Former Horace Mann teachers call for probe

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Nearly four years after the news of widespread sexual abuse at Horace Mann became public, a group of former faculty members have added their voices to the call for the school to cooperate with an independent investigation into the scandal.

An investigation commissioned by the Horace Mann Action Coalition that proceeded without help from the school identified 64 credible victims of abuse at the school between 1962 and 1996. The report implicated 22 staff members.

In what was originally a letter to the editor of student newspaper The Horace Mann Record, 14 former teachers urged the school to provide a path to healing for the community and open itself up to an investigation.

“I can’t speak for the other signatories, but it seemed important to give support to those who have spoken up already,” said Joyce Fitzpatrick, who wrote an early draft of the letter. She taught at Horace Mann from 1974 to 1983.

“There have been letters in The Record from our students who are now adults, and that was part of the impetus,” she said.

However, it appears the letter was not published in The Record. Ms. Fitzpatrick said she emailed the letter to the paper’s staff on Wednesday, Jan. 27. The following Friday paper, Issue 16, is not available in the online archive. The letter does not appear in any of the subsequent issues.

Horace Mann staff did not respond to inquiries asking why Issue 16 was not made public, or if it was ever published in the first place.

In a phone interview last week, Ms. Fitzpatrick said she did not know if The Record published the letter because she never received a response from the newspaper staff. She noted she had never submitted a letter to the paper before, so she does not know what its policy is for communicating with letter writers.

“I couldn’t speculate if [the letter] might not be to the school’s taste,” she said. “But I cannot imagine the earlier letters from alumni were any more palatable and they were published.”

In the Nov. 6, 2015 issue, The Record published a letter to the editor from two alumni who had been abused during their time at Horace Mann. The survivors, Jon Seiger and Joseph Cumming, had been incorrectly named as proponents of renaming the school’s sports field as “Alumni Field” in an article. Known most recently as “Main Field,” for many years it was called “Clark Field” in honor of longtime headmaster R. Inslee Clark, who has since been named as a perpetrator of abuse.

Their letter addressed the inaccuracy, called on the school to meet with survivors and advocated for the independent investigation.

“There is a constructive way to move forward toward healing and eventually to an on-campus memorial. Since the abuse was revealed publicly in 2012, many in the HM community, including the Survivors’ Group, the Alumni Council, and The Record’s former Editor-in-Chief (in a May 2014 opinion piece), have called upon the school’s leadership to provide a public accounting and acknowledgment of what happened, based on the memories of current and former school personnel and based on the school’s own files,” Mr. Seiger and Mr. Cumming wrote in their letter.

Exonerating effect

In a phone interview Tuesday, Mr. Seiger, who was allegedly abused by eight teachers at Horace Mann including Mr. Clark, said he was aware of the letter signed by the former teachers and that their support was important.

“It’s not at all surprising that there were good people mixed in with the bad people, but it’s nice to know that there’s that many of them,” he said.

He noted that several teachers had tried to report abuse cases while they were happening, but they took their complaints to Mr. Clark — himself an abuser.

“The ones who tried to say stuff back then were completely shut down,” he said.

Mr. Cumming said the chief concern of the survivors has been an independent investigation done with the school’s cooperation to determine who knew what, and when, and to have former faculty sign a letter supporting such action was validating.

“It’s important to remember that the large majority of teachers were completely innocent. It has been very painful for current and retired faculty who have felt discredited by a cloud of suspicion. Some of the teachers who signed the letter were my best teachers at Horace Mann. They have the right to have their names cleared,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “One of the things an independent investigation would achieve is it would exonerate the innocent.”

Mr. Seiger said that while an independent investigation would force the school to admit it covered up the abuse at the time, he personally also sees other ways for survivors like himself to heal. He mentioned last year’s Hilltop Cares benefit concert, which raised money for survivors’ therapy bills, and his own communications with current Head of School Thomas Kelly.

“We are working on a path forward and talking about starting to get together with Tom Kelly, the school and survivors,” he said.

Read the teachers' letter here.

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HM Alum

Just as survivors need to know they are not alone, so do alumni and teachers. Discovering the support of family, friends and classmates overcomes shame or fear and helps healing. We all can find a path to speak up together, no longer alone, when the community moves toward open discussion, including the school leadership today.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016
SMS

I have been a Horace Mann parent since 2003, and have spent many hours volunteering at the school, so much so that several people asked me whether I worked there. I enjoyed being close to my children and other kids and the curiosity and enthusiasm that surround them. The school sounds like a terribly dark place during the period of abuse, full of confusion, betrayal, insanity and misery. However, the Horace Mann that we know today--the administration, the students and the parents-- isn't the same place at all. We aren't perfect, but we are far far different. I understand the outrage of the victims; however, the people who are constantly asked to acknowledge and apologize weren't even there then. The number of teachers who were there at the time are limited. None of the students were there, none of the parents were there. It's time Horace Mann is allowed to stop apologizing so that it we can get on with what it did, and still does best. Let the administration get back to educating our kids.

Friday, May 20, 2016