|BB&N Issues Apology for Abuse
By Eric Moskowitz
October 14, 2008
Mishandled reports of molestation in '80s
The administration at a prestigious Cambridge private school has apologized to alumni and the school community for mishandling reports of sexual abuse of students by a middle school teacher more than 20 years ago.
Writing on behalf of the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School and its board of trustees, the school's leader apologized to the victims and the entire BB&N community and encouraged any victims of former teacher Edward "Ted" Washburn who have not come forward to do so, offering anonymous, school-funded counseling for all abuse victims.
In a letter mailed Thursday, head of school Rebecca T. Upham said she hoped to "begin a long-delayed process of healing." She pledged BB&N's commitment to student safety and swift, open action in responding to any future allegations of abuse.
"Today we must confront and acknowledge that the school failed to respond to those awful events in an appropriate way, as they unfolded and in the intervening decades," Upham wrote in a four-page letter sent to 5,600 alumni as well as the 800 families of the school's current K-12 student body. She acknowledged that "BB&N did not undertake timely or effective efforts to determine whether Washburn victimized others. Consequently, we could not offer to those students the services essential to begin a healing process."
Upham, head of the school since 2001, acknowledged that the letter came after a campaign by an alumnus and Washburn victim, Daniel Weinreb, to seek an apology from the school and support for victims. "I admire the tenacity, courage, and commitment" he showed, Upham wrote.
Weinreb, who lives in Vermont, called the letter a good start by the school.
"A hurdle to recovering from the abuse has been removed," said Weinreb, a 1989 graduate who approached Upham's predecessor privately in the 1990s without success. He contacted Upham last year and also went public with his campaign, creating a website and soliciting letters and e-mails of support from alumni. "What Upham has done, it appears at least, is create an opportunity for healing."
After meeting Weinreb, Upham immersed herself in the history of the school's handling of the Washburn case and sought advice from a number of specialists on preventing and responding to sexual abuse of children, said Joe Clifford, a BB&N spokesman.
Upham could not be reached yesterday but she issued a statement about her letter through Clifford: "All great institutions need to take responsibility for their past, even as they focus on their future. We care deeply about any alumni/ae who have been hurt by Washburn, and we want to foster a healing process for them and our community."
Washburn, a school alumnus who holds two degrees from Harvard, taught middle school English from 1965 until 1987, when he was dismissed quietly after the school received allegations that he had sexually abused several adolescent boys.
Washburn was not prosecuted until his sister - whose son had been sexually abused by Washburn, the boy's uncle - contacted the Department of Social Services and the district attorney, frustrated that the BB&N administration had failed to do so. In December 1987, Washburn pleaded guilty to one charge of raping a 13-year-old boy and two charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Middlesex Judge J. Harold Flannery gave Washburn - who was also a Harvard crew coach and the son of Bradford Washburn, an explorer and founder of the Museum of Science - a suspended sentence and ordered him to perform 1,000 hours of community service, stay away from adolescent boys, and undergo continued psychotherapy.
Washburn, who lives in Lexington, did not return a call seeking comment.
Weinreb said school administrators two decades ago treated abuse as something that doesn't happen, or should not be discussed, in elite circles. That attitude harmed victims and kept the full extent of the abuse from being uncovered, he said.
In her letter, Upham said the school has changed over the past two decades, with counselors and nurses on each of its campuses, regular criminal background checks for all faculty and staff, and other measures. She said BB&N treats abuse allegations with the utmost seriousness.
She also noted that the school last summer learned that a former teacher, Andrew Goldman, had been convicted of Internet sex offenses in Florida. Although a school investigation found that no student had been affected by Goldman, the matter contributed to Upham's decision to write this letter, she wrote.
Weinreb, a Princeton graduate and a consultant to nonprofit agencies who is applying to rabbinical school, said that while he appreciated the credit Upham gave him, credit also goes to the initial whistle-blower, Washburn's sister.
Reached yesterday, the sister, who has consistently preferred to speak anonymously, said that she has "great respect for Daniel [Weinreb] and for his courage and determination in holding the school accountable for its past serious errors in judgment."
Weinreb's lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented more than 450 victims of clergy sexual abuse, agreed with Weinreb that the letter marked a step and not an end to the process.
"These are powerful statements, but actions speak louder than words," he said. "Hopefully the leaders of this school will follow through."
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