Community Wellness & Resources
The Branson School takes seriously its commitment to student safety and well-being.
In June 2018, three alumnae from the 1970s reported they were sexually abused by a former employee at the school while they were students at Branson. These allegations of abuse by a former Branson employee are profoundly upsetting. School administration immediately reported two of the alleged incidents to local law enforcement agencies in a manner that protected their anonymity. The third alumna reported the sexual abuse of the former Branson employee directly to the police herself, and we followed with our own report.
The Board of Trustees retained two attorneys, Nancy Kestenbaum and Clara Shin, from the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the specific reports recently received by Branson, to receive and investigate any new reports of adult sexual misconduct against any student by Branson faculty or staff, and to do additional investigation or follow-up as Ms. Kestenbaum and Ms. Shin deem necessary. They have full access to Branson's files, records, and personnel in the course of their investigation. Ms. Kestenbaum and Ms. Shin have extensive and relevant investigative experience. Ms. Kestenbaum led the investigations concerning sexual misconduct undertaken by Choate Rosemary Hall and The Brearley School, and Ms. Shin participated in the recent cultural review undertaken by Uber. They have no direct connections with Branson, and they and their firm have not represented the school previously.
We respectfully encourage anyone who experienced, or is aware of, any sexual misconduct by any faculty or staff member that occurred during their time at Branson, or who has any information at all that may assist us in our investigation, please contact Michelle Jones, Director of Human Resources for Branson, at email@example.com or 415-455-7126. The identity of anyone who reports information to this counsel will be handled as confidentially as the reporter wishes, and will not be shared without the reporter's consent, except as mandated by law or where, in counsel's judgment, a report should be made to protect a minor from harm.
Protecting the safety, welfare and health of our students is, and always will be, our primary concern each and every day. It is clear that long past transgressions can cause current pain and anguish, and we want to express our sorrow and support for any members of our community who may be suffering. To that end, the Board has established a support fund (more information below) that is available to alumni to financially support any therapy or counseling they may need or desire as a result of adult sexual misconduct they experienced while students at Branson.
- Code of Conduct for Faculty & Staff
- Protocol for Responding to Suspected Sexual Abuse of Students
- Alumni Therapy Support
As of January 1, 2018, CA Law AB500 requires schools to share their student/employee interaction policy in their employee handbooks, on their school websites, and in writing to all parents at the beginning of the school year.
The school encourages close but appropriate relationships between students and school faculty and staff. At the same time, it is important that each employee’s conduct is at all times professional. In order to best serve the well-being of the school’s students and to avoid confusing communications and to prevent sexual misconduct, the school requires all employees and other adults in the school’s community to maintain appropriate boundaries between themselves and students to ensure that they avoid even the perception of inappropriate conduct or favoritism. Some activities may seem innocent from an employee’s perspective but can be perceived as flirtation or sexual insinuation from the perspective of a student or parent. Note, this code of conduct applies to conduct toward current students, applicants for admission, and any former students under the age of 21.
All employees are expected to adhere to the following guidelines and practices:
- When using a social media site, employees may not include current students or former students under the age of 21 as “friends,” “followers,” or any other similar terminology used by various sites. Also be aware of inappropriate use of social media about students.
- Avoid telephone calls or text conversations with individual students rather than using school’s email and communication systems. Only use group text if it is necessary for student safety while off campus for a class or other school-sponsored activity. If texting an individual student is necessary make sure to include another adult in the messaging.
- Avoid communications with others containing inappropriate information if there is the likelihood that the receiving party will share it with a student, for example, sending content to a former student who is likely to share it with a current student.
- Avoid sending communications to students of a personal nature or not about school activities.
- Avoid giving gifts to an individual student that are of a personal or intimate nature.
- Avoid sharing or inquiring about overly personal details of a student's private relationships.\
- Do not have unnecessary physical contact with a student in either a public or private situation. This includes touching students in areas that would normally be covered by a bathing suit and always defer to a side shoulder hug if a hug is appropriate.
- Respect a student’s right not to be touched or looked at in ways that make them feel uncomfortable.
- One-on-one meetings with students on campus should happen in public or visible places. If you find yourself alone in a space with a student, make sure that the space is visible to the public or that the door is open. Otherwise, move to a more public location. If a space with adequate visibility is not available, find another adult to be present. When a student’s privacy needs to be preserved and no appropriate location is available, consider delaying the meeting.
- Intentionally being alone with a student off campus without parent and supervisor knowledge or permission is prohibited. This includes meeting with individual students at your home, over coffee, socially or otherwise.
- Advisory activities are only to take place during the school day. Advisors may take students off campus for an advisory lunch but must notify supervisor and parents in advance.
- Avoid contact with a student away from school for activities not related to school without parent and supervisor knowledge and permission, this includes babysitting.
- As with anyone in the school community, do not share or participate in sexually inappropriate or culturally insensitive comments, stories, or jokes with students.
- Do not seek emotional involvement with a student for an employee’s benefit.
- Do not discuss an employee’s own personal troubles or intimate issues with a student.
- Do not becoming involved with a student so that a reasonable person may suspect inappropriate behavior.
- Avoid excessive attention toward a particular student or group of students.
- Do not drive alone with a student except in emergency situations. The employee must inform the student’s parents and the employee’s supervisor within a reasonable time of such a circumstance.
- Keep parents and supervisor informed when a significant issue develops about a student.
- School employees have an obligation to report to the Head of School any behavior they deem inappropriate between an adult employee and a student.
- The school has the right and responsibility to investigate adult compliance with this code of conduct even if no report has been made.
Duty to Report
If an employee finds themselves in a difficult situation related to boundaries, the employee should ask for advice from a supervisor or the Head of School. When an employee becomes aware of another employee crossing appropriate boundaries with a student, the employee must report the matter to the Head of School as soon as possible. If the Head of School is not available, contact the counselor or the appropriate dean. In some circumstances, employees will also have the duty to report such conduct in accordance with mandated reporter requirements.
Students and parents who have concerns about boundaries between Branson employees and students should contact the Head of School or the Chair of the Board of Trustees.
The School will not retaliate against anyone who reports conduct that may violate this boundary policy. An employee who retaliates against an individual who makes a report under this policy will be subject to discipline.
The Branson School prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of students through the cultivation of a supportive and educational environment. We want our students to understand how Branson will respond if a student discloses that they have been the victim of sexual abuse.
If you or another student has been the victim of sexual abuse, we encourage you to consider letting someone at the school know. Our aim is to offer support and guidance about ‘next steps,’ answer any questions, and ensure that we are doing everything possible to create a safe environment for all of our students.
We know that disclosing such sensitive information can be difficult, so we’ve created the following guide to help explain what happens when a student discloses sexual abuse. While this guide is created with the intent of being as encompassing as possible, each case brings unique circumstances that may necessitate a response that is slightly or altogether different than below. Regardless of the circumstances, however, our goal is to empower and support students who make reports or who are concerned about others and we will do everything we are able to keep the process transparent to all parties involved.
What is Sexual Abuse?
The focus of the following protocol is sexual abuse, which includes sexual assault, attempted sexual assault or sexual exploitation. Branson has separate policies in its Student Handbook that provide procedures for addressing bullying and harassment by and of students that does not rise to the level of sexual abuse.
Many discussions of sexual abuse reflect heteronormative concepts and do not necessarily include language regarding sexual misconduct in the LGBTQ+ community. The Branson School prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of all students and recognizes that sexual misconduct is not limited to heterosexual interactions. In this protocol, we will use the pronoun “they” to avoid heteronormative stereotypes.
Disclosing Sexual Abuse
Step 1: Disclosing Sexual Abuse to Branson
- If a student has been subjected to sexual abuse or is aware of sexual abuse of another student, the student may disclose the sexual abuse to an employee of their choice.
- Students are not obligated to disclose more than they want to the Branson employee and are always allowed to have a friend or family member present with them when disclosing.
Step 2: Branson’s Response to Disclosure
- When a Branson employee receives a report of sexual abuse of a Branson student, that employee will help the student find support and resources. To do so, the Branson employee may contact the School counselor, Dean of Student Life and Inclusion and/or the Head of School for assistance.
- Branson will keep the student’s disclosure as confidential as possible, except as necessary to provide support to the student or to comply with legal duties to report sexual abuse of minors. If the person who sexually abused the student is another Branson student, Branson may need to conduct an investigation to address violations of Branson’s conduct policies.
Step 3: Mandated Reporting
- If a student who is a minor discloses sexual abuse to a Branson employee, the Branson employee will have a duty to call law enforcement or a child protective services agency to report the sexual abuse, because all employees of Branson are “mandated reporters.” As mandated reporters, Branson employees are required to report suspected neglect or abuse of a minor, including sexual abuse. A mandated reporter is required to report suspected abuse to the appropriate agency when the reporter has sufficient information to reasonably suspect that abuse may have occurred, generally on the same day a student makes a disclosure. If more than one mandated reporter at the school is aware of suspected abuse, only one report must be made.
- Once a mandated reporter has reported sexual abuse, the agency (and not Branson) will determine whether an investigation should be conducted. If an agency conducts an investigation, a representative of the agency may want to speak directly to the student(s) involved. Sometimes this can happen at school, at the student’s home, or at the agency location. If the agency interviews a student on campus, the student may have the right to have a Branson employee or family member present for support.
- Under California law, mandated reports are confidential, so Branson may not be able to share information about the report, even to the student’s family. In some cases, the investigating agency does not want information about the report disclosed because that may interfere with its ability to conduct an investigation.
- In some cases, a student may want to report the sexual abuse to law enforcement themselves. Branson will support a student in doing so, and if the student prefers, a Branson employee may be present when the student reports.
Step 4: Action Within Branson
- The school is committed to providing support to its students and will encourage students and families to seek out counseling options either through the school counselor or outside of Branson options.
- If a student reports that another Branson student was involved in the sexual abuse, the school will address the other student’s conduct by following its disciplinary policies. Branson may not be able to conduct a disciplinary investigation while an agency investigation is ongoing because doing so could impact that agency investigation or interfere with the other student’s rights. This may delay a decision on whether Branson should impose disciplinary consequences.
- Until a decision is made as to whether disciplinary consequences should be imposed, Branson may take interim measures to ensure that the learning environment is not impacted for the students involved. Interim measures may include, but are not limited to, adjusting students’ course schedule to minimize their contact with each other.
Do my parents have to know if I disclose sexual abuse?
Branson will normally inform a student’s parents if the student discloses that they have been sexually abused, unless there is an indication that doing so would cause further harm to the student or would interfere with an agency investigation. Branson will talk with the student about informing the student’s parents, and can support the student in doing so.
If I write about my experience in an essay or another school project will it still be reported?
Yes. As mandated reporters, Branson employees are required to report if that have a reasonable suspicion that a minor student has been abused. If a student essay or project causes an employee to suspect that the student has been the victim of sexual abuse, the employee will have a duty to report. In some cases, the employee may need to speak with the student to understand whether an essay or project does indicate that the student has been the victim of sexual abuse.
The Branson Therapy Support Fund and Intake Service Hotline are services available to alumni who are seeking crisis counseling related to their abuse or who require reimbursement for therapy they receive relating to sexual misconduct experienced as students at Branson.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) — the country’s leading provider of sexual assault services whose experts take a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to support those who need its services — is available to assist our alumni in two ways.
First, RAINN is available for immediate crisis counseling for anyone affected by sexual misconduct 24/7/365 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-4673 or online at www.online.rainn.org.
Second, RAINN will assist alumni who wish to access the Branson Therapy Support Fund. This fund has been established to support alumni who want help paying for current therapy needed because of sexual misconduct they experienced during their time at Branson, whether or not they wish to make a formal report of that misconduct to Covington and Burling, the law firm conducting the investigation.
Alumni who wish to access this fund or learn more about it should call RAINN’s Branson-specific line at 855-794-0545. After confirming alumni status and a therapy plan, RAINN will refer callers to a third-party administrator for payment of current therapy bills to maintain confidentiality.
The Branson Therapy Fund Hotline is available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST, excluding federal holidays. Enclosed you will find an FAQ about the Therapy Support Fund in the event you have questions. If you have further questions about the Support Fund or need more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local and national resources for survivors of sexual abuse or assault
Branson Staff and Personnel
- Christina Mazzola, Branson Head of School, email@example.com
- Kim Fahlen: Branson School Counselor, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Meredith Herrera: Branson Dean of Student Life and Inclusion, email@example.com
- Ross Police Department: 415-453-2727
- Bay Area Women Against Rape: 510-845-7273
- CA Coalition Against Sexual Assault: 661-327-1091 or 800-273-7713, http://www.calcasa.org/agencies/
- Charis Denison: Sexual Abuse counselor and educator, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-819-2272.
- Bay Area Women Against Rape: www.BAWAR.org Hotline: 510-845-7273