Advocates seeking redress for decades of sexual abuse at Horace Mann School got a major boost last week, when a New Jersey judge ruled that an alleged victim’s case against the school can proceed.
Bergen County Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia rejected Horace Mann attorneys’ contention that her court did not have jurisdiction over alleged abuse by deceased Horace Mann music teacher and former Riverdale resident Johannes Somary.
The unnamed plaintiff claims that out of 450 instance of abuse he suffered at Mr. Somary’s hands, at least two took place while Horace Mann’s glee club travelled to the Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey.
The plaintiff further claims that Horace Mann officials had knowledge of the abuse and could have prevented it, although Ms. Friscia last week dismissed current board members as defendants in the case.
Still, the plaintiff’s attorney said the school’s current Head of School Thomas Kelly, Board of Trustees Chair Steven Friedman and other officials will provide depositions in a process known as discovery.
“The main issue in our case is the fact that Horace Mann knew that Somary was a sexual predator before my client even went to the school,” the plaintiff’s lawyer Rosemarie Arnold said, “and rather than deal with it, not only did they sweep it under the rug, they tried to cover it up.”
Ms. Arnold added, if the court rules in her client’s favor the case will determine the extent of damages from both the abuse itself — which allegedly started when the defendant was in Horace Mann’s middle school and continued until he graduated from high school during the early 1970s — and the alleged cover-up.
The June 2012 New York Times article that first brought decades of sexual abuse at Horace Mann to light described Mr. Somary as one of a group of educators who allegedly exploited and abused dozens of students over more than two decades. The article said Mr. Somary “groomed” teenage boys including the plaintiff in the New Jersey case into sexual partners.