Below is the letter to the community of the Trinity School in New York City, from John Allman, Head of School, and Philip Berney, President Board of Trustees, regarding their response to reported accounts of student sexual abuse by teachers.
The administration asked alumni, students, and faculty for accounts and information. They hired a law firm to conduct an investigation and write a report. A link to that report is listed after the letter below.
Jan 30, 2020 letter
John Allman, Head of School Thu, Jan 30, 2020 at 10:02 AM Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
January 30, 2020 Dear Friends of Trinity School,
We write to follow up on Trinity School’s September 2018 and March 2019 letters regarding the school’s investigation into incidents of sexual misconduct.
As stated in the March 2019 letter, the Board of Trustees retained Nancy Kestenbaum, a former federal prosecutor, and a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, to conduct an investigation into reports of sexual misconduct involving Trinity faculty or staff and Trinity students. Ms. Kestenbaum has conducted many such investigations for schools and other institutions. She was tasked with reviewing the reports of sexual misconduct that we received as a result of our initial outreach to the school community and any additional reports of sexual misconduct against students by Trinity School faculty or staff that she and her team received or identified in the school’s files. Ms. Kestenbaum also had the authority to conduct additional followup as she deemed appropriate.
The investigation has concluded, and the Board of Trustees received her final report yesterday. In the interest of full transparency, we are sharing her report in its entirety with our community via the link at the end of this letter.
Sexual misconduct by those entrusted with the safety and education of our children is inexcusable and the number of incidents that have been reported by schools across the country is alarming. It appears that no institution is immune, including Trinity – and it is our responsibility to address these matters directly and to do everything within our power to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
We want to thank everyone who came forward, especially the former students who made the difficult decision to share their experiences. Your courage made this report possible. To each of you, we offer our profound apologies and support.
Investigation Process Ms. Kestenbaum and her team had total autonomy in conducting this investigation. They interviewed 50 people (several more than once), including former students who reported sexual misconduct they experienced or had heard about, as well as current and former Trinity administrators and teachers and parents of former students who potentially had relevant information. Ms. Kestenbaum and her team also reviewed a variety of documents, including documents provided by the school and others. Ms. Kestenbaum and her team weighed a number of factors when deciding whether each faculty member accused of sexual misconduct should be included in the report, and whether he or she should be identified by name. The factors Ms. Kestenbaum and her team weighed, and the evidence received about each accused teacher, are described in the report.
Ms. Kestenbaum wrote to all of the living former faculty members who were the subject of reports of sexual misconduct whom she considered naming in the report and asked to speak with them. The report notes if each former teacher accused of sexual misconduct agreed to be interviewed, declined or did not respond to the interview request, declined to be interviewed but provided a statement directly or through counsel, or is deceased.
Key Findings Ms. Kestenbaum did not receive any reports from current Trinity students, or any reports about potential sexual misconduct by current Trinity faculty or staff involving Trinity students. Her report describes reports of sexual misconduct by eight former faculty members who were employed at Trinity at different times prior to the early 2010s, but primarily in the 1970s and 1980s. No one came forward to report sexual misconduct by Henry Ploegstra, the former teacher discussed in the two earlier letters. After weighing the factors mentioned above, Ms. Kestenbaum decided to name two former faculty members and to describe the reports about, but not name, six other former faculty members. As described in the report, there were multiple first-hand accounts of misconduct by Larry Cantor, a physical education teacher and coach who worked at the school from 1968 to 1972 and from 1979 to 1983. The majority of the reports about Mr. Cantor involved sexual misconduct in connection with wrestling practices.
There were also first-hand accounts of misconduct by Robert Kahn, a faculty member who worked at the school from 1978 to 1989 and who on several occasions accompanied students on international trips organized by outside tour companies. The reports of sexual misconduct by Mr. Kahn included reports of misconduct on some of those trips, as well as misconduct on Trinity School property. The other six individuals described in the report were accused of a range of improper conduct.
The school is sharing the report with the relevant authorities. If anyone else wishes to come forward with any information regarding sexual misconduct at Trinity, please reach out to Ms. Kestenbaum at email@example.com or (212) 841-1236. You may also contact Head of School John Allman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 932-6859.
Resources to Support Survivors We are committed to supporting the brave survivors of misconduct in our alumni community and ensuring they have the necessary resources to help them heal. In partnership with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, Trinity has created a fund to provide former students with financial assistance for current and past therapy costs related to sexual abuse by former employees or students at the school.
All requests related to the therapy fund will be handled by RAINN. All inquiries and utilization of the fund are confidential and will not be shared with the Trinity School. Detailed information about the therapy fund is available on the school’s website at Resource Hotline FAQ or through RAINN’s dedicated Trinity School hotline, which will be available beginning February 24, 2020 at (844) 874-3904.
In addition, RAINN operates The National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE or https://hotline.rainn.org, which can be used to access confidential and anonymous immediate support services – including crisis intervention, information, and resources – 24/7, in both English and Spanish.
Commitment to Health and Safety Trinity School takes seriously its duty to ensure the safety of Trinity students and employees. In recent years, guided by best practice as articulated by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), and with the guidance of outside experts, Trinity has developed and implemented policies, procedures and programs to help prevent and respond to sexual misconduct. Importantly, these policies and procedures are reviewed every year by the Head of School, the divisional Principals, and the Director of Human Resources. We also consult with T&M Protection Resources – a leading investigative firm specializing in sexual misconduct – to ensure that our policies and procedures are robust and conform to all applicable state and local law.
Within its focus on healthy social relationships, the school’s K-12 health education curriculum includes, for students in each division, developmentally appropriate guidance about what to do if another’s behavior – whether an adult or a peer – makes a student feel uncomfortable. For our older students, this curriculum includes discussion of consent.
Trinity’s student handbooks in each division include developmentally appropriate language outlining the school’s definition of consent and appropriate boundaries as well as its prohibition of harassment, which includes bullying, hazing, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Terms are defined in age-appropriate language for students in each division, and guidance and encouragement are provided for students, parents, and legal guardians to report actual or suspected harassment, sexual harassment, or sexual abuse. Procedures governing investigations of reports and potential disciplinary action are also outlined in the handbooks. Students in the upper divisions and parents in the lower divisions are required to sign an annual declaration that they have received and read the applicable handbook each year.
All faculty and staff receive annual training about maintaining appropriate professional relationships and boundaries with students and colleagues, and they are regularly instructed on requirements for mandatory reporting of abuse or misconduct.
In addition, we have made enhancements to our hiring policy and procedures that reflect our commitment to robust due diligence in screening candidates. Our hiring policy requires fingerprinting and criminal background checks of all new employees, coaches, and temporary employees. At least two reference checks, which include explicit questions regarding any past sexual harassment, misconduct, or other unprofessional behavior, are required for all final candidates for any position. A completed reference check form must be submitted to the Head of School for his review prior to hiring.
Trinity’s policies and procedures with respect to hiring and professional conduct are published in the annually revised Employee Manual and every Trinity employee is required to sign and submit each year to the Head of School’s office a declaration that they have received and read the Manual.
We are deeply saddened by any past breaches of trust by faculty, staff, and administrators that harmed Trinity students. We extend our deepest and most profound apologies, and our thanks, to the former students who stepped forward to participate in the investigation. Our hope is that our community can come together to confront this painful history and work to ensure such behavior never happens at Trinity School again.
The full report of Ms. Kestenbaum’s investigation is available at Trinity School Report.
Sincerely, John Allman Head of School
Philip Berney President Board of Trustees Trinity School | Website 212-932-6989 | 139 West 91st Street NYC 10024 ###
June 6, 2012. The New York Times article by Amos Kamil, “Prep School Predators,” is published. Six years ago today. Social media pages began. Alumni awareness began. Survivors and school officials knew for much longer.
August 6, 2012. Letter from the Trustees: “Our goal is that Horace Mann School will be the standard in New York on this vitally important issue.”
6/6/18. It hasn’t.
Meanwhile, accountability and learning from the past has accelerated.
1) Investigations – Hundreds of schools have worked to understand how and why abuse continued.
Deerfield (MA), Kamehameha (HI), The Potomac School (VA), Carolina Friends (NC), Marlborough School (CA), St. Mary’s International School, Alumni with the Horace Mann Action Coalition, St. George’s School (RI), Peck School (NJ), Chaminade High School (NY), Fordham Prep (NY), Concord Academy (MA), Phillips Andover (MA), St. George’s School (RI), Pomfret (CT), Solebury (PA), Milton Academy (MA), Phillips Exeter (NH), Milton Academy (MA), Pingry (NJ), Choate (CT), Emma Willard (NY), Emma Willard Alumnae Advisory Task Force, Brearley (NY), St. Paul’s School (NH), Darlington Schoo (GA), Isidore Newman school (LA), Archbishop Keough High School (MD), Portsmouth Abbey School (RI),
The all too common finding? : “The investigation, published in August, exposed a system that helped the abuser evade allegations of sexual misconduct for years at the expense of students.”
Today. The administration at Horace Mann School continues to refuse to conduct an independent investigation.
2) Accountability – #MeToo has made it easier for survivors to see they are not alone and speak out. Abusers who may have counted on power to muzzle the truth have been exposed: Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein. Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose. Many more.
The pace of steps toward justice is accelerating: Eric Schneiderman, Missouri Gov. Greitens.
3) Enablers – Leaders are no longer immune. Officials who failed to take action or covered past abuse or enabled it to remain are facing their culpability. The presidents of Michigan State University and the University of Southern California. Administrators, Trustees, officers and officials in schools.
Michigan State needs to wear this shame – Jemele Hill, on her alma mater’s enabling of sexual abuser Larry Nassar: “When protecting institutions, friendships, business partnerships and image become more important than protecting vulnerable people, you get what you deserve.”
The climate has changed. We cannot look away anymore. Perhaps not in this generation, but still: Magna est veritas et praevalet.
“Eight Reasons Why Not”: An Outside Investigation of Sexual Abuse at Horace Mann School?
June 6, 2012. The New York Times article “Prep School Predators” is published. Five years ago today.
August 6, 2012. Letter from the Trustees: “Our goal is that Horace Mann School will be the standard in New York on this vitally important issue.”
August 16, 2012. Trustees Chair Steven Friedman appears before the Alumni Council and states the following reasons why the Trustees will not approve an independent investigation:
1) No subpoena power.
2) Many of the accused are dead.
3) Witnesses can’t be challenged.
4) The cost would be prohibitive (he compared it to an estimated $12 million spent by Penn State to-date, and said HM’s situation would cost more due to a wider scope). The Penn State type of report is the gold standard, and anything less would leave people dissatisfied.
5) No one will admit that they did anything.
6) No allegations have been made during the tenure of Mr. Friedman and Dr. Kelly, as verified by the DA.
7) Other legal issues he didn’t specify.
8) The board balanced the continuing existence of the school with its potential liability and pending litigation.
September 27, 2012. The Horace Mann Alumni Council votes to urge the Trustees to authorize an independent investigation. The Board does not respond.
March 31, 2013. Deerfield (MA) releases investigation of abuse legacy.
March 11, 2014. Kamehameha (HI) initiates investigation into abuse of students.
June 9, 2014. American School in Japan initiates its investigation into student abuse.
June 30, 2014. The Potomac School (VA) releases abuse investigation report.
July 19, 2014. Carolina Friends (NC) initiates its investigation into abuse of students.
July 14, 2014. Marlborough School (CA) initiates abuse investigation.
October 27, 2014. St. Mary’s International School undertakes investigation of student abuse.
May 26, 2015. Alumni with the HM Action Coalition publish independent investigation.
February 9, 2016. St. George’s School (RI) first report flawed; second investigation undertaken.
March 31, 2016. Peck School (NJ) initiates investigation into abuse.
May 14, 2016. Chaminade High School (NY) releases investigation of abuse.
August 9, 2016. Fordham Prep (NY) announces results of its abuse investigation.
August 24, 2016. Concord Academy (MA) releases investigation of abuse claims.
August 31, 2016. Phillips Andover (MA) makes abuse investigation results public.
September 1, 2016. St. George’s School (RI) releases second investigation report.
September 27, 2016. Pomfret (CT) releases its investigation of legacy abuse.
February 1, 2017. Solebury (PA) investigation made public.
February 21, 2017. Milton Academy (MA) publishes initial investigation results.
March 3, 2017. Phillips Exeter (NH) releases its initial investigation with more planned.
March 21, 2017. Milton Academy (MA) releases its investigation.
March 29, 2017. Pingry (NJ) releases its report on its abuse investigation.
April 14, 2017. Choate (CT) releases its report from its investigation.
April 19, 2017. Emma Willard (NY) publishes investigation report.
April 20, 2017. Alumnae Advisory Task Force submits its report on abuse at Emma Willard.
May 12, 2017. Brearley (NY) announces investigation and asks the community for information.
May 22, 2017. St. Paul’s School releases its independent investigation.
Today. Horace Mann School continues to refuse to conduct an independent investigation.
* * *
Horace Mann had eight reasons for refusing an independent investigation. Not one of those reasons proved valid or stopped outside investigations at 23 schools confronted with legacies of sexual abuse of students.
Perhaps not in this generation, but still: magna est veritas et praevalet.
Alumni of private schools are stepping up to hold their school administrations accountable in response to accounts of assault and abuse. Emerging reports reveal a now familiar pattern of inaction, silence and cover up by school leaders. The community is adding another word: complicity.
“Across the archipelago of prep schools clustered mainly in the northeastern United States, a truth-and-reconciliation process is fitfully unfolding as school after school sends letters to alumni acknowledging past abuse and asking if they, too, were abused.”
Alumnae recognize what school administrators haven’t – the accumulated damage from abuse unaddressed, and the systemic conditions still in place which obstruct reporting and enable abuse.
When grads hear the accounts of schoolmates in the news, they have made good use of social media to gather and share their experiences. The larger story begins to emerge. Survivors learn they weren’t alone. In addition, they learn of reports the school received – often cases where the administration failed to act as a pattern begins to take shape. Private schools rarely alert authorities when they get reports of abuse by teachers. Abusers love that. Once a school covers up an incident with an abuser, every next incident is preventable and inexcusable.
Institutions aren’t simply places where abuse may occur – they have contributed to the mess. When schools themselves hide accounts of abuse, they don’t protect children. They make more victims.
Time and again, alumni have joined to demand schools answer to and embody a higher standard .. however long it takes for legislators and the justice system to catch up. What is the public learning about the role of institutions?
“Because really, what says “I am sorry for assaulting you” better than fresh baked bread?” – an alumna
When alumni found that the school had mediated a weekly loaf of bread as “restitution” by an abuser, the outcry was immediate and massive. What they found was chronic mishandling of a legacy of abuse. 1,000 alums signed a letter to withhold donations.
“The men (then Exeter principal Richard Day, several other school leaders on campus and Hank DeSantis, uncle of the victim) all agreed the best way to handle the matter was to “keep it as quiet as possible and make it go away,” according to DeSantis. The police were never mentioned.
Leslie Heaney, chair of the board of trustees, said she hopes that the agreement will assist in that healing. “We look forward to continuing to work with our survivor community so that the lessons learned can ensure the safety of our current and future generations of St. George’s students,”
Eric MacLeish, counsel for the claimants, commented, “While no amount of money can make victims whole, today’s settlement says to survivors: ‘This was not your fault, it affected your life in profound ways, it happened at our school, and we are truly sorry for what you have lost.’”
The example at St. George’s shows a school board working *with* survivors and alums to reconcile and heal in a manner that unspoken victims can hear:
“This was never about the money. This was about being heard, and St. George’s realized that what they have done to us in the past is completely wrong,” abuse victim Katie Wales Lovkay said in an interview. “It’s nice to know it’s done, it’s over.”
“To give them this news — people have been in tears,” MacLeish said. “People feel like this is the school recognizing what they went through. So many of these people thought they were the only ones,” he said. “Many of them felt guilty. They thought it was their fault. Many had difficulties with trust, intimacy, even feeling that the abuse was their fault. We had a large group of people who did not tell anybody about their abuse, even their spouses.” http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/elite-prep-school-agrees-settle-30-sex-abuse-41092422
With so many places identified in the news, have any handled it better? The Globe Spotlight team cited 67 schools in New England states, and many more are known throughout the East Coast. Have any handled their legacy with compassion? Yes, Deerfield; Buckingham, Browne & Nichols; Carolina Friends.
The article below should be required reading for anyone interested, especially school administrators. How did the head of school respond? Dr. Margarita Curtis flew to sit down with the survivor in person.
A NY boarding school is a recent example where details are just emerging. 1,200 alumnae have gathered on social media to support classmates and demand transparency. Though alumnae had been aware of various accounts of misconduct and some alerted board members over the past few years, it took a published account by a brave survivor to mobilize the community into action.
The board responded by hiring a law firm to begin an investigation, and found a few of the problems inherent in rebuilding trust with its community. It turned out the firm had worked in 2014 on previously unknown reports of abuse, alumnae had questions about how information they may now bring would be used or disclosed, and whether the school would urge its staff to come forward as well as former students. Each step along the way comes with frustration on all sides, as leaders find that transparency can be (un)seen as being invisible when the community expects change.
Schools are being proactive recently, even prior to hearing of past abuse. Choate informed its alumni about efforts to refine policy and practices following the Globe Spotlight report. Has a new awareness taken hold or are schools frightened of being tagged as hiding the past following examples of Poly Prep, Yeshiva, Hackley, Woodward, Fordham and Horace Mann. What these schools have in common is location: New York State.
When Pennsylvania finds decades of abuse in a school, it investigates. When New York finds decades of abuse in a school (and a dozen others), it shrugs.
“As the grand jury investigation into nearly six decades of alleged child sexual abuse by Solebury School faculty continues, some victims are taking their stories to Harrisburg to call for lawmakers to adopt proposed legislation that would expand criminal and civil statute of limitations.”
But despite the lessons learned, legislators in PA and NY folded to pressure from institutions petrified of accountability. Lawmakers in PA gutted recommended reform, deleting the necessary window to identify known abusers still teaching children among the huge backlog of cases created by the short statute of limitations. In NYS, the Child Victims Act didn’t get voted on, as elected reps apparently scrambled to avoid being seen by constituents as protecting abusers. Neighboring states have enacted reforms, with MA extending access to justice for victims and CT actually charging administrators who fail to alert authorities of reported abuse. A commander in Rhode Island put the abuse problem succinctly:
“I think people would look at it and they’d say the school should be held accountable if they knew of the behavior,” says Rhode Island State Police Maj. Joseph F. Philbin, detective commander. “Were the proper people notified of this misconduct? What steps did they take, if any? Was the student body notified? Were the parents of the student body notified?” Philbin said. The failure to report sexual abuse, or known sexual abuse, can be prosecuted as a felony, said Philbin.”
HM is an example of the school with the longest struggle, the largest scope and size of abuse, and sadly the least reconciliation and healing between the community and the administration. Even when confronted with evidence of four decades of sexual abuse, the school refused to investigate. When the administration balked, concerned professionals among grads supported survivors, alumni organized to commission an investigation, joined to raise funds for therapy, and alumni pushed for statute reform. The school may decide to own its past at some point, if only to repair its reputation.
Meanwhile, alumni see the issue as bigger than their school – they wrote a detailed report as a summary of lessons learned for all schools. They defined many of the systemic conditions common to private schools and assembled best practices and findings with the help of nationally recognized experts.
When survivors emerged later at other schools, they had the benefit of some guidance from the path the HM Action Coalition (HMAC) had followed. Lawyers cited examples from our report at MakingSchoolSafe.com and school heads saw the narrative and the pitfalls. Over the next four years, alumni from a score of schools linked up to work together and share resources, as groups had made different progress in the struggle for truth and resolution. Today, the Interschool Network continues to expand with new schools and links with national advocates. We’ve seen the same systemic conditions not just in schools, but in every institution.
Sports authorities have followed the very same betrayal by not alerting authorities and instead, hiding assaults to protect adults, rather than child victims:
How have so many of our institutions continued to enable abuse and assault for so long and hurt so many? Dennis Hastert was #2 in the line of presidential succession. Now he is inmate # 47991-424. Bill Cosby was protected by agents and the industry all around him. The public is just now learning of the ongoing corporate tolerance of years of abuse of women by Roger Ailes. None of this could continue for so long without the muzzling of bystanders and observers, the intimidation of survivors and a culture of silence.
Have we made any progress? Surely, as seen by the examples of those refusing to be silent and the growing awareness of the role of institutions in enabling abuse.
We owe thanks to the survivors who have found the courage to speak up and appreciation to those not yet ready. And to the many alumni who have joined in support and worked behind the scenes. Also,
— To the generous lawyers fighting for justice: Eric MacLeish, Carmen Durso, and Kevin Mulhearn
— To advocates confronting silence: Marci Hamilton, Kathryn Robb, Terri Miller, Jetta Bernier, Bridie Farrell, Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder
— To the journalists and authors revealing truth: Amos Kamil, Marc Fisher, Robert Boynton, Jonathan Saltzman, Ben Wallace, Michael O’Keeffe, Kate Pastor
( Taking stock on the anniversary of the publication of “Prep School Predators,” by Amos Kamil, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, with appreciation to him and for many colleagues. )
On June 6th, 2012, most of us learned of an awful prospect. Some knew much earlier. It turned out as it unfolded over these last four years to be so much worse than I could ever have imagined. Now we know more and hurt more – both about the past and what we expect for the present. What can we do, all of us?
A schoolmate I respect said to me “It takes time.” Yes, healing does. Can we help or must we simply wait? What do we understand, as a community? Beyond the past, what do we understand about where we are now?
Bad things happened. People were grievously hurt. Injury went on a long while. Now we are divided. Will that change? The school says talking of this hurts current students. Do they mean talking about the past or about what we do now? And if understanding is what we need to heal and/or join together, what then? The alumni say NOT talking hurts us all, and especially the unspoken victims alone with shame, silence and fear, watching what we do.
Investigate? Some people point at what has been made public in the press or by alumni and say “It’s all known.” No, it is not. What we know has come from the courage of survivors, teachers and a few. Mostly from victims. How does the school see its own actions? What do we understand of that?
How would it help, to hear how the school sees what was wrong – not who? What allowed it, not who may have failed – what failed? For me, it is the recognition of flaws which were the obstacles – obstacles we now know were and are common in private schools and institutions, not just at HM. Not to blame or excuse. Investigating the past, acknowledging mistakes should be LESS scary because it is not about judging, it is about caring and learning.
Talking and listening together will help: So that survivors can believe and trust that no others will be harmed. So that alumni (and future alumni) can trust the leaders at HM. So that we can make a place to rejoin and be worth rejoining. Beyond policy and beyond procedures, does the admin now see how timely reports were received and mishandled? Do they now see the impact and consequence? What do they feel? What would they like to see, going forward?
If so, what balance has been struck when reputation is pitted against safety? Even beyond abuse per se, for drugs, or cheating or bullying or other events? What are the lessons truly learned?
We’ve chosen to work to define and show some of the lessons with the hope it helps all schools and institutions to limit or prevent student sexual abuse. Even if HM cannot say much, no one should ever go through what happened again in order to learn, protect and change. No children should suffer through four decades and then some nor should a school need a four year Tasering in order to take action. Let this fifth year be time enough.
We call on the HM board and administration, Michael Colacino and Tom Kelly, to join with alumni to meet.
There is a path to heal. One step at a time. First, have the board of trustees sit down with survivors, and families of those who didn’t survive. In private, to listen, understand and consider. Second, with alumni, students, teachers and parents. Even before or apart from any investigation, say what you understand now – from what you have read, from records, from ex-admins, teachers, and witnesses. Say the how and why, as best as you can see it. To believe and trust requires understanding. To entomb it all is fatal.
While alumni have many questions, one fact we know for certain: there is no closure without disclosure. For everyone. Without hearing from the school administration, what defines HM is these 4 years as much or more than those 4 decades, the silence more than the archive.
⦁ The vigil in 2012 while Mr. Friedman explained why the school wouldn’t investigate
⦁ Alumni meeting at Poet’s house, nearby class reunions
⦁ 4 letters to the board from the Survivors without any replies
⦁ The sadness in mediation; offering victim accounts as a “report”; obtaining releases in private from survivors for any litigation against living abusers.
⦁ Each year since, homecoming reflected in peculiar tone-deaf ways: 2013, cocktails hosted by Hess, retracted; 2014, invite to Clark field then an apology; 2015, renaming the field without survivors or alumni, retracted article in the Record.
⦁ 2014, In court vs. AIG, HM lawyers at first deny the Balter letter, then that trustees ever met to discuss it, then say only some trustees attended. The judge notes “one is enough.”
⦁ 2015, Mr. Friedman resigns, notes “a few bumps in the road,” refers to victims reporting abuse “later” to avoid dealing with the many timely reports the school received, adding that he “didn’t really sign up for the challenges” that sprang from the revelations of abuse.
⦁ 2015, “Great is the Truth” is published. Despite HM maintaining a special library section for all alumni books, Amos Kamil’s book is not on the shelf.
⦁ 2016: The Globe Spotlight team turns to examine independent schools; 14 former teachers urge the school to provide a path to healing, receive no reply; the NY Governor supports SOL reform in Albany.
Is the legacy to be that what the public knows about the school’s present are the ways the institution is choosing not to respond to its past?
There is a path to heal. Nothing that has happened in the past should be feared and however awkward and however painful discussing sexual abuse can be, discussing it can only help us and certainly cannot hurt us. Can we be strong enough to say “this scares me” or “this angers me” and never so weak as to suggest that silence would be better?
If anything good has come from the Horace Mann story it is that other schools and survivors groups seem to be trying a different approach. Communities are refusing to allow silence from school officials.
Pingry survivors: “We have not filed a lawsuit. Instead, we are making every effort to avoid litigation. To that end, we have instructed our attorneys to explore The Pingry School’s willingness to engage in a collaborative resolution process. ”
The statement by Pingry officials, “Our hope is for this investigation to be as thorough as possible, putting (the school) in the best position to provide support to victims and take appropriate steps to protect children today.”
How can schools respond best today to confront legacies of abuse?
The administration at Exeter sent this letter to the community. Note they hired independent counsel to investigate, review policies and procedures, examine the school’s handling of the news, and they are looking at organizations to support victims’ needs. Seems there is a responsible playbook, after all.
“Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said transparency is key. She said administrators at Phillips Exeter failed in that obligation after they learned about Schubart’s past sexual misconduct. “We think that once they knew about this, and he had acknowledged that he engaged in this conduct, that the school should have communicated in a forthright manner with students, faculty and staff.”
Following a 14 year old survivor reporting abuse the previous night by a teacher in 1973 to school officials …
“The men (then Exeter principal Richard Day, several other school leaders on campus and Hank DeSantis, uncle of the victim) all agreed the best way to handle the matter was to “keep it as quiet as possible and make it go away,” according to DeSantis. The police were never mentioned. Normally, the statute of limitations on sexual assault allegations would expire 22 years after the victim’s 18th birthday. But Peekel’s decision to leave New Hampshire stopped the clock, allowing Exeter police to bring charges decades later.”
What’s expected has changed – alerting authorities, students, parents and asking alumni to report:
“I think people would look at it and they’d say the school should be held accountable if they knew of the behavior,” says Rhode Island State Police Maj. Joseph F. Philbin, detective commander. “Were the proper people notified of this misconduct? What steps did they take, if any? Was the student body notified? Were the parents of the student body notified?” Philbin said. The failure to report sexual abuse, or known sexual abuse, can be prosecuted as a felony, said Philbin.
Association tells school administrators to listen – 5/17/16 — TABS on legacy abuse
“I believe that independent school communities, including students, parents and alumni, along with the news media and those active on social media, are increasingly expecting independent schools to respond to reports of past abuse in the same way they respond to present reports, regardless of whether the perpetrator is an adult or a student. They expect the reports to be promptly investigated and appropriate remedial action to be taken. They expect the school to be transparent and accountable in its response. Schools that are not alert to these attitudes and expectations, and are not prepared to act accordingly, are at risk of significant adverse legal repercussions and damage to their reputations.”
( David Wolowitz is the co-chair of the McLane Middleton law firm’s Education Law Practice Group. His practice focuses on the representation of independent schools. He is a pioneer in introducing training on professional boundaries to independent schools. David regularly consults with schools nationally and internationally on issues relating to student safety, risk prevention and crisis response. )
When Pennsylvania finds decades of abuse in a school, it investigates. When New York finds decades of abuse in a school (and a dozen others), it shrugs.
As the grand jury investigation into nearly six decades of alleged child sexual abuse by Solebury School faculty continues, some victims are taking their stories to Harrisburg to call for lawmakers to adopt proposed legislation that would expand criminal and civil statute of limitations.
The turning point for the Globe investigative reporters in the movie “Spotlight” – the aha! – is seeing the pattern of institutional complicity that enables sexual abuse. Survivors telling their stories were ignored and suppressed for far too long. When a bigger picture emerges from similar accounts too compelling to ignore, we demand relief from the pain. Beyond the horror of the abuser is evidence of many others, hidden by embarrassed leaders who worked to cover up the crimes. Leaders who still work to enforce silence – the paradigm of adults protecting adults, not children. To confront the culture of silence, to refuse to collude, to overcome shame and fear, and to show survivors it’s safe to speak up, we now must begin to speak openly and join together to heal.
“Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind” by Jean-Léon Jérôme
Just as we now know of decades of abuse within the Church (and among religious groups), many of our private schools sadly share the same shame — the truth that refuses to be hidden.
Since 2012, a deluge of recent news reveals years of long-hidden sexual abuse of children in scores of schools across the US and more in Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland and France. How schools respond to the abuse legacy is a stiff character test for school heads, parents and alumni, amplified by the wealth and power of students’ families.
Consider the schools: Horace Mann (NY), Yeshiva High school (NY), Poly Prep (NY), Hackley (NY), Woodward (NY), Millbrook (NY), St. Francis prep (NY), Emma Willard (NY), Pingry (NJ), St. George’s School (RI), Deerfield (MA), Landmark (MA), Buckingham, Browne & Nichols (MA), Fessenden (MA), Brooks (MA), Park school (MA), Phillips Andover (MA), Exeter (NH), St. Paul’s (NH), Indian Mountain (CT), Hotchkiss (CT), Danville (CT), Groton (CT), Solebury (PA), Malvern (PA), Potomac (VA), Marborough (CA), American School in Japan.
Counselors call for transparency and openness today as necessary keys to healing. But school boards balk. Not everyone wants the full story known, as prestige and privilege pull both ways. In fact, concern for reputation and status was central in hiding the crimes when they occurred and allowing more.
How did this happen for so long in so many places?
As the stories emerge, one central theme is revealed and repeated: survivors did make timely reports of abuse to school administrators. They knew. But those officials almost never informed the authorities, trying instead to cope privately. Often as a result, teachers went elsewhere without any comment, putting students at risk in other schools. Or abusers were warned discretely but allowed to stay. Or they were not even confronted at all. Either way the schools’ opaque choices had dreadful consequences. The silence enabled more abuse.
In deciding to prevent publicity or embarrassment, or put reputation before safety, school leaders discarded the only tools which could have prevented disaster. Administrators didn’t look for the other victims. That would have required saying too much to too many. They didn’t alert parents, even parents of the victims of abuse. They didn’t counsel victims or offer much help, fearing rumors or legal risk. Often they didn’t even document accounts that had been provided so there was no context when later reports came to new faculty and they were thereby discounted. Then, the risk grew of prior cover up action being stumbled upon by each subsequent report. And worst of all, they didn’t ask students to bring information forward – the confirming facts which if collected then would have limited the injury and number of victims — accounts which years later show repeated abuse by serial abusers.
Survivors thought they were alone. The schools wanted no headlines. The abusers noticed.
Preventing sexual abuse of students requires timely reporting by everyone in the community. But when the promise of “See something, say something” turns out to be “Don’t ask, don’t tell” instead, no one reports the warning signs and institutions fail children horribly. Further, when schools refuse to speak openly about abuse once they know of accounts, their silence re-injures survivors, undermines trust and healing and sends a deadly message to unspoken victims suffering alone – “We don’t want to know or help.”
Truth seeking is dangerous. As much as we think we want to know, we have no real idea. The stark surprise destroys ideals we had in mind and once revealed, they cannot be returned. We are changed. Be careful what you wish for. There are reasons truth is hard to find. We hide it away and settle for the pretense we dress up as more appealing.
It hurts to know. It reminds me I was wrong or naïve. I’d rather look away.
Innocence feels better. Don’t take that away.
The mask I know fits. It took so long to craft. It’s fragile – don’t shatter it.
Out of sight, out of mind. Google translation: invisible idiot.
My memory is of a teacher who was an icon. I cannot also see a monster.
When abuse survivors do speak up, we resist the implications, rationalize and look away. Do we still permit administrators to bury the reports, stall and cover up?
Is anything changing?
The administration at Exeter sent this letter to the community. Note they hired independent counsel to investigate, review policies and procedures, examine the school’s handling of the news, and they are looking at organizations to support victims’ needs. Seems there is a responsible playbook, after all, for responding to abuse legacies.
Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said transparency is key. She said administrators at Phillips Exeter failed in that obligation after they learned about Schubart’s past sexual misconduct. “We think that once they knew about this, and he had acknowledged that he engaged in this conduct, that the school should have communicated in a forthright manner with students, faculty and staff.”
More than 40 survivors from St. George’s School have come forward about past abuse. They are now talking directly with the board chairman toward efforts to learn and heal, yet the school did not alert police or the DA when much earlier reports of abuse were received, even though Rhode Island has no statute of limitations on rape. “It’s disgusting,” (alumnus and former trustee) Dan Brewster said. “It was abundantly clear from the outset that the school had no intention of informing parents, tending to the needs of victims, informing law enforcement, of doing anything other than protecting what they viewed as the importance of the institution.”
“Legislation being proposed in nearby Connecticut would bar schools from making secret agreements with teachers accused of sexual misconduct, and require them to disclose such accusations if other schools call for a reference.”
Connecticut law requires school staff and officials to report allegations of abuse, neglect and endangerment to either law enforcement or the state Department of Children and Families within 12 hours of learning of the allegations. State law also requires that parents be notified of such allegations and investigations.
Either school administrators will realize they must alert authorities on a timely basis, believe survivors of abuse, adopt transparency vs. cover up, act with compassion rather than intimidation, and speak openly about abuse, or they will soon face the enormous backlog of cases they have tried to bury behind archaic statutes now being revised by legislators. One way or another, truth is climbing out to shame those who were silent.
Investigating and understanding what happened in the past is to learn, not blame or excuse. It’s caring about students and survivors today. Prevention begins with understanding what went wrong, not who was wrong. To acknowledge the causes, educate the community, and learn from failing, there is no practical alternative.
“We need to move from an understanding of institutions as merely places where child sexual abuse may occur to places where the institution itself is conducive to crime. And if institutions or organisations are directly or indirectly responsible for criminal behaviour such as child sexual assault, the law should hold them to account.”
Martin Guggenheim — law professor and nationally recognized expert in the field of children and law — pointed directly at the very issue many governments and legislatures are now realizing when he said at the NYU panel on child abuse: “Why isn’t a school’s commitment to the wellbeing of its children something we demand? Why isn’t it a tort for a Board of a school to lie to an alumnus about past behavior? Who is worse? I think the denier.” Oct 21st, 2014: http://ustre.am/_3FQVt:2npw
In what was originally a letter to the editor of the student newspaper The Horace Mann Record, 14 former teachers urged the school to provide a path to healing for the community and open itself up to an investigation.
Letter from Horace Mann teachers
To The Horace Mann Record and administration:
When your old students — forever young to you — step up to call their alma mater to account, you must celebrate the justice of their cause and stand right there beside them.
Recent letters in The Horace Mann Record by distressed alumni, Marc Fisher’s article in The New Yorker, Amos Kamil’s 2012 New York Times Sunday Magazine and New York Magazine articles and now the publication of his “Great Is The Truth” document the revelations of sexual abuse at Horace Mann. All call on the school to abandon its misguided and heartless institutional defense and to do the right thing: embrace an independent investigation of what happened in its formerly hallowed halls.
As former teachers at Horace Mann in the dark then about decades of abusive faculty, our colleagues and predecessors, and sickened by the harms chased to ground by committed alumni, brave survivors and their friends, we are eager for the school to make public how it was possible for years of rampant sexual abuse by scores of predatory faculty to take place.
For instance, a male teacher in his forties brings a girl student to a faculty party: this is an enormous red flag, yet the abuser was not reprimanded by the department head or by faculty members or by anyone in the administration. How could this happen? What kind of school culture existed that prevented people from doing then what was morally right and from protecting our students, Horace Mann’s greatest asset? Why wouldn’t the school and its board want to hear all the truth, to look underneath that rock, to ensure it is doing now what is morally right? Its cornerstone will only become more secure when the rot is exposed.
The school’s current stonewalling, its retreat from a public airing of this miserable history, is a position difficult to justify when it insists at the same time on its good stewardship of the current student body. Willful, self-serving ignorance cannot be bliss nor bland, uninformed assurances reliable guarantees. But Horace Mann can be a great school when it not only gives its students an extraordinary academic education in a safe environment, but also when it examines and corrects the prevailing atmosphere that enabled these events to occur.
Publication of this letter is a strong step in the right direction.
Horace Mann faculty:
Maryanne Bonello Boettjer (1970 to 1978)
Joyce Fitzpatrick [Leana] (1974 to 1983)
Jo Anderson Strouss (1968 to 1984)
Gary J. Tharp (1968 to 1975 Barnard, English Department head; Horace Mann, 1975 to 1981)
Bruce Weber (1978 to 1981)
Cynthia Rivellini D’Urso (1978 to 1987)
Genevieve Castelain [Vergerio] (1983 to 1984)
Richard Warren (1965 to 1979)
Elisabeth Sperling (1990 to 2004)
Ricki Ivers Lopez (1970 to 1973)
Carmen San Miguel (1968 to 1971, 1987 to 1999)
Jane Genth (Horace Mann, 1987 to 1999; Riverdale Country School, 1962-1964; Fieldston, 1967-1983)
David Rocks (1983 to 1984)
Michael Passow, HM ’66 (1976 to 1985)
The signatories sent this letter to Horace Mann’s student newspaper, The Horace Mann Record, on Jan. 27, but received no confirmation it was published and editions posted online since then do not include the letter.
Nearly four years after the news of widespread sexual abuse at Horace Mann became public, a group of former faculty members have added their voices to the call for the school to cooperate with an independent investigation into the scandal.
“I can’t speak for the other signatories, but it seemed important to give support to those who have spoken up already,” said Joyce Fitzpatrick, who wrote an early draft of the letter. She taught at Horace Mann from 1974 to 1983. “There have been letters in The Record from our students who are now adults, and that was part of the impetus,” she said.
Just as survivors need to know they are not alone, so do alumni and teachers. Discovering the support of family, friends and classmates overcomes shame or fear and helps healing. We all can find a path to speak up together, no longer alone, when the community moves toward open discussion, including the school leadership today.
The case for institutional accountability in reporting child abuse
Abuse alleged in 2004 at St. George’s — Boston Globe, Jan. 23rd, 2016
“Alumnus and former school trustee Dan Brewster says he was informed of a staff member’s purported misconduct toward multiple students in 2004. He told school officials but never heard back from (Head of School) Peterson, despite repeated attempts to reach him.
“It’s disgusting,” Brewster said. “It was abundantly clear from the outset that the school had no intention of informing parents, tending to the needs of victims, informing law enforcement, of doing anything other than protecting what they viewed as the importance of the institution.”
Lawyer Eric MacLeish said Thursday that Peterson was required to report the allegations.
“In 2004, the law had been clear for 30 years that if there is any suspicion of child abuse, it had to be reported within 24 hours. If you fail to report it, there are criminal penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.”
The standard for reporting, said MacLeish, who has represented dozens of victims of both school and clergy sexual abuse, “is much lower than criminal prosecution. It’s reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect occurred.”
“It is not the role of the school to conduct a child abuse investigation and then determine whether or not it can be supported. That is the job of child protective services. . . . As I’m sure you’re aware, the reporting requirement is immediate and mandatory.”
Why should any institution, much less a school dedicated to children, be allowed to cover up reports of abuse and create more victims? Non-guardian abuse gets a pass in some states – what about guardian abuse? One unknown predator may be an accident – multiple abusers protected by cover up is a crime. Horace Mann, St. Georges school, Yeshiva High school, Poly Prep, Woodward, Kamehameha, Indian Mountain, St. Francis, Marborough, Hotchkiss, Danville CT, Solebury, Potomac, Millbrook, American School in Japan, Southbank, Episcopal Academy AU, plus many schools in the UK, Scotland, Ireland, France.
“A reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect has occurred” is the standard, not videotapes. Repeatedly, institutions decide not to alert authorities or parents, decide not to speak again with victims who report abuse or signs, fail to document accounts, don’t counsel those harmed, warn teachers not to speak up, and decide not to search for other victims in order to discourage reporting and hide accounts. We should not need any more evidence to recognize the problem and establish a National Commission on the federal level in the U.S. to insure child safety.
What are the patterns of progress in abuse prevention? The pace of news can be overwhelming. The lessons learned are too important to let slip over the transom. So are our schoolmates. Here is a summary of key events in 2015 about Horace Mann, safe schools and wider related issues. Scroll over words in italic for embedded links to articles in blue. Readers can catch up or dig into items of interest using the links.
“Mr. Friedman, a class of 1972 graduate who chaired the board for the past nine years, added that he “didn’t really sign up for the challenges” that sprang from the revelations of abuse.” The many survivors of abuse “didn’t really sign up for the challenges” of repeated sexual abuse by their teachers.
“The deal came just after Arnold grilled current headmaster Tom Kelly who’s been accused by survivors groups of trying to sweep the ugly history under the rug. The case was scheduled for a jury trial when it settled earlier this week.”
Institutional accountability for not reporting known abuse to authorities:
“Marlborough failed to investigate complaints against the teacher or to alert authorities to possible abuse and stood by as Koetters preyed on at least two other students over more than a decade on campus, according to the lawsuit.”
Decades-long cover of abuse in France: “Teachers who try to speak out about child abuse at the hands of other teachers are silenced by school directors and local officials, and even threatened with legal action – usually defamation. Others have lost their jobs. As for the teachers the children accuse, they usually stay at the same school, or are quietly transferred to another.”
HM alum is arrested after alleged phone threats
“The lawyer prosecuting a Horace Mann graduate arrested last week for threats against the school told a judge that “deals related to the school over the past three years” partly motivated the defendant to commit his alleged crimes — an apparent reference to Horace Mann’s recent settlements with victims of sexual abuse.
HM Survivors speak out about grueling mediation in Buzzfeed article: HMAC released a report which confirmed that “the school received 25 reports of abuse between 1962 and 2011, none of which resulted in an investigation or a report to the district attorney or police.
Royal Commission in Australia cites institutions covering up abuse as accountable
“If effective responses to institutional child sexual assault are to be developed, we need to move from an understanding of institutions as merely places where child sexual abuse may occur to places where the institution itself is conducive to crime. And if institutions or organisations are directly or indirectly responsible for criminal behaviour such as child sexual assault, the law should hold them to account.