June 21, 2012
Dr. Kelly, the Board of Trustees, and our many beloved friends in the Horace Mann community
A group of survivors of sexual abuse by Horace Mann teachers and staff
We have been deeply moved by the outpouring of love, concern and solidarity expressed by many in our community since the publication of the New York Times Magazine article about sexual abuse at Horace Mann. We wish to express our thanks to all who have expressed compassion and caring toward us. We have tried not to be hurt by certain comments others have made on the internet seeking to blame the victims or to call our integrity, our motives or even our sexuality into question.
We recognize that many of our fellow-alumni who were not themselves sexually abused, and who were unaware of abuse, have also experienced trauma these last days as you have read just a small part of what was done to us. We recognize that you too are suffering at this time, and we feel that you and we are part of the same community. We are particularly sensitive to those who had no idea that abuse was taking place, and who may have loved and admired the teachers who abused us. We know it must be painful for you to read our stories about the darker side of mentors you admired.
Many people – in Facebook groups, in email conversations, on blogs, etc. – have been suggesting in public and in private what they think we, the survivors of abuse, might want to see happen in the days and weeks ahead. We thought it might serve the community for us to give you an idea of what we ourselves might like to see.
We wish to be clear that this letter is an early draft of a “working document.” We are still in the process of sorting out our own thoughts, and those thoughts are evolving. Additionally, other survivors are contacting us daily, and not all have been able to contribute to this draft. We are in contact with more than twenty survivors so far, and we were able to request input on this letter from eighteen of them, and this document represents our best effort to reflect the concerns that those people have shared with us. Thus, we may revise this document in the coming weeks.
We believe the Horace Mann community has an historic opportunity to show leadership on this issue – to set an example of the right way to handle a crisis of this kind in order to promote healing, reconciliation, justice and truth. We welcome a dialogue with the current Horace Mann administration and Trustees on how to realize these goals.
We believe work must be done in four areas: 1) protecting potential future victims, 2) ensuring “never again” at Horace Mann, 3) healing and assisting past victims based on their legitimate needs, and 4) changing the wider system.
Protecting Potential Future Victims
The New York Times article named three teachers who have all died. Our abusers include several other teachers, some of whom are still alive. We are concerned that these pedophiles may even now be “grooming” other children for similar abuse. Some of you have asked why we did not come forward sooner about this. Several of us did come forward in the past, reporting abuse to the Horace Mann administration and Trustees and/or reporting it to law enforcement, but often we felt our reports fell on deaf ears. Others of us suffered alone for many years, overcome by shame and unable to come forward, not knowing there were others like us. It has taken decades for us to reach the place where we felt able to talk to others about what was done to us. This is common in victims of child sexual abuse.
We ask for the vigorous support of the Horace Mann administration and Trustees and the wider Horace Mann community in helping us prevent these still-living perpetrators from harming any other children as they harmed us. We ask you to help us work with law enforcement to investigate these perpetrators and to ensure that they are removed from contact with children.
Though we may have questions about some of the things Dr. Kelly has done or said on other matters in the past and in the present crisis, we wish to thank him for his strong support in recent days in helping us persuade law enforcement officials to take our concerns seriously and to act on them.
Never Again at Horace Mann
We appreciate the public assurances from the Horace Mann administration and Trustees that Horace Mann has changed greatly since we were abused, and that the school now has policies to ensure that such things will not be repeated. But when these policies were put into place, they were not informed by the experiences that were recently disclosed. We believe Horace Mann can and must do much more to reassure us and the wider community that such things could never again take place at Horace Mann.
We are told that the people who were involved in abuse and the others who failed to act on reports of abuse are now all gone from Horace Mann. This is not true. We believe that several members of the current Board of Trustees were present at a meeting in 1993 with Ben Balter’s mother in which the school refused to take appropriate action on Ben’s letter describing the abuse he suffered. Unless evidence can be presented to contradict this, we request that these Trustees resign or be compelled to resign. Until the Board takes this action regarding its current membership, it is difficult for us to believe that the “old Horace Mann” that enabled abuse no longer exists, nor that the Board of Trustees is dealing with us in good faith.
We are told that Horace Mann now has strong policies in place to ensure that credible allegations of sexual abuse are promptly reported to the authorities. But some of us have in the last several years brought first-hand allegations to the attention of school administrators and Trustees, and we believe they were not dealt with adequately. These include allegations about teachers who are still alive. In another case school resources were used to promote an event to honor publicly a recently deceased abuser, despite a private promise by the school not to do so. Many of us feel strongly that that the names of our abusers should be removed from honor rolls and building plaques on the campus, and that the School should not sponsor or in any way support events in their honor.
We applaud the current administration for its stated determination to conduct a thorough internal investigation now of what happened. In light of what we have noted above, however, we believe that a purely internal investigation is not sufficient to reassure us and the wider Horace Mann community of the administration’s determination to address the situation thoroughly and transparently. We call upon the administration to invite an independent body to conduct a thorough investigation and to give that body the full access needed to conduct a credible investigation of what happened, of who knew what when, and of what was or was not done about it. Such an investigation would reassure us and the wider Horace Mann community of the administration’s determination to deal transparently with this crisis and to do all that is necessary to ensure that the climate which enabled abuse in the past can never again thrive at Horace Mann. Such investigations would do much to restore the credibility and integrity of our beloved alma mater.
Helping the Victims
We ourselves have experienced deep and lasting trauma, pain and humiliation because of the violation we experienced as children at the hands of our trusted teachers and coaches. In some cases those who abused us had been our heroes and role models. We know of other victims who are still nearly crippled by that pain or who feel unable, unwilling or afraid to come forward. We believe that for each of us who has come forward there are several others who have not yet felt able to do so. Some of us have struggled with decades of depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide attempts, broken relationships, etc., and we have spent countless hours in costly therapy seeking healing of our memories.
We believe the Horace Mann administration should make a public apology to us which expresses compassion for what we have suffered. Such an apology, though long overdue, would go a long way toward helping us and others experience healing.
We believe that Horace Mann has an obligation to act proactively to support the healing of those who were abused. For example, the School can and should establish a fund to compensate victims for such things as the cost of therapy and other loss and damage resulting from sexual abuse.
The School could also support and facilitate events or retreats – coordinated with us – that would promote healing of those who were abused in the past. We would also like the School’s public apology to be expressed privately to those of us who feel able to come to a private meeting. In this context survivors who feel able to do so should have opportunity to tell their stories to the Board and administration. Such actions, and others which we would be happy to discuss with the administration and Trustees, would go a long way to promote healing.
We understand that current administrators may not have been personally involved in past failures to act on our complaints and failure to report those complaints to the authorities. But some of us brought complaints to the administration or Board of Trustees in just the last several years, and we know that others came forward before us, yet we saw Horace Mann take little concrete action on our concerns until the New York Times Magazine article was published. This contributed to our continued sense of isolation and shame, and to the perception that we were alone, and it undermined our ability to pursue justice.
Furthermore, as Horace Mann alumni/ae we regularly receive fundraising literature urging us to support our alma mater because of its 125 years of tradition – because of the heritage of great work Horace Mann has done for many decades. It is true that Horace Mann has indeed done great work for many decades, and we are proud of that heritage. We are grateful for our many wonderful teachers at Horace Mann who never abused anyone and who ignited in us a lifelong love of learning. But the current administration cannot take credit for the good things in the past while disowning responsibility for the bad things in the past. The current administration cannot ask us to help them financially because of the good things their predecessors did in our lives while refusing to help us deal with the consequences of the bad things their predecessors did in our lives.
Change the System
Horace Mann has an opportunity to lead by example. Because of the prominence of Horace Mann as an institution, many other institutions and the wider public are watching closely the example which Horace Mann will set in dealing with this crisis. Horace Mann can and should serve as a model for other institutions in New York, in the U.S., and throughout the world.
We must change the current outdated statute of limitations in New York for sexual crimes against minors. As the New York Times reports, “For civil suits and many criminal charges, [current] New York law requires that allegations be made in court by the time a victim is 23 years old.” But research indicates that such is the power which abusers hold over their victims that only a tiny percentage of victims feel able to come forward before their 23rd birthday. For many of us it took decades for us to reach the place where we felt able to come forward. The current law is virtually a license to abuse children with impunity. We call upon the Horace Mann administration and the wider Horace Mann community to join us in supporting the Markey Bill (http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A5488). Though we would like to see a stronger bill, this bill is a step in the right direction. Dr. Kelly tells us that he publicly and privately supports passage of this bill, and we would like to thank him for that principled stand.
We want to thank our old classmates and fellow-alumni who have come forward with constructive proposals on how to move forward from here. We particularly welcome the letter from the Class of 1975 to the Board of Trustees and we ask the Trustees to read it carefully. We also welcome the letter to the Trustees from Adam Kasanof HM ’77, which we are appending to our letter. We applaud the courage of Dr. Kathleen Howard as she seeks justice for her late son Ben Balter. We are appending a letter representing her concerns, and we ask the Trustees to read this and Adam Kasanof’s letter and to give serious consideration to the recommendations they make.
We want to be clear that we still feel deeply connected to our alma mater. We are proud of the outstanding education we received at Horace Mann, and we are grateful for wonderful teachers who opened new horizons of learning for us. We do not want to hurt Horace Mann; we want to help heal it, though we have learned from experience that healing sometimes requires confronting painful realities. We welcome a dialogue with the Horace Mann administration and Trustees and the wider Horace Mann community, and we hope that this process of dialogue may lead to reconciliation, healing, justice and truth. We request that Dr. Kelly and the Trustees meet with us and Dr. Howard, with or without counsel, to work collaboratively to find solutions that will work for the survivors, their families and the wider Horace Mann family both past and present. We hope that our community may thereby serve as a role model for wider society.
A group of survivors of sexual abuse by Horace Mann teachers and staff
We invite our fellow Horace Mann alumni/ae and other members of the Horace Mann community to express their support for what we have written here. If you are in support of our initiative, please leave a comment on this page or email us at HoraceMannSurvivor@gmail.com, giving us your name and your class year or your relationship to Horace Mann. We will post a list of signatories. If you yourself were abused, or if you know someone else who was, please feel free to contact us at the same address.
Letter on behalf of Kathleen Howard, Ben Balter’s mother
Letter to the Board by Adam Kasanof HM ’77
Class of 75 letter
Immediately after sharing our letter, members of the Horace Mann community sent words of support and encouragement via comments, below. Some thoughts emailed to us are appended here. We will update this page as more come in.
This is an excellent letter. Please add my signature to it. —Peter Blum (Horace Mann ’70)
While I was not abused, it was clear to me that Robert Berman was a manipulative and destructive person. I didn’t see the side of Somary that was described, but I believe it.
Most of all your four points are spot on and should have been proposed by the BOT and school leadership within 48 hours of the NYT article’s publication.
I fully support your proposals and pray for their immediate adoption by the school’s leadership.
—Rabbi Garry M. Bretton-Granatoor (Class of 1974, children ’05 & 11)
Vice President, Philanthropy, WORLD UNION FOR PROGESSIVE JUDAISM
I support your initiative. —Robert Kersh (Class of ’77)
As a fellow HM alum from the Class of 1991 I am honored to support the HM Survivors and would be very proud to have my name added as a signatory.
You are all heroes for having the courage not only to come forward but to lead the way.
— Jay Kooper (Class of 1991)
I’ve just read the HM Survivors’ Document. Thank you for your courage and for all you are doing. I am in support of your initiative. Please add me to the list of signatories.
— Charlie Varon (’76)
I support what is written in the Survivor’s letter. I feel no need to add to it, it says it all.
— Shira Sanders (’81)
Please add my name to the signers of your letter to the board. Kol ha’kavod (all honor).
—Jeffrey Sokolow (HM ’66)
—Nicholas V. Chen – 陳文俊
Thank you for putting it down on paper. —Michael Samuels (HM’82)
We stand with you and fully support your recommendations.
Dr. David Kaufman
Grant Kaufman (2018)
Matthew Kaufman (2019)
The Horace Mann Board needs to take the actions outlined by the Survivors.
Silence in response to the alumni is sad and disappointing, but silence in response to those abused is without conscience.
I stand in solidarity with the Survivors.
Having read your letter to the Trustees, I am in full agreement and would like to have my signature added to others.
I lend my wholehearted support to your letter.
I will gladly add my name. May your letter lead to healing and a sense of justice that is long overdue.
Thank you so very much for standing up for what is right. I hope that HM listens and does become the leader that they kept trying to tell us it was our duty to become. It would be wonderful if something good could come of all of this. I am so, so sorry for each of you that suffered abuse. Good luck, and you can count on me.
I support your initiative and agree with your letter to the board. I applaud your courage in coming forward and pressing on.
I read your letter that you posted on the HM fb page and wholeheartedly support it.
FYI, I attended HM in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Mark Wright was my classmate. Tek
Young Lin was a friend at whose home I dined on several occasions. Johannes Somary
was my academic advisor. Robert Berman was one of my teachers. I was never abused
by any of them but the recent revelations of their sexual predation and abuse has made
me reconsider my entire experience at Horace Mann.
You are to be commended for coming forward not only with your horrific accounts but also for channeling what I can only imagine to be your long held anger, hurt, shame and frustration into proposals for positive action as expressed in your open letter. The lack of a response thus thus far from Dr. Kelly and the Board only adds to the mounting disappointment and disgust many HM grads feel, including myself.
Please add my name to your letter. The truth will prevail.
You have my support!
I just read it and wholeheartedly support every recommendation in the letter. I consider myself lucky that I was not a victim of any teacher’s abusive behavior, and am happy to help this effort in whatever way that I can.
Thank you for your hard work in this extremely important matter for our friends, classmates, school, and community.
I support the brave and eloquent letter – please add my name.
I would like to express my strong support of your constructive letter.
I read your letter on the processing HM facebook page and would like to add my support to what I am sure is a growing chorus of support. Please add my name to the list of signatures and let me know what else I can do.
I am in complete support of your initiative.
I wholeheartedly support the sentiments expressed in the June 21st letter. Dr. Kelley and the Board have an opportunity to act in accordance with the sentiments expressed in this document and bring the HM community together or continue on the current course of attempting to distance themselves and risk to permanently divide the school from a major segment of the alumni base. My hope is that they will quickly change direction and begin to coordinate the proper assistance efforts for the victims. My fear is that they will continue the legalistic path of denial of responsibility.
I support your letter dated 6/21/2012 to Dr. Tom Kelly and the Horace Mann School Board of Trustees. Please add my name to the signatories.
Hello, I’m Eric R. Finkelman, HM ’75–and one of the signatories of the Class of ’75 (and a member of the ad hoc committee that drafted it). I just read your letter on Facebook. I thought it was an amazingly well-written letter: very moving, and spot-on in every way. The second paragraph especially resonated with me. I was not personally a victim of abuse, but knew a few of those who were (and suspect a few other friends and classmates were as well, with the benefit now of hindsight). And one of the abusers (Mr. Lin) was a teacher I greatly admired. So yes, I’ve been terribly saddened, and indeed traumatized, in learning of the wide scope of these events, and it’s changed forever the way I will view HM.
There IS one area and which I’d like to help, and that is in gathering support and lobbying for the Markey bill. I think it makes sense for a sub-group to be formed to participate in this effort. And we have some people with in-depth political experience in our community (e.g. Elliott Spitzer ’77 and Peter Deutsch ’75) who, if not willing to personally and publicly put their support behind this, could possibly offer us some guidance in how best to direct our efforts. I’d like to contribute my time to such an effort. Please let me know how I can be of help!
Vice-President, General Counsel & Secretary
Sun Chemical Corporation
I want to stand in support of your actions. This is a really strong letter, and so important.
Please know you have my support and willingness to help in whatever way I can, as I too have been a victim of abuse.
I support this letter. In addition to these proposals, I would like to see the Penal Code definition of consent amended to preclude sexual relations between a high school student and a teacher. This is one of the harms we can help to prevent in the future.
Thank you for the +1 on Google Plus of an article I posted. Otherwise, I do not think that I would have found the very moving “Survivors’ Letter” on your website. I have shared it on Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter and also with others interested in these issues.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” – Louis Brandeis
I support your initiative as set forth in your letter.
Yes, I support.the proposal and I appreciate your thoughtful letter.
I’m grateful to you for the support and care you are offering to everyone hurt in our community. There are many. How may I help? While I was not a victim directly, I can only count myself lucky, now, and feel ashamed at the price. My heart goes out to all who were abused and the many who suffer in silence.
I think this is an excellent letter that I fully support. I do wish, however, that you had included a massive paragraph on how HM emotionally abused women who were in the early years girls graduating from HM. Our teachers didn’t know how to deal with us; the guidance staff was personally abusive, and I don’t think HM gave any consideration to its then-teachers about how adolescent girls might differ from adolescent boys, and in retrospect, it tarnishes anything good I might have had to say about the institution. Four years at Vassar certainly showed me how a relatively even ratio of men to women, particularly at a formerly female college certainly showed me that co-education was real and possible in an institution that went co-ed vs. one that accepted girls. It’s far from a matter of semantics.
I was very moved by your letter of June 21, 2012. It is warm, considerate, and above all, courageous. I lend my support, and would like to be added as a signatory.
I am the parent of three children, all of whom attended HM in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The letter is a carefully thought out document which should be fully supported by all, including the current Administration and Board without resorting to the “it wasn’t on our watch” excuse.
Thank you for your courage and for working to hold our administration accountable. If HM wants to live up to the ideals and values it claims to represent, now is the time for the Board to act. The recommendations outlined in your letter, which I wholeheartedly support, are prudent and necessary.
You have my support
Your reasonable and carefully considered proposal should be embraced as a constructive first step toward resolving the painful issues that confront the HM community. Thank you for considering the best future interests for everyone. It would have been simpler for you to loudly demand retribution, focused on the past. Clearly you rose above that impulse.
I saw a copy of this document on the “processing Horace Mann” facebook page, and I wanted to write expressing my support for the letter and its suggested initiatives.
Please add my name to the list of your supporters and I hope that your group also received the letter we members of the class of ‘76 crafted based on the class of ‘75’s letter.