SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The president of Presentation High School in San Jose has stepped down amid community allegations that she did not do enough to prevent sexual abuse and harassment at the private, all-girls Catholic school.
Mary Miller announced her resignation in a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying the allegations had become too much of a distraction to the school’s mission and brought negative press.
“It is my sincere hope that my absence will bring some peace and allow the staff and new administration to focus on the success and well-being of our students — which is our common goal,” Miller said in the statement. “We cannot change the past, but we can and must dedicate ourselves to the future.”
Miller attended the school as a student before serving as a teacher, principal for 25 years and president, according to school officials, who will now begin the hiring process to replace her.
The newly elected chairperson of the Presentation Board of Directors, Sister Pam Chiesa, said Miller has been embroiled in the controversy over reporting of sexual misconduct at the school, but said she has also been a role model to several students.
“Mary has been an inspiration to many young women and helped guide them successfully in their lives and careers,” Chiesa said in the statement. “Now is the time to refocus on our mission and begin healing our community.”
A woman who attended the school between 2002 and 2006 filed a lawsuit on Aug. 10 saying Miller knew theatre teacher Jefferey Hicks had allegedly sexually harassed the plaintiff, but failed to report it to police.
“Miller also shamed and ridiculed the Presentation student into silence and made promises to help her, but never did,” attorney Kenneth Turk said after the lawsuit was filed.
Kathryn Leehane, another alumna, first brought sexual abuse allegations against the school in October 2017 when she wrote about being an abuse survivor in the Washington Post, according to advocacy group Make Pres Safe.
Administrators acknowledged in August that they had become aware of several allegations, and were taking steps to make the school a “gold-standard” for safety.
In a statement, attorney Robert Allard, who represented the victims for free, “True change cannot occur until those responsible for past transgressions are held responsible. This decision is the first of what we hope are several steps in that direction.
“Going forward, we hope that the new leaders will make student safety, instead of image and reputation, their number one priority. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the young women whose lives were devastated by the sexual abuse.”
Bishop Pat McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose commented on Miller’s resignation, saying he hoped the announcement would lead to positive recovery for victims at the school. He added that he has met with several victims over the last year to hear their concerns.
“I commend the courageous women who have come forward over the past year to cast light upon the abuse that they and others experienced while students at Presentation High School,” he said in a statement. “Through these difficult times, they have stood with one another in solidarity.”
Back in March, the group MakePresSafe said that a parent came forward claiming that Presentation High refused to report allegations against instructor Jeffrey Hicks to law enforcement, allowing him to finish the 2003-2004 school year and teach the following summer before departing.
Hicks was hired as a science and sex education teacher at Stanbridge Academy in San Mateo, a school for students with learning disabilities, with no problem because of his clean record, according to Make Pres Safe.
The group said that the reports they have read indicate Hicks was placed on leave from Stanbridge Academy for exchanging Facebook messages with a student about masturbation. The head of the school also found a CD on Hicks’ desk containing pornographic content.
MakePresSafe said that consequently Hicks was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail for keeping child pornography at work and exchanging inappropriate messages with a 14 year old. He is now a registered sex offender.
“The breaking of mandated reporting laws has greater consequences than just putting Pres girls at risk,” alumnus Cheryl Hodgin Marshall said in a statement. “It has the potential to put all children in our community at risk. Teachers quietly moving on to new schools to re-offend is more than unacceptable, it’s downright immoral.”
MakePresSafe went on to say in their news release that Hicks’ complaint, along with the allegations against four other teachers “on or around this time period,” resulted in three teachers quitting.
At the time, Miller told staff that all complaints were to go to counseling and then to her, according to the coalition’s statement. They allege that she also did not encourage direct reporting to law enforcement or Child Protective Services as law requires.
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