Presentation High School Official Accused of Mishandling Sexual Abuse Claims to Step Down

A Catholic high school official accused of mishandling sex abuse claims against staff has announced her resignation. Presentation High School President Mary Miller’s last day on the job will be Sept. 14.

“I have come to the realization that my resignation is what is best for Pres,”she wrote in a letter to the board. “The allegations of past sexual abuse continue to be a distraction for the school and bring negative attention towards Presentation. It is my sincere hope that my absence will bring some peace and allow the staff and new administration to focus on the success and well being of our students—which is our common goal. We cannot change the past, but we can and must dedicate ourselves to the future.”

The board of directors has already begun a search to replace Miller, who attended the all-girls school as a student before becoming a teacher and then principal for 25 years.

As president, Miller became the subject of intense criticism after a former student, Kathryn Leehane, penned a column last fall for the Washington Post describing how difficult it was to expose sexual abuse at the school. Though she didn’t mention the name of the school or the teacher who abused her decades before, people in the Presentation community connected the dots. More victims came forward and began sharing their stories on a website, which pushed school officials to enact policy changes to prevent claims of similar abuses from falling on deaf ears.

A petition demanding administrative reforms gathered nearly 8,000 signatures. And last moth, a former student sued the prestigious parochial school for the way it handled her sex-abuse claim. Initially, Presentation High officials denied that they failed to act, saying they reported complaints that they deemed credible. But state law requires schools to report all abuse claims to police, regardless.

As a result of public pressure, Presentation High has implemented a number of changes to protect students, including additional training for staff and students, the creation of an ad hoc committee and an office dedicated to preventing harassment and abuse.

Then there’s the changing of the guard. Sister Pam Chiesa, who has been with Presentation for 43 years, will step up as chairwoman of the board of directors, replacing Marian Stuckey. Chiesa acknowledged the criticism about Miller, but commended her for her years of service to the school.

“We recognize that Mary has been the focus of criticism in her handling of reporting misconduct cases,” Chiesa said. “We also recognize that Mary has been an inspiration to many young women and helped guide them successfully in their lives and careers. Now is the time to refocus on our mission and begin healing our community.”

San Jose Diocese Bishop Patrick McGrath applauded the victims for their courage.

“I commend the courageous women who have come forward over the past year to cast light upon the abuse that they and others experienced while students at Presentation High School,” he said in a statement posted online. “Through these difficult times, they have stood with one another in solidarity. Over the past few months, I have met with some of the victims and listened to their stories and concerns. I hope that the announcement today by the board of directors of the change in school leadership will allow the victims, survivors, their families, and the Presentation High School community to take the next step on the path of recovery and wholeness.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

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