Grace Church School received a letter in late September 2019 from attorneys representing a former Grace student. It contained a deeply disturbing report that the former student was sexually abused. Subsequently, the former student filed a lawsuit against the Church, the School and the Episcopal Diocese of New York, alleging that all three institutions failed to protect him from McInnes’s predatory behavior. That lawsuit has since been dismissed following a mediated settlement with the former student.
As described below, the School and the Church initiated a joint investigation, led by child protection professionals from the law firm of Cozen O’Connor, to gain a full understanding of the scope of McInnes’s interactions with Grace students and Church choir members. The investigation has benefited from the participation of former students, parents, church and school employees, Vestry members, and others who have information relevant to the review. Since the investigation began, four additional Grace alumni have come forward with reports of sexual abuse by McInnes while they were at Grace. All four were contacted as part of the investigation; one participated in the review, one declined to participate in the review, and two did not respond to outreach by Cozen O’Connor. All four former students subsequently filed lawsuits against the Church, the School, the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and Bruce McInnes (who died in April 2021). One listed the national Episcopal Church as a defendant.
To date, three former students have resolved and settled their lawsuits with the School and the Church through mediation. The remaining graduate has since filed an additional suit, which primarily takes previous assertions about the Church, School, and Diocese and applies them to three individuals in leadership positions in the 1990s: the former Rector of the Church, a former member of the Church’s Vestry and School’s Board of Trustees, and the Head of School (who then, as now, was George P. Davison).
In August 2021, just before the close of the window for filing historical abuse cases under New York State’s Child Victims Act, a graduate from the 1950s also filed a complaint in court, alleging that the School, the Church, and the Diocese failed to protect her from sexual abuse that she reports took place between 1950 and 1954. The lawsuit asserts that she was abused by E. Allison Grant, the School’s headmaster at the time, and also by an assistant minister of the Church.
We share this information, which has been filed publicly, with concern for this former student and recognition of the courage required to come forward. We also appreciate the importance of not prejudging those who have been named, and we have asked the attorneys from Cozen O’Connor to investigate these allegations as thoroughly as earlier ones.
In response to the September 2019 letter from the attorney representing our former student the School took immediate action. We have been guided by our values and concern for Grace students – past and present – at every step of the way. Among other measures, the School has:
- Alerted the School community to the report against McInnes, committed to sharing updates, and encouraged anyone with information about suspected abuse to come forward.
- Contacted the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to ensure that the authorities were aware of the allegations.
- Notified McInnes’s recent known employers about the report.
- Engaged child protection professionals from the Institutional Response Group of the law firm Cozen O’Connor to conduct a trauma-sensitive, thorough, and impartial investigation on behalf of the School and Church.
- The goal of the investigation has been to understand the full scope of McInnes’s interactions with students and Choir members, identify whether any other students were abused by McInnes, identify what information was known or available in the 1990s and what actions were taken based on information available at the time.
- Cozen O’Connor investigators have reviewed documents, interviewed current and former administrators, employees, faculty, Church leaders, choir members, alumni, and others who may have had information about the Church and School during the time period of the alleged abuse. As part of the School’s effort to gain a full understanding of the facts and any failures to protect its students, the Cozen O’Connor investigation of McInnes’s tenure continues.
- Upon completion of all investigative measures, the attorneys from Cozen O’Connor will submit a final report to the School’s Board of Trustees and the Church’s Vestry. The School is committed to being forthright with the Grace community and will share the report’s findings.
- Accepted the voluntary recusal from involvement in the investigation of Head of School George Davison and then-Vice-Chair of the Board and Senior Warden of the Church Leona Chamberlin, who both held leadership positions at the school during the period in question.
- Provided regular updates to the School’s Board of Trustees and the Church’s Vestry.
- Reviewed its policies and procedures related to child protection, as well as guidelines for professional relationships with students.
- Enlisted the help of Whit Sheppard of Boston-based Abacus Advisory, whose own experience as a survivor of abuse at a boarding school in the early 1980s informs his work as a consultant in this field.
- Consulted with experts to create an External Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Harassment.
- Alerted the School community to the report against Grant and the assistant minister of the Church, encouraged anyone with information about suspected abuse to come forward, and directed the attorneys from Cozen O’Connor to ensure that the scope of their investigation includes the allegations of abuse from the 1950s.