Presentation High Grads Allege School Covered up Sexual Abuse
By Tatiana Sanchez
November 23, 2017
Two former Presentation High School students on Wednesday alleged the prestigious Catholic girls school covered up sexual abuse reports against a longtime teacher for more than three decades and said many other students were victims of abuse over the course of several years.
Kathryn Leehane, who wrote about the experience in an Oct. 20 Washington Post article, and Cheryl Hodgin Marshall, whose Presentation classmate was allegedly abused by the same teacher, said at a law office that school officials ignored multiple reports about the now-deceased teacher sexually abusing students since the 1980s in order to protect the school’s image.
“The school had numerous opportunities to deal with him,” said Leehane, who claimed the teacher groped her and showed her pictures of a naked woman.
Leehane said school administrators didn’t respond to her initial letter in 1993 reporting the abuse and that the school’s response to a second letter she sent made her feel as though she was being intimidated to retract her report.
“For six years, I repeatedly contacted the administration to ensure it was addressed, but no one ever contacted me to ask questions or to investigate my report,” she said. “I felt my abuse was brushed aside. Even after I provided a witness to one incident of sexual misconduct, and then persistently asked for an update from the administration, I was never given one.”
In a statement Wednesday, Presentation Principal Mary Miller said the school strongly disputes the claims by Leehane, Marshall and their attorney, Robert Allard, that the administration failed to look into the abuse claims.
The school conducted an investigation more than 25 years ago into the matter and other claims
made Wednesday, Miller wrote, adding that “there is no new information provided by this personal injury attorney or the former students.”
“For the attorney or others to suggest that at some point in the past PHS could have handled
certain cases in a different manner is open to interpretation and is taken to heart,” Miller said. “However, for anyone to suggest that PHS has in any manner covered up or condoned any instance of sexual abuse is an outright lie.
“As educators and fierce advocates of women’s rights, PHS takes any allegations of abuse
extremely seriously,” Miller continued. “Presentation High School unequivocally condemns — and has from the beginning — the type of conduct described.”
Leehane said she waited three years to report the abuse because she was a confused teenager who was unaware of the laws and who had not received support from the school. She contacted police in 1996 but they were unable to press charges because too much time had passed, she said.
In her article, published amid a wave of national sex-abuse claims that have inspired a “Me too” movement amongst assault survivors, Leehane described her frustration after she reported to school officials and police that a teacher had sexually molested her and another female student in 1990. The teacher remained at the school but has since died.
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Three weeks after Leehane’s essay was published, two Presentation High School teachers were placed on paid administrative leave after two students and a former student came forward with information regarding two separate, more recent situations. One was serious enough to warrant a call to police.
The cases that prompted the private, $20,000-per-year school to place the teachers on leave appear unrelated to Leehane’s article, other than that they were brought to light after it was published.
Marshall, a 1991 graduate like Leehane, alleged her childhood friend, whom she referred to as “Jane Doe,” came to her to tell her of the alleged abuse from the same teacher Leehane had accused. Although she asked her to keep the incident a secret, Marshall reported it to another teacher, she said. The teacher later spoke with “Jane” and reported it to the principal, according to Marshall.
“Jane was called in to speak with the principal and afterward came to me in tears saying she did not feel that the principal believed her and that the principal suggested that Jane must have been dreaming it,” she said Wednesday.
The pair then reported the incident to the vice principal and said they were dismissed and warned to be careful of what they say, according to Marshall. Later, they would confront the alleged abuser, Marshall said, but he didn’t say a word and walked away, never to speak to them again. When Marshall read Leehane’s essay in the Washington Post last month, she cried.
“Kathryn was a victim and she also sought help to no avail,” Marshall said. “Why not? What happened?”
While countless teachers, students and community members have rallied in support of Leehane in recent weeks, others have expressed outrage at the sudden allegations plaguing a school they described as exceptional for young women.
“I am tired of my own teachers — the brilliant and kind-hearted men and women who have crafted me into the person that I am today? — feeling constantly scrutinized, lacking the words to reassure their already panicked and ill-informed students that all is well while we face attacks from all sides,” wrote Presentation student Megan Munce in an online essay on Medium.
“I feel safe, and I feel loved,” Munce continued. “When I’ve encountered faults, I’ve always felt comfortable bringing them to the administration and have seen tangible changes made. My heart bleeds when I hear painful accusations against the place I love, the place I live, and the place I grow.”
In a Nov. 15 letter to parents, the school’s board of directors said it’s been “deeply engaged” with Miller, former principal Marian Stuckey and legal counsel to review the allegations.
“While the school cannot legally disclose such matters publicly, be assured that we are satisfied that Presentation Administration fulfilled its due diligence in the investigative process for these incidents,” the board said.
Leehane said her essay in the Washington Post was originally intended to reassure survivors of sexual abuse around the world that they don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed, only to find that there were many other women with similar stories from Presentation.
“I always suspected there were other victims besides me and Jane,” Leehane said. “But I never had confirmation until a few weeks ago, when my Washington Post piece went live, and I was contacted by several other people, saying, ‘Me too.’?”
Staff writer Jason Green contributed to this report.