Grace's Response to Reports of Historical Sexual Abuse

Since September 2019, we have been communicating with members of our community about reports of sexual misconduct by a former lay employee of the Church, Bruce McInnes, who served as the Church’s choirmaster from 1992 until 1999. The School is grateful to the former students who have come forward, and we are heartbroken by their accounts of abuse during their years at Grace. We have sought to respond in a manner consistent with our institutional values and with concern for the welfare of our former students and alumni. We believe schools have a moral obligation to care for the children entrusted to them. Nothing we do is more important. 


Overview

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, three additional Grace alumni have come forward with reports of sexual abuse by McInnes while they were at Grace. All three were contacted as part of the investigation; one participated in the review, one declined to participate in the review, and one did not respond to outreach by Cozen O’Connor. All three former students subsequently filed lawsuits against the Church, the School, the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and Bruce McInnes.
 
Actions Taken
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.

List of 3 frequently asked questions.

  • > Current Policies, Procedures & Expectations

    Grace Church School is a different place from the environment of more than 20 years ago, when it had not yet become a legal entity separate from the Church. We have implemented safeguards designed to detect and prevent predatory behaviors, including protocols and reporting systems, background checks for all new hires, and training that exceeds what is currently mandated by law. We are confident in our current program and in the many ways it promotes the safety and well-being of our students. 
     
    We understand that a true commitment to the protection of minors requires ongoing vigilance and a willingness to continually examine and improve our practices in response to emerging standards of excellence in child protection.  That commitment includes seeking the advice of external experts and professionals who focus exclusively on protecting the safety of minors in educational settings.
  • > Training & Professional Development

    In the Spring of 2019, the School completed a thorough review of its guidelines for professional relationships with students, and the faculty and staff have engaged in training with outside consultants from Hallways and T&M Protection. All faculty and staff are trained to understand and carry out their duties as mandated reporters.
  • > Age-Specific Curriculum

    Grace’s Health and Wellness curriculum works in age-appropriate ways to protect students from unwanted touching and sexual abuse by enabling them to immediately recognize when boundaries are at risk of being breached. Our youngest students begin by learning anatomically correct terms for body parts, while our elementary and middle-division students are taught explicitly to understand power dynamics, and to implicitly trust their own instincts. To ensure both personal and community safety, students of every age practice the communication skills necessary for obtaining and granting consent. Middle and high school students take courses each year in sexual health and wellness, including a required ninth grade violence prevention and personal safety course taught by partners from Prepare, Inc, and a required tenth grade human sexuality course.  To fulfil their lab studies requirements, eleventh and twelfth grade students must additionally take a certain number of classes related to personal wellbeing, skills, & literacies; in recent years, those have included courses like “Blurred Lines: Media & Rape Culture” and “Understanding Power & Control: Consent vs. Coercion.”






Reporting Misconduct

We encourage anyone with information pertaining to child abuse or sexual misconduct at the Church or School to contact Leslie Gomez at Cozen O’Connor (lgomez@cozen.com or 215-665-5546), or Robbie Pennoyer (rpennoyer@gcschool.org or 212-475-5610, ext. 8104), local law enforcement, or child protective services.


External Review

The School’s Board of Trustees and the Vestry of Grace Church jointly authorized the creation of an External Review Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Harassment. The Committee will include unaffiliated professionals with expertise in church safety, school safety, parenting, physical plant security, and survivor experience. Members of the Committee will have broad latitude to examine the policies, culture, physical plant, and systems of accountability designed to keep our communities free from sexual misconduct and harassment. The Committee will report directly to the Board and the Vestry, who will share its recommendations with the broader community.

The full charge is available here.