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Report: Horace Mann School once plagued by sex abuse

June 7, 2012 2:18:39 PM PDT
The Horace Mann School, a prestigious private academy in New York City, was plagued in the 1980s and early 1990s by a series of teachers who sexually abused students, several former students said in a New York Times Magazine story.

The students, mostly identified in the article only by letters in their names, accused at least three now-deceased teachers of repeatedly molesting them and other pupils. They described an atmosphere at the tony school where the social lines between teachers and students were routinely blurred, and then taken advantage of by pedophiles.

The article, posted on the newspaper's website Wednesday and to be published in this weekend's print editions, was written by Amos Kamil, a 1982 Horace Mann graduate.

Part of the article is Kamil's personal recollections of his time at Horace Mann. He doesn't claim to have been abused himself, but describes questionable interactions with some teachers, including being taken out for a drunken evening by a pair of faculty members at age 17 and being subjected to "long, creepy touches" by a swimming coach.

Three other students described being sexually abused by an assistant football coach during bogus, mandatory "physical exams." The coach, also an art teacher, was forced out of the school after one of the students complained. He died in 2004.

Horace Mann also forced the resignation of the swimming coach, a history teacher, after a student accused him of making an unwanted sexual advance. That teacher went on to work for a year at a private school in New Jersey and then killed himself.

The article also describes allegations against Johannes Somary, a noted conductor and longtime head of Horace Mann's arts and music department.

Two students, both speaking on condition of anonymity, told Kamil they were molested by Somary. One said he accompanied the teacher on trips to Europe, where they had sex in hotel rooms.

Somary, who taught until 2002, died in 2011 at age 75 from complications related to a stroke. His wife and children didn't respond to Kamil's inquiries.

Former administrators became aware of at least one sex abuse allegation against Somary in 1993, when a student, Benjamin Balter, wrote a letter to the headmaster. The headmaster, Phil Foote, said he took the issue to the school's trustees, but said they opposed taking action after Somary vigorously denied the charges. Balter committed suicide in 2009.

Horace Mann's current administrators declined to talk about any of the specific cases, but said in a letter to the school community that the allegations detailed in the article were "highly disturbing and absolutely abhorrent."

"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 the New York Times article," said the letter, signed by headmaster Thomas Kelly and Steven Friedman, chairman of the school's board of trustees.

The school, which celebrated its 125th anniversary last month, instructs children from pre-kindergarten through high school. Tuition is $39,000 per year. Its lengthy list of famous alumni includes multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and composers, politicians, business leaders and media executives.

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Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com

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