1 January 2018 | News that a number of senior girls and their female chaperones from an Adventist academy in Massachusetts went swimming in the nude during a camping trip, was the subject of a recent investigation by the State Department of Children and Families.

The DCF has filed a report of the investigation into the nude swimming during the September 2017 South Lancaster Academy “senior survival” trip. According to MassLive, details of the report have not been released to the public.

During the investigation, one of the chaperones, Heather Cook, the associate pastor at the Lancaster-based College Church of Seventh-day Adventists, was placed on administrative leave and counseling services were offered to those involved. The administrative leave on Cook has since been lifted.

South Lancaster Adventist Academy conducted its own investigation into the incident. In a letter about the trip to parents, South Lancaster Academy Principal Jeffrey Lambert said that “most senior girls, along with their female chaperones, engaged in a group bathing activity in the nude.” David Dennis, president of the Southern New England Conference, said that the investigation was initiated at the request of a concerned parent. 

In the October 19 letter, Lambert said that the chaperones have stated the activity was for hygienic purposes.

According to Lambert’s letter, the Southern New England Conference of the Adventist denomination (which oversees the school) led the school investigation and filed a report with the DCF. 

“Upon our initial review of the incident we did not believe there was any ill intent. At the time we received this news there was no suggestion or report that the students were physically touched,” read a statement by David Dennis, the president and communication director for the conference. “Our concern was for the affected students, families, church employee and chaperone. The offer of counseling for the students, employee, and chaperone was made available.”

In a more recent development related to the senior trip, MassLive reported on December 29, 2017, that Heather Cook had sought a restraining order against a member of her congregation. Cook claims that Randall Gifford, a longtime member of College Church, threatened her during a conversation originally aimed at correcting misunderstandings about the trip.

“During the course of the meeting, Randy stated he was the most powerful man in town and could ‘make me disappear,'” Cook wrote in an affidavit. “He also claimed connections to the government and said he ‘would be watching me in ways I couldn’t imagine.’ He also stated he could destroy me and take everything I had.”

During a hearing at Clinton District Court regarding the restraining order, attorney Danielle Thomason, counsel for Gifford referred to the incident as “skinny dipping” and claimed that Cook had been “accused of inappropriate sexual misconduct.”

Cook told the judge that the investigation into the nude bathing had been closed. “It went to the DA’s office in Maine and all criminal charges were dropped. There was absolutely nothing found.”

The restraining order request against Gifford was denied by Clinton District Court Judge Robert Gardner who said there was insufficient evidence presented to support it.

South Lancaster Academy (SLA) is an Adventist day school, consisting of grades Preschool through 12. It was established in 1882 and has 300 enrolled students.

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