This post is continued from Truth to the Rumors: Part 1
Every year at the start of the new school year, Taipei American School’s Head of School, Sharon Hennessy, stands before all new members of faculty and welcomes them into the TAS fold. One specific line she says to the room full of educators each year is: “Don’t touch the children, in romance or in anger.” I’m guessing if you’re brand new to the school, it’s nothing more than a funny comment. But for teachers who’ve been around, it’s a reminder of things the school would rather forget.
It’s hard to know where to even start with this next part, so here goes:
From 2009 to 2011, Taipei American School employed a man named Alistair Grant as Director of College Counseling. He left TAS abruptly following allegations of inappropriate relationships with at least one TAS student. Grant was seen with one specific student in Taipei on multiple occasions, sometimes holding hands.
Fellow students reported the alleged relationship to members of faculty. Faculty in turn reported the alleged relationship to the TAS administration. Around that time, there was an anonymous question about inappropriate student relationships during a Faculty Advisory Meeting with Sharon Hennessy. She shot down the question. An ex-faculty member who was at that meeting said Hennessy’s response was “very emotional”. Hennessy had said to the group that “a good man is leaving.” Another faculty member from that period said “everybody knew” about Alistair Grant’s alleged relationship with the student. However, both Grant and the student denied a relationship, and Grant left TAS very soon after.
Grant would immediately join the staff at The Branson School, a highschool a little north of San Francisco. He told colleagues he was leaving TAS early to get set up at Branson. All of the loose ends probably seemed tied up nice and neatly — until it all inevitably unraveled.
In April 2019, Alistair Grant was one of four faculty members named in an independent sexual misconduct investigation commissioned by Branson. The allegations against him at Branson are real, graphic and disturbing. There were at least two victims of his predatory behavior who came forward to give details of how he groomed and abused them, but no charges have been filed. Investigators contacted Grant and included their interaction with him in the final report:
“Grant provided a written denial: “Any allegation that I committed misconduct against one of my students is false. I never committed any inappropriate conduct with any students at Branson or anywhere else.” Grant’s attorney followed up to say that Grant would not speak with us.”
Media reports of the Branson investigation reached TAS alums last year, but the school was silent and took no action. Then a TAS alum named Ian Chang set up an online petition on March 10, 2020 bringing the entire Alistair Grant episode into the present day and the public sphere.
The petition, titled “Investigaton of Faculty Sexual Misconduct at TAS”, states three demands: an independent outside investigation, transparent communication with the community, and implementation of preventative measures so this doesn’t happen again. The petition currently has 460 signatures and 141 comments from TAS students, alums, parents and ex-faculty.
In the petition, Chang wrote, “Rumours about Grant have been rampant in our community for a long while, accompanied by innuendo, plain misinformation and blatant victim-blaming. Whether we like it or not, the Grant issue is already out. Which makes transparency even more important. We not only owe the victims an apology, but more importantly, we owe the victims and the community the whole truth.”
Chang’s petition was successful at forcing the school’s hand. In an email sent a few days later, the TAS administration committed to hiring an outside investigator. The email began, “The school has become aware of allegations…” as if the administration had no prior knowledge. And worthy of note is the email was not signed by Sharon Hennessy herself, but instead by Grace Cheng Dodge, Deputy Head of School, and Adam Nelson, Dean of Programs.
A follow-up email sent on April 8, this time signed only by Adam Nelson, informed the community that lawyers had been hired:
“In order to make sure our investigation is both thorough and unbiased, we have retained McLane Middleton law firm and renowned educational law expert, Mr. David Wolowitz, who has advised our community on building safe and healthy relationships.” It continued to say the TAS investigation would be led by Susan E. Schorr, vice-chair of McLane’s Education Law Practice Group.
To compare, Branson assured their community that the investigators they hired had no direct connections with Branson and had not represented the school previously.
If there was a sliding scale for bias, how would this rate? David Wolowitz of McLane Middleton has traveled to Taipei to work with TAS four times between 2014 and 2018 to provide risk management training sessions. In April 2015, he spoke to Upper School students about “Healthy Adult-Student Relationships”. He also spoke to school administrators about “Conducting Investigations of Alleged Misconduct Toward Students in an Independent School”.
Wolowitz also worked frequently with St. Paul’s School during Hennessy’s time there as Vice Rector. Between 2000 and 2005, Wolowitz provided faculty training at St. Paul’s a total of 26 times. All of this public information was found within an online PDF of David Wolowitz’s CV.
Responding to my email query, Susan Schorr of McLane Middleton, who is leading the TAS investigation, wrote: “McLane had complete independence in conducting the investigation and in making our findings”. The firm would provide the final report to four individuals at TAS: the Head of School and three other top administrators. Additional disclosure would be at the group’s discretion.
Speaking of St. Paul’s again, Hennessy was directly connected to a 2000 sexual misconduct investigation into the school’s history of abuse. When new leadership there conducted an updated investigation in May 2016, the law firm looked into the findings of the 2000 report that happened under Hennessy’s watch.
The new report, which you can read in its entirety here, criticized the old one for prioritizing the reputation of St. Paul’s instead of finding out the truth. It said the goal of the 2000 report was “to protect its reputation (and those of the individuals involved) and reduce the risk of claims being made against the school.” The lawyer for that investigation was Robert B. Gordon, who The New York Times described as “the school’s lawyer” in this November 2004 article about St. Paul’s financial scandal.
As part of the new 2016 investigation, lawyers spoke by phone with Reverend Craig. B. Anderson, the Rector at the time. Reverend Anderson is quoted saying he had “delegated the day-to-day work on this project to the then Vice Rector, Dr. Hennessy.”
Sharon Hennessy declined to speak with investigators of the 2016 St. Paul’s report.
“Passing the trash” is the common term used to describe when school administrators move predator teachers from school to school. Instead of sweeping the trash under the rug, the trash is swept onto the next school. The predators are then allowed to repeat the cycle of abuse, dismissal, rehire and abuse again.
Alistair Grant came to TAS in 2009 as part of a five-person college counsellor team nicknamed the “Dream Team”. His previous job was at The Harker School, a private K-12 school in San Jose, California, where he worked from 2004 to 2008. Grant’s time at Harker overlapped with another TAS faculty member, Richard Hartzell, who was Harker’s Head of Upper School from 2001 to 2007. Hartzell spent 12 years as TAS Upper School Principal and retired in May 2019.
As for Alistair Grant’s move from TAS to Branson, I checked with the HR department at Branson to ask about his application. Specifically, I tried to find out who wrote Grant’s recommendation letter from TAS that allowed them to “pass the trash” to Branson. Michelle Jones, the current Director of Human Resources at Branson, replied on August 26: “I do understand that his application materials may have come from Carney Sandoe, you may check with them.”
The name Carney Sandoe should sound familiar. It’s the recruitment consultancy that placed Sharon Hennessy in the TAS superintendent role back in 2006. Hennessy has other connections to the firm too. In the past she’s hired Carney Sandoe consultants to speak at TAS. I also found this active URL that implies Sharon Hennessy was at one point an employee there. And this Zoominfo page says she was a member of Carney Sandoe’s Board of Advisors from 2010 to 2016.
I tried to contact individuals at Carney Sandoe with connections to TAS but didn’t get a response.
A big question is, was TAS required to file a report about allegations against Grant from other students and faculty?
In 2003, TAS experienced a very public and high-profile case of the alleged rape of a 12-year-old student. (The legal age of consent in Taiwan is 16.) The case was later settled out of court. At the time, the mother of the victim reported the alleged rapes by a 17-year-old student, and TAS administration had reported the case to the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault — but not until a month after being notified. TAS also filed a report with the Ministry of Education in November 2003, which the ministry had accepted.
A March 2005 article in the Taipei Times stated the Ministry of Education had asked TAS to “review its gender education and set up campus systems to handle sex abuse or harassment cases” after the passage of the Gender Equality Education Law (性別平等教育法).
B.F. Huang (黃碧芬), a lawyer specializing in laws related to women and children, was quoted in the same article saying, “The Sexual Abuse Prevention Act (性侵害防治法) and Children and Juveniles Welfare Law (兒童及少年福利法) both require educational authorities to report any cases of sexual abuse or harassment to local governments.”
She continued, “Both laws also treat the victims’ confidentiality as the priority. Local governments or authorities would not expose any of the victims’ information to the public. So confidentiality should not be an issue for delaying a report.”
There have been so many sexual misconduct scandals in recent years — from Trump to Catholic churches to college campuses — that I’m sure we’re all somewhat desensitized to it. And it’s now common to see women and men coming out with their personal stories of abuse.
However, we need to discuss that it’s possible no alleged victims of Alistair Grant have spoken to the McLane Middleton lawyers. These TAS alums might still not be ready and have no immediate plans to face what happened to them, even anonymously. Based on what Ian Chang wrote in the petition about the “rampant rumours”, “innuendo, plain misinformation and blatant victim-blaming”, this is understandable.
The young womens’ silence doesn’t make what happened less real or damaging. It reflects a culture at TAS and in school systems overall that can deny or diminish allegations, and be quick to sweep problems away — sometimes to the very next school that hires the predator.
TAS administrators Grace Cheng Dodge and Adam Nelson wrote in their first email about the sexual misconduct allegations: “The amount of time that has passed does nothing to diminish the seriousness with which we treat these allegations. The safety and wellbeing of our students is always the school’s highest priority.” In the follow-up email they wrote: “Our administration pledges to you that we will conduct this investigation with the utmost compassion and transparency.”
The issue is, not only does McLane Middleton have a long-standing relationship with TAS and Sharon Hennessy, the top administrators can’t be described as impartial either. Worst case scenario, the full report may never become public. As Susan Schorr told me, the completed report will be sent by McLane Middleton to four people at TAS: the Head of School, Deputy Head of School, Dean of Programs and the Board Chair:
— Sharon Hennessy was Head of School at the time Alistair Grant was employed at TAS, and has been completely silent on the matter. If the report is released after Hennessy’s last day at TAS this Wednesday September 23, will she still receive the report and have first eyes on its findings?
— Grace Cheng Dodge, who will be Interim Head of School once Hennessy leaves, was a direct colleague of Alistair Grant. She was hired to the same “Dream Team” of college counsellors. Has she spoken about what she knew at the time? Her husband Michael Dodge is also an employee of TAS as Director of Facilities.
— Adam Nelson, who will be Interim Deputy Head of School, overlapped with Alistair Grant’s time at TAS. He also overlapped with Grant and Richard Hartzell at Harker. Nelson was Chair of the Communication Studies department at Harker from August 2007. Has he spoken about what he knew at the time?
— Finally, Tina Koo, the Board Chairperson, has been on the TAS Board since 2007, and Chair of the Board since 2015. Koo’s latest term as Board Chair will end on June 30, 2023. By then she’ll have been on the TAS Board for 15 years. There are currently no term limits for Board members.
To make up for these possible conflicts of interest, TAS should look at how other top schools have communicated sexual misconduct reports to their communities and to the public. For instance, The Branson School, Hotchkiss, Key School, and St. Paul’s.
Yes, this may attract uncomfortable media attention. But as Michael Hirschfeld, then-Rector of St. Paul’s, said about their 2016 investigation: “The way you protect the school’s reputation is by being transparent.”
So what’s been happening since those 8th graders were expelled over the summer?
TAS administrators have formed an “Anti-Oppression Task Force” to address issues of racism at the school. Members of the TAS alumni community have put together recommendations for creating an inclusive and anti-racist campus at TAS. Their work is available here.
Despite her “serious physical illness” requiring her to “stop working as soon as possible”, Sharon Hennessy has been attending school events, including a naming dedication ceremony for the Middle School on September 7. She attended another naming ceremony for the Lower School on September 10.
Her own name won’t be forgotten. In late 2019, the Upper School building was renamed in dedication to her, changing its nickname from “D Block” to “H Block”. This took 33 sets of donors banding together and throwing $1 million USD at the school — you read that number correctly.
As for Alistair Grant, he was married in 2018 and now lives with his wife and baby in Connecticut.
When you’re a kid, you assume that the adults have things under control. If something goes wrong, an adult out there, somewhere, will fix it. But when you become an adult, you realize there are limits to what adults can do. And sometimes adults don’t do as much as they should.
If you’ve read to this point and you’re a TAS parent or alum, I hope you’ll have some ideas of where to take things from here. Until then, please ask yourself and the adults around you: have we learned from history or will we repeat it?
Update 2: TAS released the full sexual misconduct report by McLane Middleton on November 23, 2020. The report is available to the TAS community through their website (login required). Here is a PDF of the files I received:
Thank you to all individuals who spoke with me. They did so on the condition their names wouldn’t be disclosed.
If you wish to come forward with any further information regarding sexual misconduct or abuse at TAS, please contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments for this post appear below the following citations and resources list.
Image of the TAS Middle School gymnasium is from the TAS website.
Resources for Parents
“Turmoil Grips Elite School Over Money and Leaders“, The New York Times, Nov 2004
“At Elite Prep School, Parents Do The Math“, Wall Street Journal, Aug 2003
“A Private-School Affair”, Vanity Fair, 2006
Branson’s Full Sexual Misconduct Investigation Report (Google Drive Download)
“St. Paul’s School Admits 13 Cases of Sexual Misconduct”, Concord Monitor, May 2017
“Parents Remain Unclear Over Changes to TES”, Taipei Times, Feb 2018
“TAS Denies Mishandling of Sexual Abuse Case”, Taipei Times, March 2005
“This Is the Casual Racism That I Face at My Elite High School”, The New York Times, Sept 2020
“Taiwan’s International Schools No Longer Havens for Foreigners”, Taiwan Today, Aug 2006
“Taiwan’s International Schools Are a Deregulated Nightmare”, The News Lens International, April 2018