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At the Horace Mann School, Tales of Power and Abuse

Friday, June 08, 2012 - 08:41 AM

The New York Times Magazine article about The Horace Mann School has drawn hundreds of comments from readers moved by its description of sexual abuse that took place there during the '70s and '80s. It has also drawn a letter of response from the school.

The article, titled "Prep-School Predators,'' was written by Amos Kamil, a screenwriter, playwright and brand strategist who graduated from Horace Mann in 1982. Mr. Kamil said he spoke to nearly 100 people for the article, including 60 former students and 15 former or current faculty members. The article begins with Mr. Kamil's reverence for a school that gave him a chance out of his life in the Bronx.

He attended Junior High School 141 in the Bronx, which seemed a world away from the rarefied campus of Horace Mann that was not so far from his neighborhood, but still "a private school so elite that most students at 141 had never even heard of it.'' He was recruited to the school at the age of 14 by the headmaster, R. Inslee Clark Jr., known as Inky, who had spotted Mr. Kamil's talent at baseball. Inky "suggested I might find a home at Horace Mann. Touched, as was everyone who met him, by his tremendous personal charisma, I took it as a thrilling compliment. My parents saw the bigger picture: the opportunities that a Horace Mann education could bring, the ways it could change a kid’s life.''

In his long account, Mr. Kamil writes about the hints he had, perhaps from the beginning, about the unusual relationships some teachers and staff members had with their students, and it took him years and difficult conversations with many of his fellow classmates to finally call it what it was: a culture of sexual abuse.

So in September 1979, I stood in the glassed-in breezeway through which students entered campus, wearing the pink Lacoste shirt my brother had somewhat optimistically insisted would help me fit in. All around me, the natives swarmed past — to the classrooms, to the science labs, to the brilliant futures they had been born to assume.

I was an outsider, but I was one of Inky’s boys and, as I quickly learned, that counted for a lot. I gathered with my new teachers and classmates in the auditorium and proudly sang Horace Mann’s alma mater: “Great is the truth and it prevails; mighty the youth the morrow hails./Lives come and go; stars cease to glow; but great is the truth and it prevails.”

Shortly after my arrival, a new friend walked me around the school, pointing out teachers to avoid.

“What do you mean? Like, they’re hard graders?”

“No. Perverts. Stay away from them. Trust me.”

On Thursday, the school posted a letter to its Web site addressing the article. Signed by Steven M. Friedman, chairman of the board of trustees, and Thomas M. Kelly, the head of school, the letter says that students' safety and security "are at the core of everything we do.''

"These allegations are highly disturbing and absolutely abhorrent. We can assure you that none of the individuals mentioned in the article is currently employed by the School nor have they been for a number of years,'' the letter states.

In other news, InsideSchools has an article on the attrition rate at the Harlem Success Academy 1, one of the schools operated by Eva Moskowitz's network. According to figures on the school's New York State Report Card, the article states, 83 students entered kindergarten in 2006-07, the school's first year of operation. When that class reached fourth grade in 2010-11, it had only 53 students -- a drop of 36 percent.''

And SchoolBook continues to explore the issue of parents raising private funds to support public education. In her piece today, WNYC's Beth Fertig explains that the Department of Education provides little oversight to such spending. On Thursday, Anna Phillips wrote about how the complex school budget process makes parents want to step in to provide what they think the city is not providing for their children's schools.

In the days ahead, SchoolBook will continue to explore more on private fund-raising for public schools.

Friday night, the choir at Public School 150 in Sunnyside, Queens, will perform with the Young New Yorkers' Chorus as the children's chorus in their concert of Carol Orff's Carmina Burana at Symphony Space in Manhattan.

And on Saturday, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer, will host the all-day Chancellor’s Principal Conference at Brooklyn Technical High School. The event, which is optional for principals, will provide an opportunity for school leaders to reflect on the school year’s instructional work and to discuss instructional priorities for the next school year, school officials said.

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