The cover of the coming weekend’s New York Times Magazine features a disturbing story about a quiet culture of sexual abuse by faculty at the hallowed Horace Mann school in the Bronx. As told by outsider alum Amos Kamil, the prep school dealt with repeated incidents of molestation by at least three teachers and coaches between 1978 and 1994. With the alleged abusers now dead and the school’s leadership from the time long gone, plus the prevalence of the similar abuse scandals nationwide, victims are finally comfortable speaking up, to varying degrees. Needless to say, it puts the current school administrators in a tough spot.
Administrators at Horace Mann rarely speak to the press. … I received an initial reply from Kekst and Company, a corporate public-relations firm, and later a statement from the school that said in part: “As an educational institution, we are deeply concerned if allegations of abuse of children are raised, regardless of when or where they may have occurred.” It continued: “The current administration is not in a position to comment on the events involving former and, in some cases, now-deceased, faculty members that are said to have occurred years before we assumed leadership of the school. It should be noted that Horace Mann School has terminated teachers based on its determination of inappropriate conduct, including but not limited to certain of the individuals named in your article.”
The story is worth reading in all of its horrifying detail, and it attempts to get at the question, “How does an institutional culture arise to condone, or at least ignore, something that, individually, every member knows is wrong?” He also writes of a bygone time, in which children — and unfortunately adults — didn’t know how to deal with sexual abuse. The stories, Kamil writes, “seem like artifacts of a previous era, a time before the explosion of electronic communication and before the scandals in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and Penn State. Today, if faculty members disappeared from campus under suspicious circumstances or if rumors were swirling about predatory teachers, students would be texting about it in real time.”
In 2008, Gabriel Sherman wrote in New York about one such technology-enabled scandal that rocked Horace Mann in the Facebook era, with students disparaging teachers online and faculty responding. “Horace Mann has always been a pressurized place, the junior division of New York’s elite. … But the Internet has added a new kind of pressure,” Sherman wrote, citing recent student sex controversies.
Faced again with ugly revelations at such an elite, insular level, the school insisted to the Times Magazine, “Horace Mann School today has in place clearly articulated and enforced rules, regulations, policies, procedures and expectations concerning appropriate behavior within the community — including whistle-blower protections to ensure that any member of the school community can freely report alleged violations.”