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April 21, 2013 Wall Street Journal - A group of Horace Mann alumni have hired former judge and sex crimes prosecutor Leslie Crocker Snyder to conduct an independent investigation of the alleged sexual abuse at the school.
"We looked for the best investigator we could find—someone with the skills of a district attorney and the wisdom of a judge. Snyder has both," said Robert Boynton, a board member of the Horace Mann Action Coalition, a nonprofit founded by alumni to address allegations that teachers at the prestigious Bronx private school sexually abused students during the 1970s through the 1990s.
Horace Mann officials couldn't be reached for comment Sunday. The school has resisted calls from alumni and alleged abuse victims for an independent investigation, according to alumni.
In a public letter released in August, board Chairman Steven Friedman said the school was "cooperating fully and actively" with investigations by the Bronx district attorney's office and the New York Police Department. "The Board and administration feel strongly that those who can be held accountable must face the consequences of their actions," he wrote.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department's Special Victims Division closed its investigation of Horace Mann after determining "all of the crimes disclosed by the complainants" fell outside New York state's statute of limitations. People who were abused as children cannot file claims after they turn 23 years old under state law.
The department wouldn't release its findings, Mr. Browne said. "Sexual assault investigations are confidential and will not be the subject of a public report," he said. The Bronx district attorney's office said it was "nearing the completion" of its own review, according to spokesman Steven Reed.
Alumni say a privately funded independent probe is needed for a full accounting of what happened. "To protect people now you need to know what happened in the past and where the failures were," said Eleanor Hamburger, who graduated from Horace Mann in 1983 and is a board member of the nonprofit founded by alumni to address abuse allegations.
Ms. Snyder, 71, who says she has no connections to Horace Mann, founded the Manhattan Sex Crimes Prosecution Bureau—the first such unit in the nation—and co-wrote the state's rape shield law while working in the Manhattan district attorney's office from 1968 to 1976. She was first approached a month ago about heading the Horace Mann probe, she said.
"I know we are going to do everything possible to bring as much as possible to light and hopefully make meaningful recommendations for the future," she said. She said she planned to recommend some kind of external oversight for the school, though "I don't know what form it will take."
The investigation should take less than six months, she said, and she is currently assembling a team of investigators.
She hadn't yet reached out to school officials, she said, but she was hopeful "we will receive Horace Mann's cooperation."
Ms. Snyder said much could be learned regardless of whether the school participates in the investigation. "I feel that there will be a lot of meaningful interviews and we will be able to piece a lot together," she said. "Just like you often put a criminal case together circumstantially."
The alumni group plans to release a report detailing all of the findings and containing recommendations for future changes, members said.
The group currently has pledges for $100,000, Mr. Boynton said—and enough money in hand to fund the initial stage of the investigation.
Last month, the school settled with nearly all the alleged abuse victims, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations. The school has declined comment on any settlements.
Some of the alleged victims said they remained frustrated with the school.
"I'm not healed," said Stephen Fife, who says he was abused as a student and who graduated from Horace Mann in 1971. The school's "attitude was not contrite. I found it to be more of the same."
Mr. Fife, who is now 60 years old, said he accepted a settlement. "I'm a divorced dad with a daughter in private school and I need all the help I can get," he said, declining to name the sum for legal reasons. "I just didn't have the leverage to say no."
In addition to financial settlements, the alleged survivors demanded a series of nonmonetary measures be taken, including a public apology from school officials to the victims; removing former chairmen of the board, now emeritus members, who victims claim heard abuse allegations years ago but didn't take action; and supporting an independent investigation.
Some legal experts called the alumni effort to fund an investigation rare. Although frequently advocates put pressure on institutions with reports of sexual abuse, "none of them either had the means or ever in my experience considered their own separate investigation," said Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, who specializes in sexual abuse at institutions.
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