Presentation Principal Accused of Mishandling Reported Sex Abuse to Resign
By John Woolfolk
Bay Area News Group
September 5, 2018
|Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/May 31, 2017 Presentation High School in San Jose has filed to rezone their land from single-family residence to public/quasi-public.|
Presentation High School President and former Principal Mary Miller announced Wednesday she will resign after coming under a cloud of allegations that she mishandled student sex-abuse allegations against staff over 25 years leading San Jose’s prestigious Catholic girls’ school.
“I have come to the realization my resignation is what is best for Pres,” Miller said in a resignation letter to the school’s board of directors. “The allegations of past sexual abuse continue to be a distraction for the school and bring negative attention towards Presentation. It is my sincere hope that my absence will bring some peace and allow the staff and new administration to focus on the success and well being of our students — which is our common goal.”
Presentation’s board said it will immediately begin a search to replace her.
Robert Allard, the lawyer who represented the former students, called it a key step toward housecleaning at the school administration, where he said Miller “enabled numerous predators to sexually abuse countless young girls.”
“True change cannot occur until those responsible for past transgressions are held responsible,” Allard said. “Going forward, we hope that the new leaders will make student safety, instead of image and reputation, their number one priority. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the young women whose lives were devastated by the sexual abuse.”
The school announced that Sister Pam Chiesa will assume the role of Chairperson of Presentation High School’s Board of Directors, replacing Marian Stuckey who previously announced her retirement and also faced criticism over abuse allegations. “Sister Pam” has been a Sister of the Presentation for 43 years and taught at the high school for eight years.
Miller attended Presentation as a student, became a teacher and then served as the principal at the school for the last 25 years before becoming president. The school said her resignation will be effective Sept. 14.
Miller came under criticism after former student Kathryn Leehane wrote an Oct. 20 opinion piece for the Washington Post at the height of “#MeToo” revelations of sexually abusive powerful men about how hard was for her to report abuse. The article didn’t name the school, Miller or the now-deceased teacher she said abused her as a student in the 1990s.
But the article spread quickly among alumnae on social media, leading more former students to come forward, which Leehane and others detailed on a website to pressure school officials to make administrative changes. Nearly 7,600 signed an online petition calling for change at the parochial school of 830 girls established in 1962, where tuition runs about $20,000 a year.
A former student filed a lawsuit against the school last month.
Leehane, a writer, said late Wednesday that Miller’s resignation is “a critical step in the right direction.”
In a statement Wednesday, San Jose Diocese Bishop Patrick J. McGrath commended the women for stepping forward.
“Over the past few months, I have met with some of the victims and listened to their stories and concerns,” McGrath said. “I hope that the announcement today by the Board of Directors of the change in school leadership will allow the victims, survivors, their families, and the Presentation High School community to take the next step on the path of recovery and wholeness.”
Police were looking into the possibility that school officials might have failed in their duty to report complaints of child abuse to law enforcement or county child welfare authorities. No charges have been filed.
Miller had disputed allegations that she failed to act on credible abuse complaints, saying in a statement earlier this year that “today’s claims of past misconduct differ from what was originally reported.”
The school had previously said in a statement earlier this year that “in all instances,” the administration “acted responsibly and followed the laws of California in handling the cases that were reported.” The statement added that “we have reported” complaints to authorities “when we had a reasonable suspicion of childhood abuse.”
Legal experts, however, noted that state law does not require school officials to determine the credibility of a complaint, only to pass it along to authorities.
“We recognize that Mary has been the focus of criticism in her handling of reporting misconduct cases,” Chiesa said. “We also recognize that Mary has been an inspiration to many young women and helped guide them successfully in their lives and careers. Now is the time to refocus on our mission and begin healing our community.”
Since the allegations by alumnae came to light about past incidents and school administrators’ handling of sexual misconduct cases, the school implemented a series of actions to protect young women.
Those include conducting additional mandatory reporting training for all staff in January 2018 and preparing two additional trainings on student safety in the 2018-2019 school year. Other steps include implementing new policy updates recommended by a board committee and creating an Office of Prevention of Student Bullying, Harassment & Abuse, led by a director who reports directly to the board.
School officials attended a mediation to listen to ideas on how to make Presentation an even safer school in the future.
“We are committed to making Presentation the gold-standard when it comes to the safety and success of our students and to healing our community,” the school said in a statement. “We will continue to make additional improvements to make Presentation an institution that holds the respect of all our students, parents, faculty, and alumnae.”