Private schools assault may no longer be private


The wounds from the Horace Mann School sexual abuse scandal still seem fresh, nearly five years after the school formally apologized to more than three-dozen victims.

The alleged abuse stayed quiet for decades, until one of the former students stepped forward to share his story in 2012. 

State law already is quite clear what should happen when a student reports abuse in a public school. For private schools, like Horace Mann, the legal ramifications are quite different. And Democrats in the state are ready to change that.

State Sen. John Brooks, who represents the Long Island towns of Freeport and Amityville, introduced Senate Bill 4342, which would close that private school loophole. Not only have private schools not been required to turn accused faculty over to authorities, current law allows reporting sexual relationships with 17-year-olds optional. 

This new bill, if passed, would create new requirements on how private school administrations handled allegations, which in the past ranged from transferring, firing, suspending or even doing absolutely nothing against those accused of abuse. 

Amos Kamil exposed alleged abuse at Horace Mann that dated back to the 1960s in a piece published in The New York Times Magazine in 2012. The school, he said, took advantage of ambiguous laws that didn’t require schools to threaten their reputation over allegations of abuse. Many of the abuse claims between 1970 and 2011 seemed to have been mishandled, he added.  

Charles Balter, brother of a Horace Mann alumnus who committed suicide when his own complaints were dismissed, claimed students had reported sexual abuse “every other year” since 1969. 

S.B. 4342 is designed to ensure private schools report abuse to law enforcement when it occurs. Led by Brooks, the bill’s co-sponsors are primarily Democrat, with two Republican exceptions — Pamela Helming and Chris Jacobs, who represent the greater Rochester and Buffalo areas respectively.

“As countless survivors of abuse continue to share their stories nationwide, we are seeing a universal need for corrective change and stronger protections for victims,” Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, said in a release last January.

Although he’s not a co-sponsor, a spokesman from Sen. Jeff Klein’s office confirmed his support of the bill. However, senators are not the only ones backing the bill.

Democrats also have pushed its Child Victims Act that would allow adults who were victims of sexual assault as children to prosecute the accused, even if it exceeds the current statutes of limitations.

S.B. 4342 is awaiting a floor vote with the Assembly version of the bill still in committee. 

It’s not clear when the senate could take up a vote on the bill, or how long it will take the lower chamber to follow suit.