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A Letter to the Community

Read our Sept 14, 2014 update.



July 29, 2014

Dear Friend,

We write today to share some difficult news and to let you know how Solebury School has responded.

Solebury’s mission statement rests on a fundamental principle: “mutual respect between students and teachers.” We are saddened and deeply troubled to report that we have learned that some former members of the Solebury faculty and staff did not live up to those principles in decades past. Recently, several alumni from the 1950’s to the 1970’s courageously stepped forward to share that they were subjected to sexual abuse by adults charged with their care and well-being while they were at Solebury.

On behalf of Solebury School and our Board of Trustees, we offer our public acknowledgment of this abuse and our sincere apologies, most especially to those directly affected, but also to all who care deeply about this community. We are profoundly disturbed by these transgressions of the past and their long-term impacts on our former students and alumni. Tom has communicated personally with those individuals to apologize, to offer support and to learn what can be done to help them and any others who might have had similar experiences. Because the close relationship between Solebury teachers and students is meant to be supportive and respectful, having teachers or staff take sexual advantage of students was and is particularly reprehensible and inexcusable. With the unanimous support of the Board of Trustees, we are taking several steps to address these wrongs and support the healing process. We applaud the courage of the individuals who have already come forward and remain committed to their welfare. In addition, if there are others who have been affected, we hope they will let us know. We are committed to assisting anyone who has suffered from these wrongs and to holding accountable those who committed these transgressions.

In addition, we want to share the culture and principles that guide today’s Solebury School in protecting our students. Ensuring a safe place for Solebury students to learn and grow is paramount. To that end, we have comprehensive policies and procedures – strengthened by ongoing training – that focus on both prevention and informed responsiveness to child abuse:

  • We conduct extensive background checks on all employees prior to hiring and additional, continuing checks on employees during their employment.
  • We also require our regular and recurring vendors to submit to background checks.
  • We have partnered with NOVA (Network of Victim Assistance) for many years to provide up-to-date, comprehensive mandatory training and workshops for faculty and staff on how to prevent, identify and report physical and sexual child abuse.
  • Our senior leadership team meets with new employees at the beginning of each year to describe the clear professional boundaries Solebury School expects concerning their interactions with young people, and to lay out the consequences for any violations of that code of conduct.
  • In addition, we prioritize the mandatory child abuse reporting responsibility that requires the reporting of any suspicion of abuse to the Bucks County Child Protective Services.

Maintaining vigilance to safety and protection is at the forefront of our thinking and actions every day and that commitment of Administration, faculty and staff remains strong. We recognize the sensitivity involved with this topic and that each of us will be affected differently. We encourage any community member who has information to share, especially those who have been directly affected, to contact law enforcement or the school and to reach out for support. To that end, Solebury School has identified the following resources:

  • You may contact the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office at 215-348-6338.
  • Solebury School’s door and inbox are open. You may contact Tom directly at 215-862-5261 x112 or click here to email Tom.
  • You may click here to communicate information directly to the school. Information may be submitted anonymously through this webpage. We welcome your comments, your feedback, your suggestions and your thoughts moving forward.
  • You may access confidential counseling and support by contacting a 24-hour confidential hotline at 1-800-675-6900. This hotline is provided by the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), a non-profit support organization that helps victims of all types of crimes, including sexual abuse. NOVA has agreed to provide confidential counseling and resources to any former Solebury student who was a victim of sexual abuse by a member of Solebury’s faculty or staff. Any outreach to NOVA will remain confidential and not be shared with Solebury School or any other agency (unless it involves suspected abuse of a child who is currently under the age of 18). You may also reach support through NOVA’s website. NOVA’s website also provides excellent resources for parents and students who are looking for informational resources.
  • You may also contact Gina Smith or Leslie Gomez, child abuse professionals and attorneys from Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia law firm, whom we have engaged to assist the school in gathering information and coordinating the sharing of that information with law enforcement. Gina and Leslie have devoted their careers to supporting victims and institutions when instances of sexual abuse surface. We encourage any community member who has information to share to reach out to Gina or Leslie at 215-981-4522 or via email at smithgm@pepperlaw.com or gomezl@pepperlaw.com.

Solebury’s ideal of a close and collaborative relationship between teacher and student is an important part of our approach to education. However, we will not permit that ideal to be used as a proxy or a justification for an inappropriate sexual relationship between an adult and a student at Solebury School. Not in the past. Not now. Not in the future.

We are grateful to those former students who have provided the school with this opportunity to directly engage our community in this critically important conversation. We will continue to communicate with you as circumstances warrant in the coming months. We are also grateful for your support of Solebury School as we strive to move forward with openness, transparency and integrity for the victims of abuse, for our entire community and for this institution that we care for so deeply.

Sincerely,

Tom Wilschutz
Head of School

Scott Bolenbaugh
Board Chair, Solebury School


Update to the Community

September 1, 2014

I am writing to bring you up-to-date on some developments since the School’s July 29th letter concerning reports of instances of historical sexual abuse. (See letter above.) We recognize this is a very difficult topic – most especially for the victims of this abuse – but also for the entire Solebury community.

In sending that letter, we sought to be open with our community. We were aware that our openness could possibly attract media attention, which can be uncomfortable, but believed being open was the right thing to do. We must acknowledge our past in order to move forward. In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story about the situation. That article can be found here. Going forward, there may be more news coverage, as well as discussions on social media forums. In keeping with our values, we will continue to communicate directly with you.

One of the purposes of our initial letter was to encourage anyone with information to come forward. We identified several options for that outreach: directly contact the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, speak to child abuse professionals at the Pepper Hamilton law firm whom we engaged to assist the school in gathering information and coordinating information sharing with law enforcement, contact NOVA (Network of Victim Assistance) and/or call me as head of school.

Our initial letter concerned abuse from the 1950s to the 1970s. In response to our letter, several alumni have come forward to provide information about additional reports of abuse. The school and our attorneys have communicated any and all information to the District Attorney’s Office. It is our understanding that the law enforcement investigation is ongoing, and quite properly, I do not know details that may have been given independently to law enforcement authorities. As difficult as this process is, we want and hope that anyone who still has additional information will come forward.

I am gratified to report that none of the information the School has received has involved an allegation of abuse by any member of the current faculty or staff or anyone with whom I have worked since my arrival as Head of School in 2008. As I noted in the original communication, we have extensive policies, procedures and training of faculty and staff to ensure that Solebury is a safe place for our students to learn and grow and on what should be done if there is even a suspicion of child abuse.

We have been working diligently for some time to remedy the impact of these events on our community, which leads me to share the following. After working with our Board of Trustees and other key individuals affected, I am now ready to confirm that one of the founders of the school – Robert Shaw – was involved in a sexual relationship with a Solebury student in the early 1950s. Robert Shaw died in the mid-1980s. However, in keeping with our commitment to hold accountable to the extent possible those who committed these acts, we have removed the items on campus that honor Robert Shaw – the portrait in the dining hall, his named scholarship and the house designation that incorporated his name. As a matter of historical fact, Robert Shaw will always be documented as one of the founders of Solebury, but it is inappropriate for us to have elements that honor him, given his actions. Our plan had been to announce these changes to our parents during the scheduled Town Hall meetings this coming week and to discuss this topic with our students during assembly on Monday, September 8th. Given the recent media attention, we have decided to share it with the broader community now, although I will be discussing these steps with parents and current students this week.

I am confident in today’s Solebury School, in the value of a Solebury education and in our future. I am humbled by the courage of those who have come forward with information and grateful for all those who have voiced such strong support for the school. This is a challenging time but I know we all will get through this together. I look forward to welcoming new and returning students and their families as we open school officially on September 5th.

Sincerely,
Tom Wilschutz
Head of School

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