Alumni

Posted on

September 1, 2016

Dear Members of the St. George’s Community,

Today represents an important moment in the history of St. George’s School, one that evokes both deep sorrow over the harm inflicted on the most vulnerable members of our community and hope for our future that having finally faced these tragic events with humility and honesty, we may together find the path to reconciliation.

Report of Independent Investigator

On January 20, 2016, St. George’s Board of Trustees and SGS for Healing, a group of alumni who suffered sexual abuse while students at St. George’s, jointly engaged Martin Murphy, a partner in the law firm Foley Hoag, to conduct a broad independent investigation into sexual misconduct at St. George’s. We thank Mr. Murphy for the thoroughness of his investigation, which has now concluded. In fulfillment of our promise to make the full report publicly available, it can be found here.

We are also grateful to the survivors for their bravery in coming forward to share their stories. By doing so, they have given the entire St. George’s community the opportunity to learn from their experiences and to confront the darkest side of our shared history so that we can create the safest possible environment for our students today, tomorrow and in the future. Mr. Murphy’s report includes detailed, heartbreaking accounts from members of our St. George’s family about the abuse that they suffered while students.

It is now quite clear that the School repeatedly failed to respond appropriately when reports of sexual abuse were brought to the attention of administrators and teachers. Mr. Murphy’s report demonstrates that we should have done much more to identify predatory behavior, notify authorities of allegations and support students and alumni who did come forward. These failures were a sharp betrayal of the moral values that are the foundation of our mission at St. George’s. We are profoundly sorry for the harm this caused.

When we began investigating historical sexual misconduct nearly two years ago, we hoped to provide an avenue for any alumni who may have endured sexual abuse while at St. George’s to come forward, so that the School could provide support and express its deep regret. We acknowledge that Mr. Murphy’s report includes some criticism of how we responded. While our efforts were undertaken in good faith, we are mindful that the report points out that mistakes were made along the way and for this we are truly sorry. We are grateful to Anne Scott, SGS for Healing, Anne Kuzminsky and other members of our survivor community for heightening our awareness and assisting us in identifying ways in which the School can better support them and our alumni community in healing.

Zane Dormitory

Over the last year, survivors have expressed concerns regarding the naming of a dormitory in honor of former headmaster Tony Zane and his wife, Eusie. And, recently, the Zanes formally requested that the School remove their names from the dormitory in the spirit of reconciliation and healing for our community. The Board considered these matters during a meeting held last evening and decided that the Zane name will be removed and the dormitory will revert back to its original name, West Dorm.

Robert Weston

You may recall that during the initial stages of Mr. Murphy’s investigation, second-hand reports of inappropriate behavior by our current Associate Head of School, Bob Weston, were received. In light of this, the School placed Mr. Weston on administrative leave pending the conclusion of both the State Police and Mr. Murphy’s investigations. The State Police has since closed its investigation without charges, and Mr. Murphy found no reason why Mr. Weston should not be returned to campus as a faculty member in good standing. On behalf of the entire Board, I thank Mr. Weston for his full cooperation with these investigations. We welcome him back to the Hilltop.

Ongoing Support For & From Our Survivor Community

The School has taken several steps to provide ongoing support to our survivor community, including setting up a counseling fund for survivors. We are also engaged in an active and open dialogue with survivors to elicit their input with regard to the ongoing Head of School search process and the School’s current policies and programs related to students’ well-being and safety.

Prevention and Awareness Policies

Over the past several years, the School has focused on sexual misconduct prevention and awareness and, as a result, put in place a number of policies and procedures, which can be found here. There is still much to be learned, however, from Mr. Murphy’s findings and directly from our survivor community. We will ever strive to do our best to protect our students.

Toward that end, the School has taken additional steps this past year to ensure the safety of our students. We have:

  • Retained David Wolowitz, an attorney who specializes in this area, to review the school’s reporting procedures and policies and to conduct additional boundary training of faculty and staff (a session occurred this past June);
  • Extended our criminal background checks beyond the scope of those required by Rhode Island law, by conducting them every four years and including volunteers, resident spouses of faculty members, and resident adult children of faculty members who live on campus;
  • Created a new Community Response Team to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct;
  • Engaged the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center to conduct a third party audit of our policies, education programs and training, and reporting procedures;
  • Arranged for trustees and faculty to be educated on the survivor experience and to receive additional boundary training with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center; this will take place at our next Board meeting.

Mr. Murphy recognized these many efforts in his report, highlighting specifically the culture of respect; the School’s expanded Honor Code; our programming, policies, and practices to address faculty and student boundaries as well as relationships between students on campus; our increased gender diversity; and our commitment to continuing improvement.

Going Forward

Mr. Murphy’s report, while a vital step for our community, is still only a step in our journey. In the weeks and months ahead, the Board and School leaders will continue to reflect upon this tragic chapter in the School’s history and the lessons we can learn from it. For the survivors of sexual misconduct who so courageously came forward to share their stories, we are profoundly grateful. You have helped us become a better school.

It is our fervent hope that today will begin our collective reconciliation and that the painful divisions in our community caused first by the past sexual misconduct and then by its long-delayed revelation will, by God’s grace, finally begin to mend.

Sincerely,

Leslie Heaney

Leslie B. Heaney ’92
Board Chair

 

July 7, 2016

Dear Alumni,

Several of you have asked that the Board of Trustees communicate more frequently with our alumni community about the School’s sexual misconduct investigation. To that end, I am writing to update you on some recent developments with regard to this deeply painful part of our past.

In early June, the Rhode Island State Police closed their investigation of the School without charges brought, citing Rhode Island’s statute of limitations as a factor. They have since indicated they will not release their report because investigations are ongoing in other state jurisdictions. In addition, Martin Murphy’s independent investigation into past sexual misconduct is ongoing. We are hopeful that Mr. Murphy will have completed his work by late summer or early fall. Once the investigation is completed, we will share his report with you. At that time the School will work to fully understand the facts, consider all possible steps, acknowledge wrongs and failings, and make decisions.

Media interest in the issue of sexual misconduct at boarding schools—and in St. George’s in particular—continues: The Boston Globe will be publishing in the coming days a second story in its Spotlight series. It is my understanding that the article will mention a number of schools, including St. George’s. Additionally, the latest issue of Vanity Fair has a lengthy article about historical sexual abuse at St. George’s and the School’s response in recent times—it went on the newsstands today.

Given the heightened attention being paid to historical sexual abuse, the School is asked frequently about current student safety practices and the climate today at the School. Alumni as well as  parents want to know in detail what measures St. George’s employs today to support the safety and well-being of our students.

St. George’s is committed to employing best practices and policies to ensure a safe and productive learning environment for all of our students. All employees undergo criminal background checks, reference checks, and careful screening throughout the hiring process. In recent years, the School has required all employees to participate in training on boundary issues and mandatory reporting requirements, and students have been engaged in a series of conversations concerning sexual assault. Manuals for faculty, staff and students undergo regular comprehensive reviews to update and enhance our policies and language related to sexual abuse prevention and reporting. You can find them here, and I encourage you to review them in order to learn more about student safety at St. George’s today.

Additionally, as I mentioned in my May 7th letter, the School retained David Wolowitz earlier this year. He is renowned for pioneering the application of behavioral risk management concepts to promote healthy school cultures and will be advising the School on policies, practices and reporting procedures on an ongoing basis. During the Board meeting in early June, Mr. Wolowitz met with the Board to review these protocols. Additionally, after school let out last month, he conducted an interactive workshop for faculty on how to promote healthy relationships with students, recognize and address early signs of inappropriate behavior in others, and respond to allegations of misconduct. We look forward to working with Mr. Wolowitz and our survivor community to advise us on additional best practices on educational programming and awareness going forward.

This has been a deeply challenging time for our community. The School is resolved to do all we can to support the entire St. George’s community, especially our survivors, and to keep our current students healthy and safe.     We seek not merely to be compliant with current standards of training and reporting, but to be a leader among our peer schools in cultivating a safe, healthy, and vigilant school community. With all of us working together, I know we will reach that goal.

Best wishes for a safe and happy summer.

Sincerely,

Leslie Heaney

Leslie Heaney

Chair, Board of Trustees

 

May 7, 2016

Dear Alumni,

As you know, this is Alumni weekend – despite the inclement weather, it’s been a full day and we wish you were here with us on the Hilltop.

Among other activities, I provided an update today on the ongoing investigation to alumni.

The event structure was based on input from survivors and included an expression of our deepest sorrow for the harm they suffered, the lighting of a candle, and a moment of silence to honor the survivors who were present as well as those for whom a return to campus is too difficult. While we are constrained by the fact that the investigation is ongoing, I assured those in attendance that once the investigation is complete, the school will work to fully understand the facts, consider all possible steps, acknowledge wrongs and failings, and make decisions.

Over the course of the day, several alumni asked me to elaborate on our safety protocols and support resources, and, on reflection, it seemed appropriate to provide a fuller explanation to all alumni, not just those who spoke up today -­‐ hence this letter. We have taken steps to ensure that safety protocols are strong and support resources are readily available. The school recently retained David Wolowitz, who is renowned in this area, to further advise us on policies, practices and reporting procedures. However, in doing all we can to keep our students safe, we also think it is crucial that we elicit input from our survivor community. That guidance will help ensure that our approach is as thorough and comprehensive as possible.

Our efforts range from the thorough vetting and training of our employees, to education and training for students at every level. Educational efforts are supplemented by school policies, resources, and personnel devoted to supporting the health and safety of our students. We are also committed to creating a specific training for our trustees and faculty on the survivors’ experience and on what it means to be a survivor.

Specifically with regard to issues of social dynamics and sexual consent, the school has made and continues to make a substantial and intentional effort to address the complex issues faced by this generation of students and society in general.

These policies, practices and reporting procedures are reviewed on an annual basis, as are our support structures, and are amended whenever necessary to ensure that we are doing our best to meet the needs of our students. You can find them here, and I encourage you to review them.

The independent investigation into the history of sexual abuse at St. George’s will shed a necessarily bright light on a deeply painful part of our past. This reality has, unsurprisingly, generated ongoing media coverage, including a story about sexual misconduct at several boarding schools, including St. George’s, scheduled to appear tomorrow in the Boston Globe.

This a challenging time, but know that we are resolved to do all that we can to support the St. George’s community, especially our survivors, and to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep our students healthy and safe.

We are determined to be fully transparent on this issue and seek to understand all of the facts involved. We will share the report with you once it is completed.

In the meantime, we thank you for your continued devotion to St. George’s and to the important work of the School.

 

Sincerely,

Leslie Heaney

Leslie B. Heaney ’92

Chair of the Board of Trustees

 

April 22, 2016

Dear Alumni,

On Wednesday, the School sent out a letter to those alumni attending the upcoming Alumni Weekend with a proposed schedule, which included the School’s intent to acknowledge past sexual abuse at St. George’s with a “Hope for Healing” gathering.

The School’s letter regarding the proposed “Hope for Healing” gathering has upset many survivors. With the investigation into sexual abuse at St. George’s still ongoing, survivors and Day One have expressed their feelings that it is premature to talk about healing.

At Alumni Weekend, the School still plans to recognize this difficult time with an update on the ongoing investigation and a gathering to acknowledge the terrible and irreparable harm that occurred to some of our alumni, but we now plan to do that in consultation with Day One and a broad group of survivors. We understand that a broad group of survivors must be centrally involved alongside others in planning and leading these activities.

We also recognize that many alumni in reunion classes want to express their profound sorrow to their fellow alumni who are survivors. Please know that you will be provided with an opportunity to do that over the weekend. More information on a final program will be forthcoming.

We want Alumni Weekend to be an enjoyable time for all – an opportunity to catch up with friends and share memories of happy times on the Hilltop. We also want to make sure that we are doing all we can to be sensitive and attentive to all of those in our survivor community. We appreciate your patience while we work together as a community to strive toward that goal.
Sincerely,

Leslie Heaney

Leslie B. Heaney ’92
Board Chair

January 20, 2016

St. George’s School and SGS for Healing today announced the retention of a new independent investigator, after being unable to reach agreement on legal terms of engagement with Scott Harshbarger and his firm, Casner & Edwards. The inability to reach agreement with C&E had nothing to do with the purpose of the independent investigation, or any underlying facts. All parties have great respect for Mr. Harshbarger and his work, and remain committed to conducting an independent, comprehensive and thorough investigation.

To that end, St. George’s School and SGS for Healing are pleased to announce that Martin F. Murphy, a partner at the law firm of Foley Hoag in Boston, has agreed to serve as the independent investigator. Mr. Murphy is a former First Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County and former Chief of the Major Crimes Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts. He has an outstanding reputation and a proven track record as an investigator and courtroom advocate.

January 13, 2016

Dear St. George’s Alumni,

Over the course of the past week, there has been substantial progress in our efforts to understand and address incidents of past sexual misconduct by former faculty and students at St. George’s. We remain committed to providing you with regular updates and accurate information about these issues. In that spirit, the following is our most recent report on progress.

In conjunction with SGS for Healing, an organization of some alumni survivors of abuse, St. George’s has announced that Day One of Rhode Island, a non-profit provider of clinical treatment, intervention, education, advocacy, and prevention services for victims of sexual abuse will provide a program for mental health assistance for survivors.  A copy of this joint statement is available here.

Any alumnus or alumna who was the victim of sexual abuse by faculty, staff, or students at St. George’s School and is in need of crisis mental health assistance or a referral to a local mental health professional can receive immediate help by contacting Day One. These services will be paid for by the School. There is no set limit on the number of counseling sessions available to survivors, and reimbursement will be made on a renewable basis. Processing of such payments to providers will be handled by an independent third-party Claims Administrator to ensure that privacy is protected.

Any alumnus or alumna wishing to receive crisis mental health assistance or a referral to a local mental health professional may contact Courtney Miner at Day One at (401) 421-4100 ext. 146.   Those seeking reimbursement for current counseling costs should also contact Day One for a brief intake process and referral to the Claims Administrator.

Late Monday afternoon we also reached agreement with SGS for Healing, on the independent investigator who will lead the next phase of the investigation. We are fortunate that Scott Harshbarger, Esq. of the Boston law firm of Casner & Edwards has agreed to serve as the lead investigator. Mr. Harshbarger, the former Middlesex County District Attorney and Attorney General of Massachusetts, is a recognized expert in in independent investigations. Here is a link to his bio: http://www.casneredwards.com/attorneys/scott-harshbarger/.

These two important steps have placed the critical work of the investigation and the caring for survivors in the hands of capable professionals. As we continue to focus on educating and caring for our current students, and supporting our St. George’s community at large, please be assured that all of our alumni have access to the support they need from professionals equipped to provide it. While we do not mitigate the difficulty in seeking this support, we have taken necessary steps to insure anonymity of any alumnus or alumna seeking help, and concurrently have provided assurance that we are financially committed to supporting services that might aid in their healing.

We are dedicated to sharing the findings of the investigation with you, but we do not know the time frame in which it will be complete. We have asked that the inquiry be thorough and exhaustive. In that spirit, we ask for your support and your confidence. We will continue to make updates and information available at http://saintgeorges.wpengine.com/ so that there is a central place to locate accurate information.

Any alumni who wish to address members of the Board may contact our liaisons Sisi Gallagher ’82 (sisi_gallagher@stgeorges.edu) and Rudy Bethea ‘87 (rudy_bethea@stgeorges.edu. We hope that these most recent developments represent important steps toward truth and healing for the entire St. George’s community.

Sincerely,

Leslie Heaney

Leslie B. Heaney ’92
Board Chair

 

January 4, 2016

Dear St. George’s School Alumni,

This has been an especially difficult few weeks in the life of our school. The distribution of the public report concerning the investigation of sexual abuse by former faculty and students has brought out a huge range of reactions, from deep sadness and hard questions to a groundswell of support for victims. From the outset of this process, our goal has been to understand all that happened, identify those who need help, and provide the support resources needed.

Above all, the School wishes to express again its apologies and remorse for the harm our alumni have suffered. It is a devastating and tragic truth that students in the School’s care were harmed, and by those entrusted to protect and teach them.

As described in the public report on the investigation performed thus far, the School has made counseling resources available for any affected alumni. Survivors of sexual abuse can seek counseling services through Day One of Rhode Island. The services include crisis response and counseling referrals, are available 24 hours a day, and are free of charge. In addition, contrary to what has been reported by some news outlets and elsewhere, the School has approved counseling reimbursement for alumni. It is important to note that reimbursement for counseling will not be restricted to those who participated in the investigation, there is no set limit on the number of counseling sessions available to survivors, and reimbursement will be made on a renewable basis.

In addition, the alumni support advisory group has been working together to better articulate and define its role. Survivors Support Advisory (SSA) will act as a communications conduit between survivors and the School and will also advise the School on additional educational and policy matters going forward. As a reminder, the members of the SSA are:

Anne Kuzminsky ‘81
Cam Hardy ‘78
John Holder ‘79
Whit Sheppard

The advisory group has set up its own secure email address which it will transmit to the community later this week, along with the members’ individual contact information and short biographical backgrounds. Alumni and especially survivors should feel free to contact the SSA directly with questions, suggestions, and feedback. In addition, for any alumni who wish to address members of the Board, Sisi Gallagher ’82 and Rudy Bethea ’87 will serve as Board liaisons to the alumni on these important issues. They can be reached by email at sisi_gallagher@stgeorges.edu and rudy_bethea@stgeorges.edu.

In light of the strong emotions and complexity of the questions before us, a great many alumni have contacted the school by letter, email, and telephone. The volume of correspondence has been significant, and so we ask your patience while we work to address your messages and questions.

We recognize that many alumni understandably have questions, and that others with information to share may not yet have come forward. We can assure you that our work is not done in this regard. We will continue to collect and clarify information concerning any abuse suffered by any student and will cooperate with law enforcement as this information is pursued.

In closing, we wish to underscore once more our commitment to strengthening our School and the alumni community by improving our understanding, attention, and response to sexual abuse. We hope that by encouraging an open dialogue and supporting victims of sexual abuse at St. George’s School, the healing process will begin for us all.

Yours truly,

Leslie Heaney

Leslie B. Heaney ’92
Board Chair

 

eric-peterson

Eric Peterson
Head of School