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Director of Minneapolis Theater School Charged With Molesting Pupils

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The director and founder of the nationally renowned Children's Theater Company of Minneapolis, John Clark Donahue, was arrested this month on charges that he sexually molested three students, aged 12 to 16. The teen-agers were students at the theater's high school.

Last week, additional members of the theater's staff were suspended as a result of the inquiry. School officials would not identify them or say how many were suspended.

Mr. Donahue's arrest concludes a two-year investigation of the theater company by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The bureau began the investigation in 1982 in response to rumors that Mr. Donohue was molesting students at his home and at the theater, according to Stephen Hennessy, assistant superintendent of investigation for the bureau. But no witnesses who would substantiate the rumors were found until recently, he said.

Theater Officials Told

The bureau informed theater officials of the investigation, but the theater's board of directors did not notify the parents of the theater school's 145 students, according to Marcy Dowse, director of communications for the school, who said the decision was made with the advice of lawyers and at the direction of the bureau.

The bureau informed school officials that they "were prohibited by Minnesota law from interfering in any way with an ongoing criminal investigation," Ms. Dowse said.

"[We were told] specifically that any contact with present or potential witnesses would be regarded as interference with a criminal investi-gation," she added. "We were also told that the [bureau] had no facts that would warrant taking action to protect students and that if the bureau received any facts we would be notified. We heard nothing until 1:30 p.m., April 18," when Mr. Donohue was arrested.

But Mr. Hennessy said that the decision to notify students' parents rested with the board, not with the bureau.

"We did not tell [the board] not to inform the parents, but we asked their cooperation in the investigation and requested that they not interfere," Mr. Hennessy said. "We were not in the position to ruin anyone's reputation with rumor."

Mr. Donohue is free on $150,000 bail.

The Children's Theater was founded in 1964. Four years ago, its high school was accredited by the North Central Association of Colel5lleges and Schools. The theater also runs a program for grades 4-6 that was instituted two years ago.

Ms. Dowse noted that as of early last week, none of the school's students had withdrawn as a result of the charges against Mr. Donohue.

Other Cases

In related developments on other recent child-molestation cases:

The seven defendants in the Virginia McMartin Preschool case in Manhattan Beach, Calif., on April 20 formally entered pleas of not guilty to charges of 115 counts of sexual child abuse. A preliminary hearing for five of the defendants was set for June 18.

In Cullman, Ala., the county grand jury ordered the Childhaven Home, a shelter for dependent and neglected children, to replace most of its staff after charges of physical and sexual abuse were brought against workers there. If the staff is not replaced by the end of July, the Cullman County Grand Jury has recommended that the home's license be revoked.

An investigation began in Chicago last week into charges that children may have been molested at the Rogers Park Jewish Community Center. A janitor at the day-care center has been taken into custody, and two teachers were suspended following evidence that as many as 32 children showed signs of possible abuse, warranting further investigation, according to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

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