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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Alumni group says Horace Mann ignored abuse

By Sarina Trangle

Horace Mann School faculty received and failed to act on at least a dozen reports of sexual abuse between 1970 and 2011, according to an alumni group.

No personnel reported the instances to police prior to June 2012, when a New York Times Magazine article first reported allegations of decades of sexual abuse at the school, according to the Horace Mann Action Coalition, an alumni group.

“It turns out people have been complaining since 1969, like all the time, pretty much every year in between,” said Charles Balter, who lost his brother to suicide in 2009 after he said their families’ complaints of abuse at the hands of a particular teacher were dismissed. The complaints he referred to were about Johannes Somary, a deceased Riverdalian who taught music in the school from 1959 to 2002, and who represents the starkest example of the school’s alleged failure to act. 

There were at least four occasions that school faculty were alerted to his behavior, according to the coalition.

According to his brother, Benjamin Balter went as far as to send a letter in 1993 to the now-deceased headmaster Phil Foote, saying that a teacher made “grossly inappropriate advances” toward him for months. Benjamin Balter’s mother, who taught at the school, also tried to intervene but was silenced and intimidated by the school.  

“If these people took responsibility, would it have reached this point in the first place?” Charles Balter asked. 

“I see what could fairly be termed depraved indifference. They’ve intimidated people or told people who reported to forget about it. What’s the message for potential victims today?” said Peter Brooks, an HMAC member.

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