Donations double for Catholic girls school accused of ignoring sex abuse

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A San Jose Catholic girls school rocked by alumnae accusations that administrators ignored sexual harassment and abuse complaints said Thursday that donors outraged by the accusers’ tactics have more than doubled their contributions.

Presentation High School reported that despite a letter-writing campaign to school supporters seeking to pressure the school into investigating the allegations, it raised more than $126,000 in its crowdfunding campaign this week, more than twice last year’s $59,000 haul.

“It’s nice to see these misleading claims not only haven’t made a dent in our reputation, they have encouraged people to stand up and fight the falsehoods by voting their consciences with their wallets,” Kristin Cooke Schneider, the school’s alumnae director, said in a statement.

The school said the money raised will be used to help provide scholarships and support other student programs at the prestigious school, where tuition is nearly $20,000 a year.

Schneider said letters to donors “infuriated people who felt their privacy was invaded and that they were being harassed and bullied into withdrawing their support from school.”

Robert Allard, a lawyer representing former students who have accused the school of failing to report their abuse claims to authorities, said in response that “we have no knowledge of any person being ‘bullied’ or ‘harassed’ in any way by members of our team.”

He said a two-page letter to Presentation supporters from “Victims and Alumnae in support of Making Pres Safe for all students” asking “that you temporarily withhold your donations to
PHS until they agree to that independent investigation” is not from his clients. But he added that donor names were listed on the school’s website and those who received letters had publicly listed addresses.

“If the messaging is hard to hear, we apologize,” Allard said in a statement. “But we feel it’s necessary in order to prevent future severe trauma to Presentation students and their respective families. Indeed, the fact remains that had Presentation administrators followed the law from the beginning and reported each and every case of suspected sexual abuse, most of these victims would not have been permanently harmed by the clear negligence of a school more interested in image and reputation than student safety.”

Most donors on the school website are listed either just by name or with brief remarks of gratitude for Presentation, but Karen Strobach stated, “With all the bad press and the anonymous, derogatory letters …I’m giving more to Pres this year than ever.” School spokesman Sam singer said others were reluctant to speak publicly because “they get pummeled on social media.”

Presentation, a parochial school of 830 girls established in 1962, has faced mounting criticism from some former students who say administrators mishandled their complaints of being sexually harassed or abused by teachers or staff over the last three decades.

Since one Presentation graduate wrote an October news article about how the school handled her complaint from the 1990s, the number of former students with complaints has grown to at least 20. They allege abuse from as many as eight former teachers or staff, one of whom has since died.

The former students have detailed their complaints on a website, and garnered more than 6,600 signatures to an online petition demanding an independent investigation into the school’s complaint handling.

Presentation has insisted it followed state law, which requires school officials to report suspected child abuse to police or a child protection agency, in responding to complaints. School officials have said they have no documentation or recollection of many of the complaints and that others were reported differently at the time.

But the school has announced changes in how it will handle future complaints, and police have acknowledged they are looking into whether school officials properly reported past abuse allegations.

The accusations have sharply divided the school community. Principal Mary Miller in December thanked supporters “for the collective community outrage at the false, unfounded, misleading, and half-truths that have been slung at our school and me this fall.”

But some posters to the school’s Facebook page have vented their anger at the school, with comments like: “Their continued denial, victim shaming, and lack of responsibility is disturbing.”

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