or explain what legacy it was honoring by keeping Grimball's name in places of honor.
Glover said he was surprised but glad to find out the school had taken the step to change the names.
"To me, this was more about the current school leaders than about what Berkeley Grimball did or did not do," he said. "I am glad the board members finally stepped up."
Fischer received a 20-year prison sentence in April 1999. Grimball died the same year. Guerry's father sued the school and former administrators including Grimball and ex-Principal James Bishop Alexander claiming they were negligent in allowing the abuse to go on.
A jury awarded $105 million in damages in the case in 2000 after finding that Grimball and Alexander knew about the abuse and failed to stop it. Fischer died while serving his sentence in 2002.
Director and alumna Paige Goldberg Tolmach addressed the lasting impact of Fischer's abuse in the documentary "What Haunts Us," which screened locally at the Terrace Theater in March. Tolmach focused on the Porter-Gaud Class of 1979, which lost six members to suicide after the scandal came to light.
According to a letter that Head of School DuBose Egleston Jr. and Board Chairman Hank Cheves sent to faculty, families and alumni Monday, the documentary prompted new conversations with survivors of Fischer's abuse.
Following those discussions, the board voted unanimously to rename the head of school’s house, the Board of Trustees' Upper School student award and the fine arts building, which had all been named for Grimball.
"We must reconcile the fact that the man who shaped the vision for the early Porter-Gaud School also failed to act appropriately on credible allegations of abuse," the letter said. "Guided by our Episcopal values of compassion, love, truth, and respect, we must do all we can to facilitate the healing process, to support survivors and their families, and to continue our heightened vigilance to upholding the safety and well being of our students."
According to a school spokesperson, the new designations are the Head of School's House, the Board of Trustees' Upper School Student Award, and the Fine Arts building.