NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Horace Mann is one of New York City’s most elite schools, and it’s also at the center of a massive sex abuse investigation.
A teacher from the school recently spoke exclusively with CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian, revealing a secret she’s kept for almost two decades.
She said her own son was a victim.
Kathy Howard asked CBS 2 to conceal her face so her students wouldn’t see her. For the first time she publicly read a letter written 19 years ago by her son, Ben, a former student at the prestigious private school.
“I am writing concerning the faculty member Johannes Somary, chairman of the arts department. Recently, Mr. Somary has made grossly inappropriate sexual advances towards me,” Ben wrote.
He was 16 when he told the headmaster and his mother that he had been sexually abused by Somary, once on a school trip and again during music lessons.
“He told me that he had kissed him, French kissed him, put his tongue in his mouth and that he had put his hands down his pants,” Kathy Howard said.
When her son told her Howard said she confronted Somary.
“I said ‘how dare you put your tongue in my son’s mouth,’ and then he said, and I’ll never forget this, ‘that’s how we Swiss kiss,’” Kathy Howard said.
Days later, she claims, she was called into a room full of trustees who tried to bully her.
“They tell me that, um, to forget it, that I would not have a case because it would always be Ben’s word against Somary’s word and I would’ve had to have had the abuse on tape,” Kathy Howard said.
She said she never went to the police because she said her other son was ill and she couldn’t afford to lose her job. Now, she said she deeply regrets that. She said the abuse marked the beginning of the end for Ben. He committed suicide in 2009.
“He told us that we let him down and that, of course, is something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” Kathy Howard said.
Last month, CBS 2 reported about several people who claimed abuse by former Horace Mann teachers. Most of those teachers, including Somary, are now dead. Those who are alive are protected from prosecution by the statute of limitations. However, the victims continue to come forward. Howard is part of a survivors’ group that includes close to 30 former Horace Mann students.
She said she wants the school to accept responsibility. She said she also wants the school to set up a fund to compensate victims.
“Unless the school does the right thing I can’t go back because I’d always be working for the Horace Mann organization now and I know what the Horace Mann organization is now,” Kathy Howard said.
And she said she hopes her efforts can finally bring Ben some justice.
“I would tell him how sorry I was that I didn’t stand up for him more and that I didn’t go to the authorities,” Kathy Howard said.
The justice he never got when he was alive.
Kathy Howard continued to work at the school after her son’s death. To this day headmaster Dr. Thomas Kelly calls her a much adored teacher. On Wednesday he issued a statement on the school’s behalf in response to this story, saying:
“The school is cooperating fully with the Bronx district attorney and the New York City Police Department in their respective investigations into events in Horace Mann’s past. The school supports and will cooperate with any criminal prosecution of living teachers, administrators, or others who could be held responsible for hurting children.”
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