EDITORIAL

Acknowledge sexual abuse

Posted

Sexual abuse allegations dating back to the 1970s and spanning decades continue to wrack Horace Mann School even as it tries to settle quietly with some of the victims.

But the school has refused to commission an independent investigation of the abuse or the way in which past administrations handled it. This despite charges that instances were ignored or covered up, allowing a culture of abuse to persist long after it was brought to the school’s attention. 

In that respect, the disturbing revelations are not just a matter of history — they are a matter of the school’s apparent ongoing philosophy of regarding reputation over reality.

Despite the fact that nearly three dozen people who attended the hilltop school from the late 60s through the 90s have now alleged abuse at the hands of 20 educators, including a one-time principal, Horace Mann has remained intransigent about an investigation.

It has dug its heels in even though an alumni organization, Horace Mann Action Coalition — formed in the wake of the first published reports of ongoing abuse — has documented 12 instances in which the school was allegedly alerted to the misconduct but did nothing to stop it. 

The school insists that its cooperation with the police and the Bronx District Attorney’s office should be sufficient. It isn’t.

Most of the cases are old enough to have exceeded the state’s statute of limitations. No criminal charges will be brought. It would be hard, under any circumstances, for the victims to get justice, but at least an independent inquiry could confirm their complaints.  

Horace Mann has not even made a public apology, not to the students who were hurt most directly, and not to the scores of students before and since who now have their high school memories tarnished by the knowledge that the teachers who lavished attention and praise upon them were secretly molesting, brainwashing and even raping others. 

However belatedly, sexual abuse at the school must be investigated, not only to uncover the past and to stand up for children who could not stand up for themselves, but also to root out any vestiges of a culture that allowed such widespread abuse to persist. 

The school has hired a firm to provide training to school staff and students going forward, but there is no forging a new path to the future without accepting the reality of the past. 

Horace Mann must also apologize for letting this happen. 

As it stands, the alumni coalition rightly argues that the school’s reaction to the series of bombshell allegations of sexual abuse is a signal to current students that reports will not be taken seriously. 

Horace Mann is a non-profit whose commitment should be to the students it claims to care so deeply about, not shareholders or its trustees. 

According to notes taken by the Alumni Council and given to the Horace Mann Action Coalition and then to The Riverdale Press, the school has indicated that an apology would “open up the floodgates on litigation and liability.”

Whether that’s true, we don’t know. What we do know is that even without an apology or investigation, there seems to be no end to the allegations emerging from alumni who say they were abused at the school. If they say that an apology would help them heal — and they do — it’s the school’s duty to act accordingly.

Comments

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drninafreund

Bravo Riverdale Press. As an alumna Class of 1982, a former parent Class of 2014 and a child and adolescent psychiatrist with experience in sexual abuse, I am so thankful for your willingness to state publicly what so many of us are trying to express privately.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
HenryHudson

As a former Riverdale resident and HM grad, I commend the Riverdale Press for calling on Horace Mann to do the right thing by acknowledging, apologizing, and authorizing an independent investigation of the sexual abuse it condoned for years, if not decades.

Though I wasn't an abuse victim, I am one of the "scores of students...who have their high school memories tarnished..." Being an HM grad used to be a source of pride. It's now a source of shame.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
robhollander

Congratulations to the editorial board of the Riverdale Press for speaking out for decency. The school shames me, an alumnus, with its avoidance, indifference to human harm, its belief that there is no evil so egregious that money can't fix. Prestige may be more precious than the good, but it's not better.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
AngryLion

Thank you. Horace Mann was a cesspool of sexual abuse for decades, and it's absolutely shameful how the current administration has chosen to respond to the allegations. They are digging themselves a deep hole. I'm embarrassed to say I ever attended Horace Mann. Off my resume it goes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
uncleharryfelber

Horace Mann's Alumni Council, hardly a bastion of radicals, has also formally requested that the HM Board of Trustees allow an independent investigation. The HM Trustees ignored the request. HM is now controlled by rich investment bankers and private equity millionaires who care about one thing -- getting their kids into Ivy League colleges. They are desperately trying to figure out how to "protect their investments" in HM. They see the school like a stock they bought. Now the stock is tanking. They are hoping to wait it out get their kids into college. They are afraid of what an independent investigation will reveal. Meanwhile, you never hear from he Head of School -- he won't be interviewed. Press inquiries go to a PR hack. If that is the kind of "leadership" HM teaches, I would never send my kid there.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
robhollander

I do not know whether there are decent people among the school's trustees, but if there are, let them come forward and be counted. Ties of business, career or loyalty may be stronger than the call for justice and healing, but if they are, then all its trustees, regardless of any excuse or explanation, nevertheless fully deserve their public condemnation. Collaboration is complicity. That's how institutions come to endorse and implement injustice.

Thursday, March 28, 2013
bronxrunner

Maybe they're so hesitant because the case goes deeper than just HM staff? Having studied the sexual proclivities of the "elite" for a few years now, when schools are involved, usually there are cases of "pimping out" kids to others not necessarily affiliated with the school. Sandusky was doing it for decades. It could be that some big names in the "upper crust" of NYC society are involved in this, and those are the ones ultimately being protected. Just my opinion of course, and I have no proof, but if the past is any guide, is case probably goes much deeper than just the HM staff.

Thursday, March 28, 2013
jeremyginzberg

i graduated in 1969 and the only quibble i would proffer to an otherwise excellent editorial is that abuse definitely occurred before the 70's. my classmate robert simon still lives with his master robert berman and was "very close" to him while in high school. berman made some sort of play for me in 67.

unlike many "non-abused" grads whose pride in their alma mater has been tarnished by these revelations, i feel that i narrowly escaped with my life. i have hated the place for 50 years since i started first form (seventh grade.i had not even reached the campus when i was bullied.

the threats to my life came not only from the criminal psychopath berman but his colleague in pedophilia somary and the numerous sadistic martinets and other tortured souls who roamed its hallowed halls. in seventh grade english mr. wooster -- a pleasant jovial man who REALLY liked talking about sex, had an assaultive quirk -- he would pick you up with one hand and pinch you under your thigh hard enough to leave a mark. probably half the class would get a few "woo-pinches" i dont remember him pinching my 6'4 180 pound classmate.

i was the victim of two felony assaults by faculy, both in eighth grade. mr chase, the head of the middle school who was rumored to have been general mcarthur's interpreer during wwII, was the lunchroom monitor when he saw me and a classmate throwing salt on each others' icecream. he picked us up and cracked our heads together. i had a black eye for weeks. later that year -- as the youngest person in the class i was by then 12, 5'1 and maybe 105 lbs, i was haplessly and hopelessly swatting in defense after being manhandled by a sizable classmate/bully, maybe 5'10, 200 lbs, and willem van heckerun, deciding i was the aggressor, grabbed me by the ear and dragged me down a flight of stairs bruising/cracking my coccyx so that it hurt for months. he then wrote a disciplinary progress report one of three i received which almost got me expelled. jan betke, a sweet fey man who was tortured by our entire class, picked on the second weakest person in the room, i.e. me. the weirdest of the three came from robert l.t. evans, who objected to my cursing on the subway (anyone who didnt curse on the subway was in a tiny mionorty) while having an hm bookbag. that foppish disciplinarian was rarely on time for first period french but the one time i was late i got a weeks detention. normally during detention one could do homework. alone with evans, i had to keep my hands clasped and do nothing.

i was not sorry to hear he died of aids in the mid eighties.

a last random horror. tek lin who repulsively confessed last summer to repeated felonious sex w students saying "that i meant no harm"

well lin did you mean harm when you gave me detention because you thought my haircut looked like carol channing? when you snarlingly measured students sideburns?

Friday, March 29, 2013
uncleharryfelber

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has a Charities Bureau charged with oversight of all non-profits in NY state. Riverdale Press should be questioning why Schneiderman is not investigating the Horace Mann Board of Trustees' breach of fiduciary duty.

Friday, March 29, 2013
bronxrunner

Schneiderman is too busy going after the guns of law-aiding citizens to worry about small stuff like pedophilia and child prostitution.

Friday, March 29, 2013