A Message to our Community

December 7, 2018
 
To the Park School Community,                                                                                
 
On April 27, 2018, we wrote to you with difficult news regarding allegations about certain educators Park employed in the 1970s and early 1980s who may have engaged in inappropriate behavior with students during their high-school years. To fully understand and examine our history regarding these allegations, we invited alumni to share their difficult experiences regarding sexual and emotional abuse at Park, with attorney Julia M. Hilliker of Hodgson Russ LLP.
 
During the entire process, Ms. Hilliker regularly reported to a board committee created to guide the process on the status of the investigation and next steps. Her findings uncovered instances spanning several decades of alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate emotional relationships between faculty and students. The details of those findings were then presented to the committee, as well as the Board of Trustees, in a 46-page final report that is available starting today by clicking here.
 
Over the past seven months, Ms. Hilliker received numerous calls, including accounts shared by 30 individuals. Twenty-eight were former students, one was a parent of former students, and one was a former faculty member. Those calls began immediately after the April 27 letter and continued into November. During those discussions, and out of respect for those willing to share their stories, Ms. Hilliker gave each reporter the option to share their name publicly, share it only with the board committee, and/or to remain anonymous in the final report.
 
Ms. Hilliker also reviewed student and faculty files dating to the 1950s, interviewed former faculty and potential witnesses, reviewed public records, and analyzed any available circumstantial evidence.
 
The report’s findings are as upsetting as they are inexcusable. On behalf of the full board, we want to apologize to those students, and their families, for the emotional and/or sexual abuse they reported enduring at the hands of some of our school’s most trusted past faculty and staff. We cannot change these events, but we, on behalf of our school, take responsibility for them and confirm to you that the board and school leadership are doing everything we can to make sure nothing like this happens again at Park.
 
In all, those 30 people recounted alleged abuse at the hands of 12 named faculty, coaches or staff; two faculty members who are not publicly named; and three non-faculty, part-time individuals – 17 in all – as well as three unnamed fellow students. The report states:
 
“The reports spanned the period from the late 1950s to the 2000s, although, with one exception, all of the alleged conduct reported occurred more than 20 years ago. The overwhelming majority of the reports related to conduct that occurred between 1960 and 1990. Reported conduct ranged from inappropriate, but nonsexual, verbal exchanges with teachers to entirely inappropriate relationships, some of which were sexual in nature. Two reporters conveyed inappropriate behavior by other Park students. None of the reports involved allegations of misconduct by a current employee or administrator.”
 
In deciding to name or not name alleged offenders, we determined that if there were ample evidence and corroborating accounts from more than one person, we would name the accused abuser. If there were only singular events, and the reporter did not want to be named, we did not name the alleged offender. When there were individual abuses alleged and the victim attached their name to their experience, we named the alleged offender. In one case, where a reporter did not want to be named, and we did not therefore identify an alleged offender, we connected the accuser with the appropriate authorities for further investigation.
 
For us, like so many of you who value and cherish The Park School, these accounts are painful and difficult to read. That adults charged with the education and nurturing of young people could abuse that trust, and do so under the supposed scrutiny of school leaders, is unforgivable. But, as has been the case at so many schools and other institutions in our country in recent years, only through these admissions, documentations and transparency can we learn from this portion of our past and move forward to a safer, healthier and better future.
 
We thank all the courageous alumni who came forward and shared their experiences. One clear conclusion from the report is that these students trusted their teachers, but the individuals they identified as their abusers, and the system, as it was then, failed them. In part, this report is designed to restore and rebuild that trust for current students, faculty, staff and families at Park, and those who will come to Park in future years.
 
For families of current students, please know that the faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees of Park believe we have no greater responsibility than to keep our students safe and healthy. To build on changes in this regard made starting in the early 2000s, and to specifically address and prevent any concerns regarding educator misconduct, Park created a school Code of Conduct in 2015 that all employees are required to adhere to as a condition of employment. With release of this report, Park’s leadership is committed to an annual review of its policies and procedures with a specific focus on the accounts and factors discussed in the report.
 
To reinforce and keep alive that code, all Park employees receive annual training in the school’s Code of Conduct. That includes reporting requirements in New York Social Services laws, and requires, as a condition of employment, that all employees follow New York State Education laws. Those require mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. In recent years, Park has also conducted employee and background checks on new faculty-staff hires and will continue to do so.
 
These types of policies, procedures, and prescribed responses speak to how much has changed for the better in our culture and especially our schools over the last 50 years. They also serve to verify the mechanisms that safeguard the trust that students and families invest in us. The current professional community at Park holds this trust sacred and inviolate.
 
That said, we now more fully understand and sincerely regret how the reported actions of some of our predecessors negatively impacted the lives of former students and undermined the trust that these alumni should have in their school. Moving forward, we are committed to maintaining a vibrant and healthy community for our current students and rebuilding the trust of those former students affected by these darker aspects of our shared history. 
 
We know from the experiences of other schools that a report such as this may reinforce to other alumni that they should come forward as well to recount additional experiences. While we do not plan at this point to issue a further report, should more alumni call with accounts of abuse, we will update and supplement this report as needed and continue to share that publicly. And, we urge any other former students to contact Ms. Hilliker jhillike@hodgsonruss.com if they have further information to recount.
 
As always we invite your questions, comments, or concerns about this matter, which are best addressed to Jeremy Besch at jbesch@theparkschool.org, or via a phone call to 716-839-1243 extension 109.
 
Sincerely,
 
Jeremy Besch
Head of School
 
 
David G. Brock
Board President
 
 
Martin Berardi
Immediate Past Board President
Founded in 1912, The Park School of Buffalo has the distinction of being one the oldest Progressive schools in the country. Park is an independent, co-educational school serving approximately 300 students enrolled in prekindergarten (3 and 4 year olds), lower school (kindergarten through grade 4), middle school (grades 5 through 8), and upper school (grades 9 through 12). Park is uniquely situated on 34 beautiful acres in Amherst, New York. The School’s campus – formerly a farm – includes a pond, marsh, gardens, and a greenhouse while being located just minutes from downtown Buffalo and easily accessible from many communities throughout Western New York. Park’s educational philosophy embraces active, student-centered learning, delivered by exceptional teachers who design and continuously update a robust curriculum. Faculty members approach each student as an individual within the context of a kind and respectful community. From the preschool years through college preparation, The Park School of Buffalo helps learners realize their own unique potentials and prepares them to be confident, successful, life-long learners.

The Park School Of Buffalo

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Snyder, NY 14226
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