Your Letter to Nowhere
Have you written a letter to Horace Mann and gotten back bupkis?
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Amos Kamil to HM Board Chair, Steve Friedman, January 27, 2012
January 27, 2012
Steven M. Friedman
760 Park Avenue 12th Floor
New York, NY 10021
As you may have heard I am writing a story for the New York Times Magazine about events that occurred before during, and after my time at Horace Mann. Many, many students have come forward to tell me their stories.
As someone who loved the school and still has many friends from my HM days, I am committed to giving the school every possible opportunity to discuss the issues that have arisen in my interviews as well as to discuss the administration’s perspective, which students can only ever guess at, and to correct inaccuracies that are sure to arise. In addition, because a major part f the story will be a consideration of how very different the world is now then it was in those days, I want to be able to include an account of the many safeguards I gather the administration has put in place and continues to enforce.
But I can only do all this with the school’s participation. Please give me the chance to tell the full story rather than a partial perspective. I will be delighted to give any representatives of the school as much time to discus as many sides of the issue as you like.
So far I have reached out, both by phone and by email, to Dr. Tom Kelly as well as to the current trustees but my entreaties have not been answered.
It make sense that the school would have some concerns about a story of this kind but the very best way to address those concerns – and the only way to ensure that the article represents your perspective faithfully – is to speak with me.
I thank you in advance for making time – at your soonest convenience - to speak with me on this important matter,
Amos Kamil, HM ‘82
Robert S. Boynton to Tom Kelly, June 7, 2012
Dear Mr. Kelly,
Like hundreds (thousands?) of other HM alum ('81), I read Amos Kamil's article with great sadness.
I studied with Stan Kops and not only sang in, but was president of the Glee Club. I never had
problems with any of my teachers at HM, although I did think some of their behavior was odd,
if not creepy. I look back with fondness at my many years there (K-12).
It is with this in mind that I urge you and the board to launch a full investigation into the charges
aired in the article. I can't see any other way that the school will recover from this. Lawyers and
PR consultants will only make things worse.
I'm not sure who would best conduct such an investigation, but could imagine a small committee
of alum and others. The document it produced would do more to heal the wounds of those who were abused than a thousand press releases.
Robert S. Boynton
Laurie Gordon '87 to Tom Kelly, August 10, 2012
I know you have received many communications from alumni. 20 percent of us are now on facebook Processing Horace Mann. I found that number astonishing. What's interesting too is how many of us work with children. Alice Swenson, Christina Propst and pediatricians.
As an individual in the crowd, though, I feel compelled to voice my opinion to you and I hope you are reading what comes your way in spite of massive volume.
I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist in NYC. I have spent my entire career protecting and helping children, many of whom were sexually abused. It can be a lifetime of suffering or result in a suicide. Peope struggle with denial and repression, or at best, learn to cope with symptoms in therapy. The sense of disempowerment and violation from this experience is like a cancer of the soul. There is, actually, nothing worse than trying to grow up and carry around shame, anger and disempowerment about a secret like this while the perpetrator remains at large. This experience of the world as a completely unsafe place is unlike any other in its personal and private pain. I have sat with Special Victims police and Special Prosecutors and spent years talking to these children.
This problem is epidemic and the profound denial about it is what is compelling the alumni to galvanize in support of the school making not just legal, but moral
and ethical choices in the face of this crisis. Children don't vote. Their special interests are woefully underrepresented. They don't sue and in New York they can't press charges or sue after 23 for abuse committed against them as a minor. This will change. But in any case the responsibility to handle, shut down and prevent this problem in any possible fashion is on society and community. The children generally don't get a voice until it's too late.
I,too, see an authentic apology and an independent investigation by the school as the only acceptable route here. You and the Board have read that letter several times. It is sitting on desks at the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Dr. Kelly, I quit one of my jobs ultimately because the Hospital tried to prevent me from reporting a case of child abuse. I discovered there that adults conspire not to report child abuse. Its a Pandora's Box for all of us. Our jobs. Reputations. Relationships. This needs to be addressed at every level. We all have a conflict of interest around reporting nonguardian child abuse.
For now we who work with children need to be fearless and willing to sacrifice all of this for the safety of children or we should absolutely not be doing it. There are other jobs where this moral stance is not required. Gandhi, Churchill, Truman and others all wrote that the way a society is judged is based on the treatment of the weakest members.
Here is where I need to elaborate on my special concerns as a child psychiatrist.
Non guardian child sexual abuse is a special problem. It is so toxic that it is
not even something the NYS Register wants to investigate. They have no
expertise in handling professional criminal pedophiles. They immediately refer the reporter to call the police for any kind of nonguardian abuse.
The problem here is that while it is a misdemeanor to not report child abuse from a guardian, and thus technically mandated reporters have some incentive to call, reporting nonguardian abuse to police is voluntary. So there you have the big loophole. There is nothing to compel people to report other than concern about being accessory to a crime or part of a cover up, which apparently is not enough.
Many many people knew about what was going on at Horace Mann.
Teachers talked about it. They laughed and bragged about it to each other.
They walked in on it. Parents spoke to the Board of Trustees. They were silenced.
They were told "This is not Horace Mann's bill to pay."
Many people could have put an end to this and they are responsible.
No teacher, trustee or administrator ever called the police. These people are alive. The school conspired to cover this up.
We all understand how this happens. We technically have the right not to
call the police. I don't know if you can realistically mandate your teachers
in your Handbook for Families to call the police for nonguardian child abuse
and protect them as whistleblowers but I hope there is a way to make it understood that not doing so is totally unacceptable and people are accountable. There are situations where morally, it is a school's obligation to self police and call law enforcement at whatever potential cost this brings. Or else we conspire to cover up crimes.
It is one or the other Dr. Kelly. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it really is that simple in the end with children. Either you are part of the problem and its cover up, or you are part of the solution no matter what it takes. I hope I have explained myself here. I am happy to speak with you further and help out if there is a way at HM.
I hope you will bring this to the Board.
Laurie E Gordon MD
Class of 87
Bill Irwin to Kelly and Friedman, November 21, 2012
November 21, 2012
To my friends at Horace Mann School, including Tom Kelly and Steven Friedman:
I will be pleased to donate to the Annual Fund 2013, but only after I have heard that the Board of Trustees has agreed to initiate an independent investigation of the abuse by the HM teachers. I heard the reasons that the Board has decided, to-date, not to do an investigation, but I don’t agree with that decision. I believe it is important to uncover what happened, including who abused students, as well as who knew about it (at the time, and afterwards) and did not take the proper action.
I have been a loyal alumnus, and donated almost every year, in both money and my time. As part of the Alumni Council, we issued a resolution to ask the Board to initiate an independent investigation. That was almost two months ago, and I have not heard any response yet. So, I will reluctantly suspend my money and effort for HM until the Board decides to do the right thing.
Bill Irwin ‘74
136 Winding Way
Cedar Grove, NJ 07009
Ben Balter to HM Headmaster Foote, September 29, 1993
September 29, 1993
Dear Mr. Foote,
I am writing concerning the faculty member Johannes Somary, chairman of the arts department.
I have known Mr. Somary for almost five years and have respect for him as a musician. However, recently, Mr. Somary has made grossly inappropriate sexual advances towards me. This behavior has perissted for several months now, and I feel it only appropriate that the administration be notified.
I am not simply making an unfounded accusation or exaggerating perfectly innocent events. Mr Somary's actions have only one possible interpretation and are clearly unjustified on a professional or personal level.
The purpose of a school such as Horace Mann is to provide a safe and comfortable learning environment. This goal is clearly made impossible by the inappropriate actions of teachers such as Mr. Somary. It is unfair to me and to other students to have such teachers in our midst for they compromise not only the goals of the Horace Mann school, but also the integrity of education in general.
Benjamin Balter (12)
Andy Hyams to Tom Kelly, May 7 2013
There has been an elevated level of discussion amongst alums in “Processing Horace Mann” concerning supposed flaws in the HM Handbook. After all that has happened in the past year, this surprised me, as despite HM’s failures to address past harms, all indications were that HM was embracing a “gold standard” on abuse prevention and reporting to protect present and future students.
When I read about some concerns, I decided to take a look at the Handbook myself. I think there are some serious flaws, which I hope are oversights that HM will want to correct when brought to your attention.
The definition of “abuse” on page 71 is a “bright line” rule – the abuse must be physical or involve display or production of pornography/indecent materials. There is a universe of troubling to horrific abuse that falls outside of this cramped definition. (Irrelevant that HM might have based this definition on a statute; it is HM’s handbook to draft as it wants.) Teacher-student telephone sex is not covered. What about the oft-repeated story of the drivers ed teacher who made the sexually suggestive comment to the student about a bagel in her lap? Turn back to page 61, “Student Harassment/Bullying Policy.” This section does include sexual harassment, but I don’t know why HM would include in one of the four components that the conduct should be “Repetitive,” by which HM means it is “not usually a one-time occurrence.”
More alarming is the employee reporting obligation on “harassment/bullying.” “Any parent or School employee who believes that a student has been or is being harassed/bullied by an employee or any parent or employee who has witnessed an incident of harassment/bullying by an employee, also should take the [reporting] steps described above.”
Teachers have no greater duty to report than parents??? And the duty is a bland “should,” not the mandatory “must.” So the drivers ed student tells her parents and her guidance counselor about the incident. The guidance counselor can pooh-pooh it as “one time,” and in any event has no greater obligation to report the teacher than her parents.
This seems so wrong, I feel like I have to be missing something.
The problem may be that HM and your lawyers took a short-cut, trying to have the “Harassment/Bullying” section cover too many things at once. Teacher sexual harassment of a student is totally different from student-on-student harassment in the form of “social exclusion” like leaving a student out of a birthday party, yet BOTH types of behavior are specifically covered by the same reporting rule in this Handbook section.
I get that you don’t want the handbook to be 1000 pages long covering every specific possibility, but the policy reflected here, that teachers have no greater obligation to report than parents for a broad category of teacher misconduct, does not require another 100 pages to fix. Moreover, mandatory reporting of sexual harassment is an important way for you to determine if you have a “repeater” and therefore a serious problem. A teacher reported once for making a remark perceived to have sexual innuendo might be harmless – a silly mistake, a dumb reference to a TV show that was misinterpreted. But a teacher reported on for three different instances within a couple of months – obviously a different situation. The difference between “should report” and “must report” and placing a higher burdern on staff to report than on parents, will give you more information to investigate and act on.