Letter from Horace Mann teachers, and article, The Riverdale Press

To The Horace Mann Record and administration:

When your old students — forever young to you — step up to call their alma mater to account, you must celebrate the justice of their cause and stand right there beside them.

Recent letters in The Horace Mann Record by distressed alumni, Marc Fisher’s article in The New Yorker, Amos Kamil’s 2012 New York Times Sunday Magazine and New York Magazine articles and now the publication of his “Great Is The Truth” document the revelations of sexual abuse at Horace Mann. All call on the school to abandon its misguided and heartless institutional defense and to do the right thing: embrace an independent investigation of what happened in its formerly hallowed halls.

As former teachers at Horace Mann in the dark then about decades of abusive faculty, our colleagues and predecessors, and sickened by the harms chased to ground by committed alumni, brave survivors and their friends, we are eager for the school to make public how it was possible for years of rampant sexual abuse by scores of predatory faculty to take place.

For instance, a male teacher in his forties brings a girl student to a faculty party: this is an enormous red flag, yet the abuser was not reprimanded by the department head or by faculty members or by anyone in the administration. How could this happen? What kind of school culture existed that prevented people from doing then what was morally right and from protecting our students, Horace Mann’s greatest asset? Why wouldn’t the school and its board want to hear all the truth, to look underneath that rock, to ensure it is doing now what is morally right? Its cornerstone will only become more secure when the rot is exposed.

The school’s current stonewalling, its retreat from a public airing of this miserable history, is a position difficult to justify when it insists at the same time on its good stewardship of the current student body. Willful, self-serving ignorance cannot be bliss nor bland, uninformed assurances reliable guarantees. But Horace Mann can be a great school when it not only gives its students an extraordinary academic education in a safe environment, but also when it examines and corrects the prevailing atmosphere that enabled these events to occur.

Publication of this letter is a strong step in the right direction.

Horace Mann faculty:
Maryanne Bonello Boettjer (1970 to 1978)
Joyce Fitzpatrick [Leana] (1974 to 1983)
Jo Anderson Strouss (1968 to 1984)
Gary J. Tharp (1968 to 1975 Barnard, English Department head; Horace Mann, 1975 to 1981)
Bruce Weber (1978 to 1981)
Cynthia Rivellini D’Urso (1978 to 1987)
Genevieve Castelain [Vergerio] (1983 to 1984)
Richard Warren (1965 to 1979)
Elisabeth Sperling (1990 to 2004)
Ricki Ivers Lopez (1970 to 1973)
Carmen San Miguel (1968 to 1971, 1987 to 1999)
Jane Genth (Horace Mann, 1987-1999; Riverdale Country School, 1962 to 1964; Fieldston, 1967-1983)
David Rocks (1983 to 1984)
Michael Passow, HM ’66 (1976 to 1985)

The signatories sent this letter to Horace Mann’s student newspaper, The Horace Mann Record, on Jan. 27, but received no confirmation it was published and editions posted online since then do not include the letter. For more background, click here.

Full article with links: http://riverdalepress.com/stories/Horace-Mann-teachers-demand-justice,59458

Isabelle Angell, Former Horace Mann teachers call for probe, The Riverdale Press

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.

Full article: http://riverdalepress.com/stories/Former-HM-teachers-call-for-probe,59448