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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 841-1236. You may also contact Head of School John Allman at email@example.com 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.
Head of School
Board of Trustees
Trinity School | Website
212-932-6989 | 139 West 91st Street NYC 10024
Link to the Report from the Investigation: