Counter to Our Missions

Independent schools must be resolute in providing the safest of havens where those wishing to do harm are quickly identified and weeded out.

Jul 1, 2016

From the July/August 2016 Net Assets Magazine.

Many of us are still reeling from the May Boston Globe report that brought to light a wide range of painful and difficult incidents involving sexual abuse and molestation alleged to have occurred at independent preK–12 schools over many years. First and foremost, I mourn for the former students whose experiences run diametrically counter to our schools’ missions and the educational communities we strive to create. As I often remind school leaders, one of the top reasons families invest in your school is to keep their children safe, regardless of your educational mission or the messaging in your admissions materials and programs. Any failure to meet that expectation strikes at the core of the work by countless committed, dedicated and honorable people at our schools every day on behalf of students. Once again, the alleged actions of a relative few have cast what for now feels like an insurmountable shadow on us all.

Secondly, the Globe story reveals that each allegation is extremely complicated. There are no easy answers. On the one hand, acting in haste can lead to quick judgments and actions that can irrevocably harm an individual if those judgments turn out to be baseless. On the other, ensuring the privacy of an individual who may or may not be wrongly accused can be easily perceived as “protecting the wrongdoer.” All that is certain is that inaction is not an option for school leaders who are aware of allegations involving misconduct.

If only there were a way to erase the pain. But there is only moving forward and doing better for our students and communities.

No independent school is immune to the risks of sexual abuse and molestation, but I’d like to believe that our communities are in fact the worst places for those wishing to do harm. After all, our commitment to personalizing the educational experience and developing tight-knit communities of learning should provide the safest of havens where those wishing to do harm are quickly identified and weeded out. In the current climate more than ever, we must be resolute in meeting that goal and above all committed to doing the right thing going forward.

For independent schools, risk management is a never-ending responsibility whose scope seems to broaden weekly. It is really about preparing to expect the unexpected. To that end, I urge you and your colleagues to take advantage of the many tools and resources that NBOA and other committed organizations have developed to help schools mitigate the risk of sexual misconduct and much more. I hope that these resources, coupled with the articles on the pages that follow, will help your school live up to the broader independent school mission of providing students with a world-class education in a safe environment.

Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.



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