Victims Call on Horace Mann for Inquiry

By Vivian Yee (New York Times)
April 22, 2013

Jon Seiger said he was abused by eight teachers at Horace Mann, the elite Riverdale preparatory school, while he was a student there in the 1970s. Ron Klepper said he was abused so often that he was too frightened to go to school. Edward Bowen said he drank and took drugs for years, trying to escape the memories of his abuse at the hands of a music teacher. Daniel Shapiro said he had spent 35 years believing he was alone in being abused.

The men, now in their 40s and 50s, appeared with their lawyer, Gloria Allred, on Monday to call on their alma mater to investigate how, despite repeated complaints about them, teachers there were able to continue abusing students. They also called on New York State to pass a bill that would allow sexual abuse victims to pursue criminal prosecutions of their abusers even after the statute of limitations has passed, within a one-year window, and that would also extend, or eliminate, the statute of limitations.

Mr. Seiger, 51, was overcome as he described how the headmaster at the time, R. Inslee Clark Jr., and another teacher, Stanley Kops, plied him with alcohol and forced him to have sex with them and other partners at Mr. Clark’s home. He said he believed Mr. Kops passed photos of him masturbating to other teachers, encouraging others, including Mark Wright, a coach and art teacher, and Johannes Somary, a music teacher, to target him. All four men have since died.

“To say that Horace Mann knew about the sexual abuse of its students seems to me to be an understatement,” Mr. Seiger said, adding that the institution, under Mr. Clark, “fostered, promoted and carefully grew and developed the abuse.”

Since allegations against several teachers first surfaced in a New York Times Magazine article last June, groups of alumni and victims have repeatedly urged Horace Mann to make amends. They have asked for a public apology and for the school to remove emeritus trustees who were sitting on its board when the abuses were first reported.

But chief among the demands has been a request for an independent investigation, which they say would help the Horace Mann community understand what went wrong, and learn how to prevent a recurrence.

“Mr. Clark gathered around him a group of child molesters the likes of which have never before been seen or heard of in a school in this country,” said Ms. Allred, a prominent Los Angeles lawyer, who said her 25 clients had been abused by more than a dozen teachers and administrators, including one who was having sex with a female student during her entire time at the school, and another who boasted of driving 12 boys to suicide. “We want to make sure that Horace Mann and other schools will never again let this happen to innocent and vulnerable children in their care.”

The news conference came one day after a group of alumni, the Horace Mann Action Coalition, announced it was commissioning Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former judge and sex crimes prosecutor, to investigate the abuses and produce a public report. Ms. Allred said an investigation sponsored by the school would be more effective, given its access to key figures and records.

A spokesman for Horace Mann declined to comment.

New York’s statutes of limitation make it very difficult to sue or press criminal charges once a victim has turned 23. Still, the school has offered monetary settlements to a number of victims. Ms. Allred represents 22 men and 3 women who say they were abused at Horace Mann, of which 20 have reached a settlement with the school, she said.