June 18, 2020
Dear Punahou Community,
When families enroll their children at Punahou, they are entrusting their care to us, and we must do everything we can to be worthy of that sacred trust. As I wrote to you on April 28, the searing and horrific claims of sexual abuse that have been filed by several of our fellow alumni are a clear call to action. I regret that I cannot discuss the pending litigation, but as Punahou’s president I want you to know that our School is committed to pursuing the highest standards possible to ensure the safety of all who learn, play and grow here.
To that end, today, I am announcing the creation of the Advisory Council for Student Safety, a group of alumni, parents, and friends of the School, who will review Punahou’s work, identify best practices and discuss strategies for our continuous improvement. Most critically, this group will provide valuable feedback, perspectives and experience as Punahou develops and implements a fully integrated, publicly shared plan to promote student safety. The idea for this body was first brought to me by the alumni who organized the Na Pua o Punahou Facebook group, and I wish to thank them for it. In recruiting the initial members of the Advisory Council, I sought individuals with extensive professional experience and training in survivor advocacy, public health and organizational change, pediatrics, and independent school leadership and I am very grateful for their willingness to serve in this role.
Each of these members will serve a two- or three-year voluntary term, lending their considerable talent and expertise to the betterment of our community. We will also create a structure to allow for the nomination of new members in the future and I look forward to talking with and recruiting those who may wish to serve. The group will meet four to six times per year, working directly with administrative leadership and our Community Care Response Team (CCRT), to discuss best practices and provide an external perspective to the School as we develop and implement our plan.
Punahou has taken important steps in the areas of student safety over the past two years. These include required sexual misconduct training for all faculty and staff; a mandatory reporting policy for allegations of abuse; the creation of a CCRT to ensure that allegations are reported to the police or Child Protective Services; and the establishment of trained positions for Community Care Liaisons within the CCRT who provide direct support to survivors and connect them with vital counseling resources. As I wrote to you in late April, I have also engaged the Freeh Group, a leading consultancy in school safety and security, to conduct a full audit of our work, and we will make those results available publicly.
Those efforts are an essential start, but now we must build on them to promote a wider culture which fosters healthy behaviors and work to create an environment in which we do everything we can to protect our students and to respond quickly and effectively to incidents if and when they should occur. This will require that we pursue a set of shared values and implement a fully integrated and publicly released plan to ensure accountability and promote student safety across our entire School. We will work toward implementing meaningful cultural shifts that further protect our students and that give them agency over their bodies and minds. Vital elements of this additional, systemic work will include:
- The further development of age-appropriate health, sexuality and safety education within the curriculum that we teach our students;
- New approaches to partner with parents and families to provide education and resources so that all in our community understand acceptable boundaries and know how to report concerns;
- Support for, collaboration with, and opportunities to learn from survivors;
- Strengthened initiatives for student mental health and wellness;
- A review of best practices in recruitment, screening, and relevant HR protocols;
- Steps for data collection, documentation, and regular evaluation.
Our work, moreover, will need to be continuous and perpetual. A one-off effort will not suffice.
Thank you very much for your continued engagement on this vital issue. With your support, I am confident that Punahou will meet this challenge and that we will emerge together as a stronger and better school for the benefit of all our children. Nothing, in my view, could be more important.
Michael E. Latham, Ph.D. ’86
President, Punahou School