Horace Mann Draws Fire for Response

By Sophia Hollander (Wall Street Journal)
August 6, 2012

The board of directors at the Horace Mann School detailed a series of steps it is taking to address a sexual-abuse scandal that has shaken the elite Bronx academy.

But the statement drew sharp criticism from many alumni, including a group of former students who say they were sexually abused by teachers at the school. The group of more than 20 victims said the letter didn't address their three main demands: "an apology from the institution, compensation for the survivors, and an independent investigation."

Horace Mann officials said the nonprofit New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children would review the school's current policies and provide training for trustees, alumni, staff, parents and students. The letter, which was signed by board Chairman Steven Friedman, also promised a meeting with the survivors' group next month and additional meetings with alumni. The letter said the school is "cooperating fully and actively" with investigations by the Bronx District Attorney and the New York Police Department. No sexual-abuse charges have been filed.

"We are all doing the best we can in these unprecedented circumstances," Mr. Friedman wrote. But, he said, "Our primary fiduciary responsibilities and legal obligations are to the school today."

The New York Police Department has sent detectives across the country , including trips to California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont and upstate New York to interview "victims and suspects," according to department spokesman Paul Browne.

The Horace Mann Action Coalition, a group of alumni in the process of becoming a formal nonprofit, also criticized the board's response, saying the letter "employs the evasive, legalistic language that has dismayed thousands of Horace Mann alumni since the sexual abuse was revealed."

Adam Kasanof, who graduated from Horace Mann in 1977 and worked for 21 years in the New York Police Department, joined other alumni in calling for an independent investigation modeled on the report issued by former FBI Director Louis Freeh on the sexual abuse at Penn State.

Mary Pulido, the executive director of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said her group had been working with Horace Mann since July to review its practices and "strengthen some of them," she said, declining to specify. "They are working really diligently."

Although the statute of limitations in New York requires people who were sexually abused as minors to report any crimes by the time they turn 23 years old, other states have different laws.

In Connecticut, where some alleged abuse occurred at the John Dorr Nature Laboratory, a defendant has 30 years from his or her 18th birthday to file civil charges.

—Tamer El-Ghobashy contributed to this article.