Horace Mann signals change in tone over abuse scandal


Horace Mann appears to be distancing itself from a man accused of intimidating an alleged victim of sexual abuse.

On May 9, Horace Mann School removed Michael Hess’ name from a list of trustee emeriti on the school’s website.

Mr. Hess was on the Horace Mann Board of Trustees in 1993, when Benjamin Balter, in a letter to the administration, reported that art department chair Johannes Somary had made inappropriate advances toward him.

Mr. Hess, then acting as an attorney for the school, convened a conference with several trustees and Mr. Balter’s mother, a teacher at the school, in which he told her the school wouldn’t investigate the allegations without recorded evidence of impropriety, according to Benjamin’s brother, Charles Balter.

In 1994, Mr. Hess became chair of the Board of Trustees, a position he held until 2001. Mr. Somary, a now-deceased Riverdalian, went on to abuse at least one other student, according to the Horace Mann Action Coalition. Benjamin Balter committed suicide in 2009.

Charles Balter said the school’s attorneys informed him in February that Horace Mann would strip the “trustee emeritus” status from Mr. Hess. Mr. Balter said he regularly visited Horace Mann’s website to see if Mr. Hess’ name was still listed and was disappointed each time he saw that it still was.

Mr. Hess’ name regularly appeared in newspapers in the early 2000s, when he worked as an attorney for a mosignuier accused of sexually abusing boys in Long Island.

On May 1, The Riverdale Press reported that Mr. Hess’ name appeared on a class of 1958 55th year reunion invitation. The invitation asked guests to join Head of School Thomas Kelly, Mr. Hess and Richard Traum, both members of the reunion committee, on Saturday, May 11, for brunch at Mr. Kelly’s home and for cocktails and drinks at the Waldorf Astoria.

Mr. Hess, Mr. Kelly and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Steven Friedman did not immediately respond to inquiries about Mr. Hess’ current relationship with Horace Mann.

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