Letter to Community
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leslie B. Heaney ’92