What to Do If Your International School is Run By A**holes

Forgive the title, but is there really any other way to say it?

We went from 11,000 visitors to almost 22,500 since January because of people wanting to know what has become of the allegations in St. Mary’s International School’s sexual abuse scandals.  Counts of assault have been revealed to us like clowns coming out of the VW buggy of your worst nightmare.  And then what should we get?  A Japan Times article about a sex scandal at ASIJ within a week of its revelation!

ASIJ Japan Times Article

[Note to Japan Times: what was wrong with our story (released in January)?  Don’t the emotional lives of little boys matter as much as little girls?  Isn’t St. Mary’s as newsworthy as ASIJ?  If it weren’t for the fact that many families have kids in both schools, we’d feel left out.  We are literally, brothers and sisters.

Note to ASIJ: don’t worry, you’re not alone–we’ve got institutional pedophilia at St. Mary’s International School.]  

Newcomers to this blog have tuned into the Forum page (which is a separate annexed section about a thematically different topic from the rest of the blog), and might understandably be confused.  If you have no idea who we are or what to make of this hodgepodge of themes, we’ve put out some FAQs below.  After reading them, maybe you too can come to the conclusion that all these stories actually belong in the same bag (correct me if I’m wrong):

That the international school community in Tokyo has weak foundations in real governance and leadership–especially at the schools cited in this post.  They are inherited private oligopolies that follow a business formula.  The admin are usually inbred promotions who have never had to answer to transparency or accountability.  They rely on the Japanese norm of silence to deal with problems.  Then, “problem individuals”, after years of anguish, come back for a reckoning:

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Is this what we want?  The bloggers here, given our angle, will attempt to offer suggestions to remedy these problems in the here and now–hopefully helpful, no matter what international school you have deal with.

Our theory about the bad governance and leadership:  the international school community is made up of vulnerable, isolated individuals and families highly dependent on the private services of these educational institutions.  It is a roaring money-making, diploma-churning machine that everyone loves in Good Times:  teachers and admin make tons of money at a lower tax rate than in their home countries; staff have subsidized housing in one of the most expensive cities in the world; alumni can feel proud of their alma maters; parents have somewhere reliable to educate their kids during their stint in Japan; international kids are immersed among a student body just like themselves; new and old admin look like geniuses if they can keep the music going, though they don’t have much to tweak.  As it should be.  But what happens when you add a protest by a teacher during carnival?  Or bullying?  Or now, sexual abuse, into that mix?  And then a noisy victim or three or 32?  The whole bubble is threatened.  Nobody at the helm is individually smart enough or empowered enough to act–no active leadership has been needed in recent memory.  But the worst thing has been that no one has been moral enough to act, which should override everything.  By this, we indict Brother Michel, the head of the corporation of St. Mary’s during this scandal, Mr. Kagei and of course the litany of pedophile admin and teachers who have preyed on the student body.  The ASIJ admin are equally shirkers of doing right–ignoring the girls who came out to tell them of their plight.  But, these admin are not alone.  The Bystander Effect is real.  Everyone knows that criminals and wrong-doers are bad, but whistleblowers are even worse–because they are us…in a role we can’t imagine.  When a victim steps forward, we all take a step back, thinking of the hassle to ourselves.  A largely complacent community, with atrophied civic activist muscles, has no idea how to navigate this without being a serious buzz-kill to the God of Good Times–people would rather not have known.  Who dares provide leadership on something like this?

The knee jerk plan of admin, in absence of a real solution, has always been to ignore or silence any individual who threatens the brand name (and hence, marketability) of the school, as obviously has been done throughout the case documented by this blog at St. Mary’s International School and now, apparently at ASIJ.  St. Mary’s admin have even been known recently to go the extra step of denigrating whistleblowers in secret (Ms. Tran’s resurrected case) or settle quietly with the Archbishop (over Brother Lawrence’s victim).  Loyal teachers, parents and alumni are content to rely on the same problematic admin to…address problems.  In complacency, we are complicit.

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This is called GroupThink, a nasty phenomenon.

First, some FAQs for new readers:

1. Is this blog about St. Mary’s International School?

No, this blog has specifically tracked a case which ran 2008-2010 about a teacher who sued St. Mary’s International School for unfair dismissal.  She felt that it was the signature act of oppression by an administration that was willfully deaf, dumb and blind to transgressions made by its top-ranking admin for the 2 years she worked there.  The school paid a settlement.  The teacher is / was Ms. Tran.

2. Is this case current or past?

This blog started up again in 2012-present when Ms. Tran found out that the Linda Wayne, Curriculum Coordinator at St. Mary’s, was behind an attempt to shut her out of her post-St. Mary’s employment in the field of teaching at Tokyo universities–an unnecessary dick move.  More at: Case Background.

3.  How is this related to the sex-abuse scandal at St. Mary’s?

It isn’t.  Suddenly, during the updates of the resurrection of  Ms. Tran’s case in January 2014, the school admin released a  letter to parents with the shocking news that Brother Lawrence was accused of sexual abuse while working at St. Mary’s.  This blog, being the only free, anonymous way to discuss matters related to the school at the time, offered the Forum, for people to discuss this separate issue.

4. Where can we read more about the updates about the sex-abuse scandal at St. Mary’s?

Commenters at the Forum are becoming more forthright with what they know, so check there.  A miraculous discovery on the Forum has been a blogger from Canada named Sylvia who has dedicated an enormous amount of her time documenting every case of sexual abuse within Canada’s Catholic church.  She gives names, dates, photos and history of those in the clergy.  Sylvia has documented no fewer than four cases that have emerged along with the story of Brother Lawrence:

  • Brother Lawrence / Guy Lambert, sexual abuse allegation from 1963: bit.ly/1deuurH
  • Brother Benoit Lessard (deceased), sexual abuse of students who attended a camp KEEP in late 60s: bit.ly/1nQZKSn
  • Brother John Paradis, sexual abuse of student(s) involving fellatio during tenure 60s, 70s, mid 80s: bit.ly/OL67qC
  • Brother Marcel Villmure, sexual abuse involving molestation and threat-shaming of students with foolscap-sized nude photocopies of themselves if they told bit.ly/1jrfZP

The clearest (and unfortunately most graphic) account of abuse was given here on our own Forum and republished as a post on Sylvia’s site, by an alumnus: bit.ly/1gfyIPu.  Commenters have pointed out the incomprehensible complicity of the school secretary at the time who apologized to the victim once he emerged from the Brother’s office (a sign of her knowing what happens to the children in the office), and of the gym teacher of that era who may have known what was in store for the child as punishment, when he sent him to the Headmaster’s office for a transgression.

Second, some tips for the international school community to flex their activist muscles:

1. Japan is a first world country, so work it.

In a first world country, legitimacy and accountability are much more important to institutions than in developing countries–but one person won’t convince them.  Organizing many people to solve problems democratically is legal and effective.  In particular, parents getting on an email list, and then meeting at a rented hall where everyone pitches in is one way to get people together to discuss what they want.  Ideas:

  • A petition could result: to the media; to the police; to the UN in this case of violation of children’s rights; to the education ministry, which licenses the schools; to the “accreditation” councils which the schools depend on to rubber-stamp their “credentials” in the relatively poorly-enforced world of international teaching standards (like WASC, IB, COIS etc.).
  • Catholic parents could petition the Archdiocese and the Vatican in the St. Mary’s case.
  • A class-action lawsuit, civil damages re: endangering students.
  • A parents’ council / board with actual influence on the school’s policies, hiring decisions, admin appointments could result.  See #2.

2. We can always boil an institution’s inexplicable immoral silence down to: Money.  So hit them where it hurts.

Families that have the flexibility to move elsewhere need to show institutions that their poor governance will cost them–simply by moving to better-run schools.  Research enrolment deadlines.  Are other schools somehow inconvenient?  What is more important: family convenience or a safe, accountable school that doesn’t have a delayed-deploying sexual abuse bomb?  Other international schools trying to sit nice and quietly on the sidelines of this PR nightmare for St. Mary’s and ASIJ can show leadership by stating their thoughts on the matter and assurance of how their schools are run.

Families that are planning to stay for a longer-haul and who are themselves invested in the school community also have power.

Take the example of how large banks deal with developers.   If a developer wants to build an office / retail tower, it needs the financial backing of a huge bank.  Shovels can’t hit the ground, obviously, until this money is released.  Banks only release the money when they are 60%, 70% or 80% sure, depending on the case, that the developer has what it takes to actually run the finished-building properly and pay back that large loan.  Only then, would they start to release the funds, but even then, in stages.  So, to assure the bank, the developer, at the beginning of the project, only equipped with architectural drawings and a sales team, is busy lining up tenants and clients to fill up the imaginary tower.  They must present to the bank expressions of interest, if not sales contracts, from enough tenants or buyers to assure the bank that this will be a viable building that can do its duty of fulfilling its debt.

My point is: parents represent the bank.  Collectively, they hold the money that the school needs to run.  We are talking USD $25-30 million a year.  They absolutely need to be front and centre on the decision-making for every new school year.  Fine, a private company like these schools can have whatever board they want.  And yes, they once represented a oligopoly of schools.  But no longer: with at least a dozen choices in the Tokyo area, and growing.  However, parents new and old, as a block, remain a buyers’ monopoly: a monopsony.  Schools have a hard time attracting and retaining a customer, especially with viscerally disgusting scandals like these.  Parents deserve a checklist of assurances before releasing their cash:

  • Have grievances lodged by parents, students, teachers or alumni been solved adequately?
  • Do returning admin or teachers pose a threat / have serious complaints accrued against them?
  • Have background checks / review systems for new and returning staff been updated?
  • Who is enjoying a life-time tenure, why?
  • Are staff licensed to be working with / teaching children?
  • Is there a system in place for all members of the school community to solve problems without fear?

My experience at St. Mary’s showed no serious or enforceable system of complaint by anyone.  The admin have no accountability to anyone except themselves.  One parent-faculty memo showed only 69% of staff even have teaching certifications etc.  When we started this blog about Ms. Tran back in 2008, citing those things that Ms. Tran and we  encountered may have seemed petty and isolated.  But now look at what they actually represent!  We wish it weren’t true!

As the international school situation is now, the problem is, it is only in theory that the parents have a powerful collective hold of the school’s needed revenue.  In reality, the parents are not organized and are individually contracted with the school to pay their child’s fees.  A parents’ board would solve that: a legal entity that can direct parents, who’ve signed on, when to release money and by how much.  Even if the school outwardly refused to do business with the parent-board, it would have no way of seeking legal redress with all the individual families who participate.

Even the threat of this should be sufficient for ushering in a new era of accountability: meet the community’s demands for answers.  There is no arguing that these terrible sexual abuse scandals are a damning indication of institutional governance rot. There is no defence for it.  At least, we can make it an opportunity for change.  [Since power seems to corrupt, a compromise between the admin and the parents could be setting up a tuition-release fund held in trust / escrow until the parents get their answers].

3. Write to the the Japan Times writer, Jon Mitchell who wrote about the ASIJ case, tell him to include St. Mary’s!

Finally, an update on Ms. Tran’s defamation case against Gregory Strong of Aoyama Gakuin University

In our opinion, this case is a prime example of how someone’s drunkenness on self-perceived power and influence goes on to make them perpetuate a rotten and corrupt system of secrecy:

After the judge ruled the case a go (Ms. Tran as an overseas plaintiff had to pay a deposit to the Japanese court to prove her seriousness), Strong’s side issued arguments.  We’ve roughly translated and summarized Ms. Tran’s response below.  (Next time, in early April, Strong’s side will be able to respond.)

First: Strong’s words about Ms. Tran was in a private email to an individual, was not public and therefore does not constitute defamation.

–> The definition of defamation does not include that false remarks have to be public.  There are precedent cases within the Japanese courts that show that being public does not have to be a factor in determining defamatory remarks.  Furthermore, Strong may have written the email in confidence, but he certainly had no control over how public the email would have become, nor could he enforce its secrecy [i.e. this blog!].  Lastly, in the email that Strong wrote himself, he stated that he would likely be warning others away from hiring Ms. Tran, so his intention of keeping such gossip a secret is not true.  Therefore, the defence’s argument of the remarks being “public” or not doesn’t make sense.

Second: Ms. Tran was not qualified to work at Aoyama.

–> Ms. Tran had not sued over a job at Aoyama, nor listed it as a reason for the lawsuit.  Surely any candidate who feels qualified has the freedom to apply to a publicly posted job without fear?  It is unrelated to why Strong would go ahead and write defamatory, self-admittedly unverified, imagined things about another person that would negatively affect their reputation.

Third: the email was written simply to express why Strong would not be hiring Ms. Tran at Aoyama

–> Such an email should be directed to Ms. Tran, herself, then–not her current employer!  Also, the email does not at all talk about Ms. Tran’s qualifications.  In fact, it only mentions Strong’s ideas about Ms. Tran’s case and settlement with St. Mary’s.  So, this doesn’t give any more excusable an explanation of the email communication, and it contradicts Strong’s argument that Ms. Tran wasn’t qualified.

Lastly: Gregory Strong is not liable for the court costs in the breach-of-settlement case against St. Mary’s

–> Strong’s email specifically states that he had knowledge (whether real or fictitious is another matter) of an otherwise  confidential settlement.  He pins the source as St. Mary’s admin, cites this authority and specifies the confidential nature of the matter.  Next, he acted upon this information in the worst way possible: using it to harm one of the parties–Ms. Tran.  Would Ms. Tran have enforced the settlement with St. Mary’s, if Strong hadn’t specified in his own words how and from whom he got this information?  Of course not. [I wonder if St. Mary’s would also sue Strong for having put them through an expensive lawsuit?]

  •     *     *

There you have it, the foulest smelling week of international schooling in Tokyo.  Thanks to everyone who has been helping to lift the lid off this doozy.  Next: you are powerful, Mr. and Ms. Bystander, Bystander san, and Bystander tachi!  It’s time to do something!

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Moms! You list higher than Power!

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The alumnae of ASIJ proved to be much louder and more media savvy than the alumni of St. Mary’s…just saying.

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Why are any of us still putting up with this bullshit?  Let’s reclaim the schools and be the generation that changed things for the better. For good.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “What to Do If Your International School is Run By A**holes

  1. On behalf of ASIJ alums – yes, the emotional lives of little boys matter as much as little girls. Your story at St. Mary’s deserves as much press as ours. After multiple letters to ASIJ, we have started a petition online. Do you want to coordinate efforts? What’s the status of the St. Mary’s story?

  2. stmaryslabordispute

    Hi Susan Great work with the petition!! We will update and link to include it. The status on St. Mary’s is that there is none. We are sure there never was any “police investigation” as claimed in the Headmaster’s letter back in January. Any time the Archdiocese is invited to have a parallel “investigation” means that they’ve paid off victims to keep quiet–some alumni have attested to it. The school needs to keep up enrolment to pay off the debt of the reconstruction they financed–hence, no news is good news, from their point of view. We’ve learned from calling sister schools that they just put the accused onto another Japanese campus for an unsuspecting community to deal with in Shizuoka. It’s been entirely offensive. A person who’s a great ally is http://lhj.jp Fujiwara san, the executive director, speaks fluent English. Her group deals with sex trafficking in Japan, but she has done speaking engagements in schools (including St. Mary’s) about sexual abuse. She might have steps to help you elevate your purpose. We will support you by linking to your petition. Please know for legal reasons, we need to keep anonymous about this site. But, we are behind you!

    • Thank you so much! Really appreciate your support and would like to support you as well. Have you made headway with Jon Mitchell? I’ve been in touch with him prior to this and happy to reach out again regarding St. Mary’s. Thanks also for the intro to Fujiwara san. Very sorry to hear about Shizuoka, this is exactly the type of thing we are trying to avoid. We are behind you too, so let us know what we can do.

  3. Ron Dirkse

    https://www.change.org/p/asij-board-of-directors-take-responsibility-for-the-sexual-abuse-of-children-at-asij

    On Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 5:54 AM, St. Mary’s International School Labor Dispute wrote:

    > stmaryslabordispute posted: “Forgive the title, but is there really > any other way to say it? We went from 11,000 visitors to 21,000 since > January by people wanting to know what has become of the allegations > against St. Mary’s sexual abuse scandals. These have been revealed to us > li”

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