Riot in Riverdale: Will a New Foundation Insulate Horace Mann from Costly Molestation Suits?

How to infuriate alumni and alienate victims

Meanwhile, despite Mr. Friedman’s contention that there is no rule book for handling such situations, Horace Mann has no shortage of recent examples to follow.

The countless transgressions of predatory pedophile Sandusky single-handedly destroyed the legacy of once-legendary coach Joe Paterno and the public university that employed him. In his findings, Mr. Freeh blasted Penn State for its “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders.”

At Poly Prep, former students sued the school and its top officials over the alleged sexual abuse of at least nine students between 1966 and the 1980s, damning the legacy of a popular football coach while also staining the seemingly indestructible image of the Brooklyn prep school. Attorneys for Poly Prep have filed a motion to dismiss the case.

At Syracuse University, two former ball boys for the men’s basketball team accused assistant coach Bernie Fine of molesting them. Both accusers are being represented by Ms. Allred, who recently called on state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate Syracuse’s handling of these allegations.

johannes somary credit johannessomary org e1345588926187 Riot in Riverdale: Will a New Foundation Insulate Horace Mann from Costly Molestation Suits?

Johannes Somary, one of the accused teachers (photo: JohannesSomary.org)

But at Horace Mann, the board of trustees was being slow and careful in its approach to the accusations, Mr. Friedman said in the meeting.

“They believe the rules apply to public institutions like Penn State, or less prestigious Brooklyn institutions like Poly Prep, but they don’t apply to us,” said Robert Boynton, the director of NYU’s Literary Reportage concentration and a 1981 graduate of Horace Mann. “That has always been the Horace Mann way.”

The school did take immediate steps following the publication of Mr. Kamil’s article. Horace Mann partnered with The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to “audit current administrative procedures and policies that encompass child protection issues,” among other new directives. It has met regularly with the Horace Mann Survivors and the Horace Mann Action Coalition (CORRECTION: the Horace Mann Action Coalition wrote to say that it has not met regularly with the school). It has cooperated with the NYPD’s and the Bronx district attorney’s independent investigations into the allegations of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, in August, board member Joe Rose set up the Hilltop Cares Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to “assist those affected by the issues arising from allegations of abuse at the Horace Mann School and to study related issues in the broader community,” he wrote in an email to The New York Times. Hilltop Cares Foundation is believed to have raised $2 million already.

Some have knocked the Hilltop Cares Foundation as a ploy to protect the school from damaging litigation by creating a separate entity to compensate victims while legally insulating the institution itself, which can thereby avoid taking any direct responsibility for the crimes. As several observers noted, a similar structure was developed by the manufacturing company Johns Manville, which set up a trust in the 1980s to settle asbestos claims by former employees, successfully protecting the company from bankruptcy.

“What [Joe Rose] is doing is the school’s attempt at an arm’s-length solution,” said one former Horace Mann student who has been active in the discussions between the school and the new alumni organizations and who declined to be named for the article.

“It is our understanding that funds being raised are intended for therapy/counseling for self-described ‘survivors’ who report that they were abused by teachers who are no longer at the school,” a Horace Mann spokeswoman wrote in an email to The Observer. She stressed that the Hilltop Cares Foundation is “not affiliated with the school and have their own respective boards and counsel.”

“It provides Horace Mann deniability,” Mr. Boynton said.