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.

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