Open Letter to the Indian Springs School Administration and Board of Governors From Alums, Parents, and Friends

  • by: Iss Accountability
  • recipient: Indian Springs School Administration and Board of Governors

July 25, 2019

We are Indian Springs alums, parents, and friends who care about the school, and we support victims/survivors of sexual misconduct.

As alums, many of us were aware of sexual misconduct by teachers during our time as students or learned of it after we graduated.

We were heartened to learn that Indian Springs was inviting victims/survivors to share their stories and seemed ready to address its longstanding problem of systemic sexual misconduct by teachers.

An Important Message from Head of School Dr. Sharon Howell and Chairman of theBoard Libby Pantazis, 12.1.2017

An Important Message from Head of School Dr. Sharon Howell and Chairman of the Board Alan Engel, 7.23.2018

But we were disappointed in the school's report on the investigation, sent out in a letter on June 18, 2019.

An Important Message from Indian Springs School, 6.18.2019
An Important Message from Interim Head of School Don North, 6.18.2019

Our Concerns

1. The letter only names 3 former faculty, all deceased: Leland "Lee" Watkins, John Lusco, and Marvin Balch.

2. In addition to the three teachers named above, the letter summarizes accounts of abuse by 2 unnamed former faculty that the Jackson Lewis investigators found credible. It says the first former faculty has not taught at the school for "several decades." It says the second has not taught at the school for "a number of years."

  • We know, from a letter First Presbyterian Church Birmingham sent to its membership on June 25, 2019, that the second unnamed former faculty in the letter is Tim Thomas. He retired in 2016.

First Presbyterian Letter, 6.25.2019


3. Under the "Policies and Procedures" section, the letter refers to yet 2 more teachers who were recently terminated and banned from campus for sexual misconduct: "When such allegations are substantiated, the faculty or staff member is terminated from Indian Springs and prohibited from returning to campus. This is the process that we followed with respect to two faculty members who were terminated in recent years." The letter does not name these faculty or specify when they were fired.

  • We know, from a letter Indian Springs sent to then-current parents on October 15, 2018, that one of the unnamed faculty terminated for sexual misconduct "in recent years" was Clint Jacobs.

4. The letter does not address failures of oversight that allowed multiple sexual misconduct perpetrators to remain on campus for so long, and until so recently. Marvin Balch, Leland Watkins, John Lusco, Tim Thomas, and Clint Jacobs were on campus for an average of 37 years. (See infographic below)

Commercial Photography

5. In these ways, the letter presents teacher sexual misconduct at Indian Springs as a problem of the distant past, when we know that it has continued until very recently.

6. By naming so few people, the letter also suggests that sexual misconduct at Indian Springs was perpetrated by a few bad apples, when we know that the problem has been systemic.


Our Demands

1. Publicly name all teachers credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

  • This is a safety issue. Some of these teachers are alive and working with children.
  • This is the first step toward transparency and accountability.
  • This is standard practice for institutions reckoning with systemic sexual misconduct.
  • This does not require divulging information that would identify victims/survivors. First Presbyterian Church Birmingham informed their membership that Tim Thomas abused students at Indian Springs without disclosing any identifying information about his victims.
  • Naming abusers lets the victims/survivors who did not report to investigators know that they are not the only ones.
  • This will not, and indeed cannot, compromise pending court cases for most credibly accused faculty. Because civil and criminal statutes of limitations for sexual abuse are so short in Alabama, the vast majority of Indian Springs sexual misconduct perpetrators can never be sued or prosecuted for the harm they have done.
  • If victims/survivors were brave enough to come forward when the school asked them to, the school should be brave enough to name their abusers.

2. Publicly rescind all honors and awards given to teachers credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

  • At the time of writing, Tim Thomas is still listed on the school's website as the 2016 Outstanding Alum Award recipient.

Outstanding Alum Awards

Spring 2006 ISS Magazine, "Music Director Dr. Tim Thomas '67 to Receive 2016 Alumni Award


3. Hire a victim/survivor agency to:

  • Re-open the investigation into systemic sexual misconduct by faculty and staff at Indian Springs.
  • Identify structural and systemic weaknesses that allowed teacher sexual misconduct to continue for so long, and until so recently.
  • Identify aspects of the school's culture that contributed to systemic sexual misconduct.
  • Create policies to make students safer and hold faculty, staff, administration, and Board members accountable to the entire school-community of current students, parents, and alums.
  • Train faculty, staff, administrators, Board members, students, and parents about sexual misconduct.


4. Include at least 2 alums who are victims/survivors of ISS teacher sexual misconduct in the re-opened investigation and wider accountability process. They should:

  • Have access to all the same information that the administration and Board of Governors have. This includes all information from the recent sexual misconduct investigation.
  • Be included in every Board and administrative meeting or communication related to the investigation.
  • Be allowed to speak and write freely and publicly, without reprisal, about their opinions of how the investigation is being handled.
  • Be allowed to speak and write freely and publicly, without reprisal, about their opinions of how well the school is working to make current and future students safer.


5. When possible, make restitution to victims/survivors. This includes:

  • Paying for victims/survivors' therapy.
  • Donating to an organization that directly serves victims/survivors of sexual abuse.
  • Not asking or requiring anyone who reports sexual misconduct to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
  • Not suing or countersuing anyone who credibly accuses current or former Indian Springs faculty or staff of sexual misconduct.


6. Recognize that all family members of sexual misconduct perpetrators are indirect victims of that misconduct, and some may also be direct victims. Accordingly, the school should:

  • When possible, contact the family to inform them about the current or former faculty member's sexual misconduct. Family members should not be left to wonder what the faculty member was credibly accused of doing.
  • When possible, contact the family to inform them that the current or former faculty member will be publicly named.
    • Note: This does not mean obtaining family members' consent before publicly naming teachers credibly accused of sexual misconduct. This means supporting families as indirect victims while also being transparent and holding perpetrators accountable.
  • Provide support and resources to family members of teachers credibly accused of sexual misconduct. This is especially important for family members who are current students, alums, current or former faculty, current or former staff, or who are otherwise still connected to the school-community.
  • Provide support and resources to family members who are direct victims of sexual misconduct. This is especially important for those who are current students, alums, current or former faculty, current or former staff, or who are otherwise still connected to the school-community.


7. Respond to this letter and meet its demands in a timely manner. By September 30, 2019, the school should:

  • Publicly name all teachers credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
  • Publicly rescind all honors and awards from teachers credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
  • Publicly respond to this letter.


Recent examples of abuse in the Catholic Church and in numerous independent schools teach us how deeply an institution's lack of transparency and accountability can revictimize survivors. Additionally, lack of transparency and accountability all but guarantees lasting damage to that institution in the long run: loss of trust, loss of respect, loss of financial support, and costly lawsuits.

As Indian Springs alums, parents, and friends, we believe everyone in the community has a responsibility to speak up. We come to you in good faith, hoping you will hear us and respond with greater transparency and commitment to victims/survivors. We hope you will demonstrate the moral courage that Indian Springs instilled in us as students. Again, if victims/survivors were brave enough to come forward when the school asked them to, the school should be brave enough to name their abusers.

We care about Indian Springs and believe it can survive an honest reckoning with its history of systemic sexual misconduct. But we will not be complicit in shielding the institution from accountability with our silence.

Indian Springs has an opportunity to be a leader and model for other schools by being transparent, accountable, humble, and victim/survivor-centered in its response to its history of systemic sexual misconduct. The school can send the message to alums and current students alike that if they are abused, they will be believed, protected, and supported, and their abusers will be held accountable.

A Note to Other Alums, Especially Victims/Survivors of Abuse
We are here to listen and support you. If you would like to contact us about your experiences, or share your thoughts with us, please send an email to issaccountability@protonmail.com.

Comments
If you would like to share words of support for victims/survivors of abuse, we invite you to include a comment with your signature.

If you are victim/survivor, you are welcome to share your story publicly if you choose. Please be aware that public statements may jeopardize your case, should you choose to make an official report to the school, or take action in civil or criminal court. Again, if you would like to contact us privately, please send an email to issaccountability@protonmail.com.

Note: Comments that deny, minimize, or blame victims for sexual misconduct will be removed.

Signatures
You may sign with your name (and, if you are an alum, your graduation year), or you may sign anonymously. Please share widely.

Update #58 months ago
ISS sent another letter on 10/4/19. It includes more allegations against Watkins and Lusco and names 2 more perpetrators: Ray Woodard and Stephen Powell. This brings the total number of perpetrators named by ISS to five. All five are deceased.

ISS has failed yet again to be transparent and accountable. We encourage survivors to share their stories, with or without names, at springssurvivors.org. We also encourage everyone in the community to share messages of support at springssurvivors.org.
Update #48 months ago
The deadline for ISS to name credibly accused teachers and respond publicly to this letter passed yesterday. We have received no word from the school. This is disappointing but unsurprising. As always, please reach out to us at issaccountability@protonmail.com. We also encourage you to contact Don North don.north@indiansprings.org and Alan Engel azengel@crownepartners.com to tell them they will not be able to wait us out in hopes we forget about Springs' history of systemic child sexual abuse.
Update #39 months ago
This morning at 9:31 CT, we officially sent the Open Letter to Don North and Alan Engel via email. Anonymous signatures were redacted. In the coming days, we will send a paper copy of the letter and signatures to Indian Springs via US Mail. Thank you to everyone in the Springs community who has stood with victims/survivors of abuse. Thank you, especially, to the victims/survivors who have reached out to share their experiences and help hold the school accountable. We are here for you.
Update #29 months ago
We met our updated goal of 200 signatures on 8/13/19. We encourage alums, partners, parents, and friends of ISS to continue to sign, share widely, and reach out to issaccountability@protonmail.com. In the coming days, we will send the open letter to Indian Springs. We will redact names of all those who chose to sign anonymously. Thank you for standing with survivors of sexual abuse at Indian Springs.
Update #110 months ago
Thank you to everyone who has signed and shared this open letter. In less than 1 week, we met our initial goal of 150 signatures. We encourage alums, parents, and friends of ISS to continue signing, sharing, and talking to one another. We invite survivors and their friends to contact us at issaccountability@protonmail.com. Thank you, again, for standing with survivors and raising your voices to call for transparency and accountability at ISS.
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