Some Advice for the ACNA on Sexual Scandal

The ACNA is in quite a pickle, especially it’s Diocese of the Upper Midwest, with its recent sexual assault scandal in Illinois. There have been many reactions to it; the one that has gotten most of the attention is the Diocese’s, where the bishop is now on leave.

Handling stuff like this isn’t for amateurs, and to show that I’d like to take a trip down memory lane on an other Anglican-Episcopal (in this case the latter) institution, the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida. It’s personal not only because I’m an alumnus but because I found myself a part of it. I’ve tried to cover it on this blog, so I’ll refer to stuff on this and another of my sites.

Let’s start in 2016, with this:

Although things really broke in the Spring–and Headmaster Peter Benedict resigned at the time–it’s still an ongoing business, as Interim Head of School Jim Byer discussed in an email to the alumni:

“At the same time, the start of this school year has been a difficult time for all of us at Saint Andrew’s, and I appreciate your interest and concern for what has happened here. Many of you are aware of the results of two independent investigations related to violations of faculty/student boundaries and inadequate policies and procedures to protect students, as well as the stories that have been reported in the local media.

“Please know that our school is committed to student safety, and I fully expect our community will be stronger and safer as the result of improvements in this regard. We have instituted mandatory child abuse annual training for all faculty and staff in accordance with Florida Department of Education training curriculum, we will hold accountable all who interact and engage with students on a daily basis, and we have engaged qualified, trained professionals to thoroughly examine and closely supervise the residential life program. I am also engaging an expert to oversee the restructuring of all aspects of risk in the school, to further safeguard the welfare of each and every student here.”

At the time I stated that the school’s decision to “lawyer up” was a tacit admission of guilt. That’s not all the story: law firms which specialise in this kind of thing have extensive resources to investigate this kind of thing and to properly interact with victim and perpetrator alike. My first advice to the ACNA and the diocese is to engage the services of one or more of these kinds of firms. That’s what happened with the Ravi Zacharias situation; it’s ironic that the firm they chose was the same firm the people who acquired my family business in 1996 used.

About a month later I noted the following about another Episcopal boarding school scandal that was tangentially related to St. Andrew’s:

It’s interesting to note that, according to this, “(Headmaster) Zane terminated White in 1974 after he said White admitted ‘sexually abusing a sophomore boy and attempting to sexually abuse at least two and likely three others.’”  The wheels of justice turn very slowly in this “enlightened” Episcopal Church, since someone was put on notice 42 years ago.  It puts Episcopal Bishop Porter Taylor’s statement that White “…had been identified by former students of St. George’s School in Rhode Island as having engaged in sexual misconduct in the early 1970s while he served on the staff at that school” in a different light.  He should have used the plaintiff attorney’s favourite phrase “by his own admission,” but he didn’t.

Back in Boca Raton, things ground on another two years, until this:

In late March we shared with you information regarding Bruce Presley, a former board member (1994 – 2000) and part-time instructor at Saint Andrew’s. As we mentioned in that communication, Mr. Presley allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior while he was at the Lawrenceville School (New Jersey) in the 1970s, prior to his time at our school and unbeknownst to us until earlier this year…

As part of this process, however, we received an allegation of past sexual misconduct involving a former member of our faculty, Evans “Dutch” Meinecke. Mr. Meinecke taught at Saint Andrew’s from 1971 – 1983. He passed away in 2006.

Upon learning of this information, we reported the past incident in question to the proper authorities and initiated an internal review in accordance with our policies and procedures. We also enlisted the support of William Shepherd, a partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight, to further investigate these allegations and any other claims that might surface during the course of his investigation. The investigation found that Mr. Meinecke sexually abused a student while he was employed by our school. We have shared this same information with the schools at which Mr. Meinecke previously taught.

We are grateful that this former student had the courage to come forward. We, the entire Board of Trustees and the school community, are deeply sorry for the harm Mr. Meinecke has caused. We know that nothing can erase the actions of Mr. Meinecke, but we are committed to doing all that we can to support survivors impacted by sexual abuse while at our school…

Most importantly, we want all of you to know that we are here to help. Please do not hesitate to communicate with us directly if you have any questions or concerns. We also encourage you to be in touch with Susan Schorr, an investigator with the law firm of McLane Middleton, if you have any information, past or present, that you think may be of interest.

With this the memory clicked, and I contacted Ms. Schorr, who in turn referred to me to Mr. Shepherd. The latter interviewed me re my incident with Mr. Meinecke. Both of them were professional and thorough in their interview and made the process as painless as could be possible. But at this point, as I noted in 2019:

I did manage to become SA’s first documented victim of sexual harassment at the hands (literally) of Evans “Dutch” Meinecke

My only complaint is that, after Mr. Shepherd’s interview, the school didn’t do a simple follow-up contact until after some pestering. That’s very important with people who have come forward. Other than that the school’s handing of the situation was good.

The ACNA is a relatively new organisation and has a lot to learn about many things, and this is one of them. It took some time for St. Andrew’s to figure it out. My advise to the ACNA is to follow St. Andrew’s lead and engage legal counsel (albeit expensive) to assess its risks, interact with victim, perpetrator and witness alike, and to present as clear a picture as possible to all parties and stakeholders. And don’t forget the follow-up, even if you need to deputise someone to do the job.

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