Editorial comment

A monument to loopholes


The Bronx District Attorney’s Office summary of its investigation into alleged sexual abuse at Horace Mann is a good start on the road toward accountability, but a start is all it is.

After The New York Times first reported accusations of widespread abuse at the school, spanning decades and involving multiple educators, the Bronx DA opened a hotline for victims and embarked on an investigation into the allegations that flowed in.

This week, the long-awaited results were revealed in a one-page press release.

The DA said that 30 calls to the hotline led to 60 interviews in and out of New York State, 25 of them with victims of alleged abuse.

Those interviews yielded direct information on allegations against 12 separate educators, a number dwarfed by accounts collected by the alumni group Horace Mann Action Coalition.

What it did not yield was prosecutions. As The Riverdale Press has reported, the alleged abuse took place too long ago to be prosecutable under the state’s statute of limitations. The first reported incident of occurred in 1962 and the last in 1996, according to the DA.

The law has its limits.

But there is no reason the DA’s report needs to be relegated to a press release. There’s nothing stopping Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson from releasing the full report (with names redacted, if that’s deemed necessary), exposing in full what Action Coalition alumnus Peter Brooks aptly called a “monument to loopholes.”

The first loophole a full accounting would help highlight is the way in which criminality involving allegations of unprecedented widespread, systemic abuse can go unpunished due to the state’s woefully inadequate statute of limitations, in which the five-year clock starts ticking at the child’s 18th birthday or when the case is reported to law enforcement or the state central registry, whichever occurs earlier.

The DA’s office says it could have pursued prosecution in some of these cases had the law allowed it, and the public should have a chance to see exactly the kind of alleged acts the current law is protecting.

Another glaring loophole that would be highlighted by a full airing of the report is the exemption for private schools from mandatory reporting, which protects those who may have known about the abuse but done nothing.

Under current state law, private school officials must report sexual abuse by parents and guardians, but not by school employees. Education law requiring abuse reporting in an “educational setting” only applies to public schools.

Children who grow up in privileged settings often reap advantages poorer children never know. In this instance the tables are turned. Kids who go to private schools are at the mercy of their insular environs, which, in the case of Horace Mann, was and continues to be plagued by a culture of perceived — and, as it turns out, real — impunity under the law.

Which brings us to the gaping loophole that the enormity of Horace Mann’s hubris creates.

It was on display when Horace Mann delusionally told the public, according to HMAC, that the investigation would exonerate the school, although the group says at least two people reported past abuse to the current headmaster, Thomas Kelly, as late as 2011.

After the school amended its inadequate reporting policy in light of the allegations, it failed to include a requirement to inform authorities about the crime in a timely fashion. That was later amended when the DA’s office stepped into an advisory role with the school as it embarked on its investigation.

Even now, trustee Emeritus Michael Hess — accused of doing nothing with information that a student, who later killed himself, was abused at the school — is currently featured on an invitation asking alumni to join the school for a day of reunion events.

Settlement deals have reportedly prohibited alleged victims not only from suing Horace Mann, but also from suing their abusers.

In all probability, the perpetrators who preyed on successive generations of students will never be cvealled to account, but a full airing of their misdeeds and the negligence of past administrators — including publication of investigative findings — will go a long way to convincing legislators and educators to institute the reforms necessary for preventing such horrors from ever happening again.