By Jenny Anderson (New York Times)
August 6, 2012
After two months of deliberations, the Horace Mann School announced on Monday a series of steps, including increased training for faculty members and instruction for students, to address reports of past sexual abuse at the school.
Steven M. Friedman, the chairman of Horace Mann’s board, said in a letter that the school would work with the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to review school procedures, train faculty and staff members in identifying and reporting suspected abuse, and develop prevention programs for students. The school also pledged that all of its employees would undergo a “comprehensive background check”; in the past, such checks have been made only on new employees.
“As Horace Mann School parents, alumni and concerned community members, we as trustees are appalled and saddened by reports of abuse of children by certain past faculty members,” the letter said. “We feel pain and regret for anyone who reports to have been harmed while a student at Horace Mann School.”
The school’s response was prompted by an article in The New York Times Magazine in June that described the sexual abuse of students in the 1990s and earlier by teachers no longer living. More students have since come forward with accounts of abuse; a former teacher has acknowledged having sex with students before he retired in 1986.
Some alumni are forming at least one nonprofit organization to help victims. Still, some victims and other alumni said they were not satisfied with the board’s response.
“It’s good we finally got some reaction from the board of trustees, but there are serious concerns that the letter did not effectively address,” said Adam Kasanof, a 1977 graduate and a retired member of the New York Police Department.
He said Horace Mann needed an independent reporting system that would allow students or staff members to report abuse anonymously to an organization with no ties to the school. “As a general principle,” he said, “having an outside investigation system not only gets you a better-quality investigation, but has an important deterrent effect.”
The letter acknowledged the frustration some groups have expressed with the board’s delayed response and made clear that the school has been seeking input from groups including victims, child-abuse professionals, lawyers and law enforcement officials.
“ ‘Doing the right thing’ about the past has vastly different meanings to different members of our community,” Mr. Friedman wrote. “As we wrestled with this complex issue, we recognize that the board’s desire to act judiciously and deliberately has resulted in a lack of an immediate action plan that many have found frustrating.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: August 8, 2012
An article on Tuesday about plans by the board at Horace Mann School to put new training and prevention programs into effect in reaction to accusations of past sexual abuse of students by faculty members misspelled the given name of the board’s chairman in some editions. He is Steven M. Friedman, not Stephen.