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Independent Investigation Into Allegations of Sexual Misconduct

UPDATE:  Anonymous Hotline 


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Reports can be made directly to attorneys Wendy Lazerson (650-565-7065 or wlazerson@sidley.com) or Brian Stretch (415-772-1227 or bstretch@sidley.com). 

For media inquiries, please contact:

Jenn Soult
Director of Communications
San Francisco University High School
jenn.soult@sfuhs.org

 


 

May 22, 2019

Dear San Francisco University High School Community,

We are writing to update you on actions that San Francisco University High School has taken since our April 6th letter to the community about several substantiated reports of sexual misconduct by former SFUHS employee Rusty Taylor while he worked at The Branson School. (A copy of our letter is below). Since this communication, we have taken a number of steps to try to discover if he or any other employee or volunteer engaged in similar misconduct at SFUHS at any point in time. 

We are saddened and distressed that this may be a part of SFUHS’s past as the safety and well-being of our current and former students is of paramount importance. We are, therefore, responding by undertaking a comprehensive, independent investigation.

Specifically, the Board of Trustees has taken the following steps:

  • Clinical Consultation: The Board has retained Ken Epstein, PhD, LCSW, as a consultant to advise and help ensure the utmost care, safety and support of any sexual abuse survivors. Dr. Epstein is a clinician, clinical administrator, and on the faculty at UCSF with expertise in trauma-informed practices.
  • Reporting Hotline: The Board has engaged an independent company to establish an anonymous hotline to receive reports of sexual misconduct by Taylor or any past or current SFUHS employee or volunteer. The hotline process has been enhanced to be as user-friendly as possible. There is additional reporting information included below.
  • Financial Assistance for Counseling: The Board is taking steps to establish a fund to offer financial support for therapy and counseling for any survivors and their families that need assistance.
  • Complete and Comprehensive Investigation. The Board has commenced an immediate, thorough and independent investigation intended to review what happened, as well as to review the school’s policies, practices, and procedures with a goal of initiating any changes that may be necessary to promote and create a safe environment for our students going forward.

To ensure a thorough and independent investigation, the Board has taken the following actions:

  • Special Committee. The Board has established a special committee and empowered it to oversee an independent investigation into any and all allegations of sexual misconduct by SFUHS employees, contractors, or volunteers towards students, past or present.
  • Independent Investigators. After a comprehensive search to identify firms who could conduct a careful, compassionate and thorough investigation, the Board’s committee has retained the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP to act as independent counsel. Sidley partners Wendy Lazerson and Brian Stretch will be leading the investigation. Both have extensive, relevant investigative experience, including working with survivors of sexual assault. Sidley has not represented the school previously and, as independent counsel, will conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported incidents of sexual misconduct by employees, contractors, or volunteers towards SFUHS students at any time in the school’s history. The investigation will also include review of whether the school was aware of sexual misconduct at any time and, if so, whether the school took appropriate action. Sidley will have full access to SFUHS’s files, records and personnel during the course of their investigation, and will have sole discretion in determining whom to interview.
  • Reporting Misconduct. In order for the investigators to do their work, we are asking members of the SFUHS community who have experienced, witnessed, or have knowledge of sexual misconduct by SFUHS employees, contractors or volunteers at any point in the past to assist in the investigation. We understand and respect how difficult it can be for survivors to come forward; we hope we have created the safest environment possible for those who are willing to do so. Reports can be made through the hotline should the reporter wish to remain anonymous. Or, reports can be made directly to Wendy (650-565-7065 or wlazerson@sidley.com) or Brian (415-772-1227 or bstretch@sidley.com). The independent counsel will keep confidential the identity of anyone who reports sexual misconduct, and will not disclose this without the reporter’s consent, except as mandated by law (such as where it is necessary to protect a minor from harm).

We take seriously our moral and legal responsibility to protect our students – present and past. Thank you for your support and partnership as we work together to provide a safe environment for all members of the UHS community.

Sincerely,

Katie Albright
Chair, Board of Trustees

Julia Russell Eells
Head of School

April 6, 2019

Dear San Francisco University High School Community,

We are writing this letter after reviewing a report that was released by The Branson School on Friday afternoon. This report identifies former Branson coach Rusty Taylor as being the subject of several substantiated reports of sexual misconduct toward Branson students during the 1970s.  As educators and parents, we are profoundly concerned and deeply saddened both for any student who may have been abused or harassed and for the betrayal of trust committed by a former school employee.

In light of the Branson report, we want to make you aware that Taylor was employed as a soccer coach and assistant director of athletics for SFUHS from 1979 until 2005 and briefly in 2015. Taylor was disciplined in the early ‘90s following complaints that he had engaged in harassing conduct toward two SFUHS students.  We are not aware of any complaints about Taylor’s conduct since he was disciplined in the early 90s.

We want to take this moment to encourage anyone with concerns about Mr. Taylor’s (or any other faculty or staff member’s) conduct while a SFUHS employee or volunteer to contact Julia Eells, our Head of School at Julia.Eells@sfuhs.org. We will be setting up a hotline to receive calls from individuals who would like to remain anonymous. The hotline number will be posted with this letter on our website in the coming week. 

We acknowledge the courage that it takes for survivors of abuse to come forward, and we promise to protect the privacy of anyone who reports information. If any reports are brought forward, the school is committed to investigate the reports with deepest compassion and take swift and appropriate action in accordance with the law and following the guidelines outlined by the National Association of Independent Schools/TABS Prevention and Response report“The independent school community cannot permit such a legacyto occur. Indeed, it’s axiomatic that independent schools have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that their students do not suffer harassment or abuse. Thus, it is incumbent on school leaders to recognize and acknowledge that abuse and misconduct can and do occur on independent school campuses, and it is imperative that schools take decisive steps to prevent and respond to educator sexual misconduct to the fullest extent possible.”

Providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for our students is paramount in realizing our mission, and our current policies and practices follow all relevant laws in response to any and all allegations of child abuse. Our faculty, staff, coaches and board have been trained in best practices and legal requirements regarding mandated reporting of suspected abuse, sexual harassment, and appropriate boundaries for adult interactions with students. We review and update our policies and training regularly, and our student-employee contact policy is posted below.

We are grateful for your support and partnership in our efforts to build and maintain a safe learning environment for our students and a compassionate and responsive community for our alumni.

Sincerely,

Julia Russell Eells
Head of School

Student-Employee Contact Policy

University High School has strict policies to ensure the safety and well-being of our students including policies on adult-student interactions and mandated reporting of child abuse. Any members of the school community, including students, parents, volunteers, alumni or employees, who have concerns about compliance with any of these policies should contact Julia Eells, Head of School, or the Chair of our Board of Directors.

STUDENT-EMPLOYEE INTERACTIONS

 

Strong and caring connections between students and faculty/staff form the foundation of a transformational education. Trusting, respectful relationships foster learning and growth, both inside and outside the classroom. Given the critical role that the student-teacher relationship plays at UHS, we must ensure that it is not compromised by actions that, intentionally or unintentionally, cross professional boundaries. Therefore, the following guidelines are in place:

  • An adult must not be alone with a student in a space that cannot be observed by others (e.g., an office with no windows, an automobile).
  • An adult must not socialize with a student or group of students off campus, outside of school-sponsored activities.
  • An adult must not conduct private, personal communication of any kind with a current student on any social media platform (e.g. “friending” a student on Facebook, following a student on Twitter).
  • An adult must not interact with current students by text or e-mail, unless the communication is exclusively related to the adult’s professional work with the student (e.g., a class, a sports team, etc.). When emailing students, employees must use the school’s email system.
  • An adult must not offer preferential treatment or disproportionate/excessive personal attention to any student.

The above guidelines apply not just to interactions with current students, but any interactions with minors with whom an adult interacts as part of his/her employment with UHS, (e.g., 8th grade applicants, siblings of students, former students who are minors, students visiting from other schools, etc.)

If faculty or staff members encounter a situation which requires an exception to any of these guidelines, they must inform their Department Chair or immediate supervisor in advance. If it is not possible to provide the information in advance, the faculty or staff member must inform the Department Chair or immediate supervisor as soon as possible after the exceptional event occurs.

Because we all have ownership in creating a safe learning environment, we expect any member of our community, and require all faculty and staff, to report a concern about a potential violation of these guidelines to the Head of School, the Chief Financial Officer, the Dean of Faculty, or the Dean of Students.

INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR TOWARD STUDENTS

The School expects all of its faculty and staff to demonstrate the highest level of professional and institutional responsibility in their interactions with students. Any personal involvement between a staff member and a student beyond the professional educator-student relationship is prohibited. Dating currently enrolled students is prohibited. Similarly, all sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, expressions of "romantic" interest, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are prohibited with respect to students, even if a student initiates, invites, or is apparently accepting of them. Faculty and staff behavior with respect to students must be above reproach. School employees have an obligation to report to the Head of School any behavior they deem inappropriate between an adult employee and a student.

MANDATORY REPORTING OF CHILD ABUSE

The School recognizes that is has a responsibility to facilitate the prompt reporting of incidents of child abuse and neglect. School employees shall report known or suspected incidents of child abuse in accordance with school regulations and state law (Penal Code 11166). Incidents should be reported to the appropriate child protective services agency immediately with written reports submitted within thirty-six hours of the discovery of the incident. Employees shall fully cooperate with the child protective agencies responsible for reporting, investigating and prosecuting cases of child abuse.

The reporting duties are individual. No supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit such reporting duties and no person making such report shall be subject to any sanctions for making such report. If an employee believes an incident may be reportable or has any question about whether a matter should be reported, the School encourages the employee to advise the Head of School and/or to consult with the Assistant Head of School and Dean of Faculty to ensure that all incidents are reported promptly and appropriately. This will also ensure that the School is able to provide appropriate support to the student involved.

By law, reports of suspected abuse are confidential, and the School will maintain information concerning suspected abuse in confidence, except as necessary to cooperate with the agency investigating the matter and to provide support to the student involved. In order to protect the safety of the child involved, employees reporting suspected abuse should not share information concerning the report with parents or other parties without consulting with the Head of School and the Assistant Head of School and Dean of Faculty and/or the child protective services agency.