Japan Times: St. Mary’s International School’s Sexual Abuse Report

[Update #3: Headmaster Kagei has issued another letter dated Oct 4 to parents and staff.  Some of you may have already seen it on FB or the SMIS site. The letter talks about how Kagei has spoken with some victims and was “distressed” to hear the accounts of sexual abuse.  Yes, Mr. Kagei, just hearing of them is horrible–imagine experiencing them and being haunted by them for life. Mr. Kagei will identify a panel and launch yet another investigation. But who will lead these panels: SMIS payrollees who may have been abusers themselves?  Or staff that have interest in silencing the stories that have ruined the only institution on their resumes for the past 30 years?  Btw, what ever happened with the Archbishop’s and the police’s investigations that Kagei spoke of in the January letter?  Why is there no update on those fronts after 9 months?  Why didn’t Mr. Kagei write just now that these accounts will be submitted to police?  Mr. Kagei needs to report on the results from actual authorities who have the power to enact consequences for these crimes.  If there is nothing to report from the police, either one of two things happened: the school has not seriously engaged the police by providing evidence at all or the police were not interested.  In either case, parents cannot be satisfied that some in-house panel and improvised policies will be enough to protect their sons from one of the worst crimes possible, from a school and jurisdiction that obviously have been unable to redress past multiple occurrences of it.  Tuition money has gone toward paying for the retirement comfort of these abusers in Japan and Canada.  Finally, we need to learn of pertinent details to audit the efficacy of future policies: where on campus were these boys abused?  How were these boys separated from their class and led behind closed doors?  Did any of these boys say something at the time–and if so, how did their voices die off in the system?  This blog has long side-eyed the school’s practice of taking things behind closed doors, and of setting up their own panels to get the result they want–it is a classic d#$% move by admin.  This new “solution” isn’t any more transparent or open to public scrutiny than anything we’ve already seen.  But we are glad there has been a response.  Down the path that the community is headed now, there is nowhere to hide the truth.]

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Update #2: Sept. 25, 2014. Looks like the survivors of SMIS abuse are serious.

[Update #1: Headmaster Saburo Kagei has sent out this Sept 11 2014 response to alumni regarding the matter of sexual abuse at the school written about in the January 2014 letter.  A main point of Mr. Kagei’s latest letter is that Br. Lawrence had actually written an apology to the victim who had come forward, thus acknowledging his role in the sexual abuse.  This doesn’t sound like “an allegation”, it sounds like a criminal confession by a St. Mary’s admin who committed the worst possible betrayal of trust against a child. What did the school do to bring this crime to justice?  Some people in our community learned that Br. Lawrence had briefly been transferred to a sister school in Shizuoka, when this was found out, exposing Japanese children to this matter, which their families wouldn’t have known about.  Mr. Kagei has now written that Br. Lawrence has simply moved away.  The school is asking (in earnest) for information on any other St. Mary’s staff predators past and present.  How can we be sure that this information would be treated with any kind of severity?  The school needs to acknowledge that the era of the status quo admin is over.  Their culture is one of hiding and confounding problems until they become epically bad.  To convincingly show the school community that it is dedicated to a new era of accountable management, the entire admin needs to be replaced.]

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(Click on image to link to story)

Well, there it is.  A great piece by Simon Scott of the Japan Times, built upon the accounts of St. Mary’s International School’s sexual abuse survivors both named and anonymous.  Despite the school and the Archdiocese of Tokyo failing to comment on the matter (note: even the admin of ASIJ responded in their case), the story is out and in circulation.  As it should be–for the community to acknowledge and solve going forward.

If the school remains silent, it will be met with the silence of families who will no longer be willing to pay for such unaccountability in a matter so crucial to the education of children.

Much respect to abuse survivor Mr. Arboleda, whose compassion to empower future generations of children to identify and speak of such abuse, has meant for  him to unearth unsettling memories.  This is surely something difficult for anyone to do, and I’d say even more so for a grown man in our society.  Men are expected to internalize all kinds of emotional turmoil.  I suspect it is largely the reason the ASIJ case, led my so many female abuse survivors, was acted upon in a faster, more decisive way.  The Alumni at St. Mary’s probably have had to work through an invisible, but thick, layer of social stigma against men revisiting emotional and psychological pain.  Not to mention the Japanese culture, isolated international school culture and Catholic culture all embedded, all at work, in addition!  All the more reason it has been hugely important for Mr. Scott, Mr. Arboleda and “Mr. Smith” to bring this story forth.

One correction we’d make to Mr. Scott’s reporting, is that while this site was certainly put together during Ms. Tran’s first case against the school over labour matters, it was set up by a community of people who helped translate, attend court hearings, secure legal papers, blog and vet comments.

We have Mr. Michael DiMuzio and Linda Wayne, of the St. Mary’s Admin, actually, to thank for the existence of this blog.

Without such monumental egotism, middle-manager paranoia, abuse of power, denial and obstinacy toward Ms. Tran and in other dealings within the community, we never would have been inspired to carry on like this 🙂

Ms. Tran by the way, flew to Japan this August to testify against Gregory Strong, the friend and arguable revenge foot-soldier of Linda Wayne in the university teaching industry, at the Yokohama District Court.  It was the first time Ms. Tran and Mr. Strong had ever met.  While, like all cases, this will likely go down in a settlement, it’s nice to know that there are all kinds of people willing to stand up to abusers of power.

Abuse of power, denial and obstinacy in one small case, is a sign of much more behind the scenes.  Like seeing a cockroach.  Glad we could be part of the fumigation.

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Instructions on Restitution: An Interview About Solving Sexual Abuse at Our International Schools

“I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” — 1 Timothy 3:14-15 (we like it as a literary reference!)

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 9.08.11 PM In today’s blog, we have an interview with Susan Larson, an ASIJ 1979 alumna instrumental in leading sexual abuse survivors’ snowballing movement against their alma mater.  The school’s systemic denial that at least one of their star teachers harmed children, lasted years, exposing countless children to harm.   Ms. Larson will lay out some tips for communities, like that of St. Mary’s International School, regarding what it takes to organize hundreds of alums to bring an institution to account for better protection of its children past, present and future.  SMIS actually had a parallel case announced by the school itself in January 2014–but it was ASIJ alums that have gone the distance in finding a solution to this complex problem for themselves and hopefully for future ASIJ students.

Moral, psychological or financial restitution are all possibilities down the road for this phenomenal group of alums who have reached critical mass in their 500-signature petition (now at over 700, and extended) lobbying for an investigation, compelling the engagement of several international legal firms to enact investigations on both the school and the survivors’ behalf.  Of note, the abuse victims have engaged the law firm O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP, a firm specializing in these types of cases against large institutions of trust like the Catholic Church or Boy Scouts of America.  Read the firm’s PRESS RELEASE on June 11, 2014: Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 9.41.37 PM

Here is an except from the Press Release:

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To SMIS alums who are abuse survivors, you may have yet to decide on a public movement for restitution, but this is for you:

Without further ado, our interview with Ms. Susan Larson:

Us: The alums in your case have gained media attention, critical mass with the petition, legal counsel and are on the verge of an inquiry–how does it feel?  Are you surprised at your own power?
Susan Larson: It feels very productive! This was a challenging process involving many points of view among the ASIJ family. I am feeling more battle-scarred than powerful, but pleased that we’ve made so much progress as a group. It was important for us to cut through all the aspects to find a collective focus, and the ASIJ abuse survivors provided that focus. Despite many opinions about what our process should be, or what the school should do, most of the alumni who have spoken up or added their name were doing it for the survivors – in a mass show of support. A few of the survivors helped us a great deal by letting us know we were helping. Without that encouragement, there were times when it looked like we could have stalled out. They kept us together, and they kept us going.
Us: In the event that old cases cannot turn up concrete evidence proving the victims’ cases, would this exercise still have meaning for the 700+ alums supporting the petition for the inquiry?
SL: I can only speak for myself, but I would say yes. There is meaning in getting so many people on the same page to do this collectively. I’ve been told there is also meaning in that for the survivors, and that our support has made them feel more empowered to take action. Whatever happens from here on out, I believe our collective efforts will help make ASIJ a safer place today and tomorrow.
Us: In Japan, the concept of “saving face” is huge–especially for institutions.  There seems to be almost no way out for parties on the defence (in court case or investigation) except to deny and fight, even though they have a moral responsibility to concede and show humility if they are accountable.  What is your take on this?
SL: Wow, big question. I haven’t looked at this from a cultural perspective. I am concerned about certain aspects, such as the insular nature of the expat community in Tokyo, which may have contributed to a lack of resources in how to report these crimes. As for how ASIJ has handled this over the years, sometimes I think they started down a path of denial very early on and couldn’t backtrack later. And if so, perhaps that was where face-saving became very dangerous indeed. (This is just a theory on my part.)
Us: What one piece of advice would you give to a sister school who may be going through very similar issues?
SL: Expect people to be divided in how to handle it. Don’t walk away from the fight, but try to understand the other person’s perspective. I have learned much by listening to concerns that I could not understand at first. There will also be personal attacks. Ignore them. This is not about any individuals or how they feel about each other on a given day. Your objective is much bigger than that. It’s a difficult discussion, so it’s only natural that people will get upset at times. Just try to stay on the path. You will need many people involved, in many different roles.
Us: You’re just beginning a challenging road ahead as a group of alums supporting each other–is there a message you’d like to say to your group?  To others observing you?
SL: Every single person in the group has made a big difference already, whether they actively campaigned or signed their name to the petition. Everyone has a role to play. Right now, the most important thing is for people to report what they know, saw, or heard to Ropes & Gray, the firm conducting the independent investigation. At times, ASIJ alumni have been telling each other to exercise caution in saying what they know. Now that we have third party investigators, this is not the time for caution. Talk to the attorneys in confidence and let them sort out what is actionable or helpful to their findings.
     *     *     *
Contact information for Ropes & Gray is now on the home page at ASIJ’s website.  Despite being hired by the school, they are meant to be a reputable third party.  The Japan Times had also posted:
Readers who have information related to Jack Moyer’s abuse — or abuse committed by other ASIJ employees — can contact Ropes & Gray by phone on 03-6259-3566 (in Japan) or 617-235-4397 (U.S.), or by email viaASIJReportline@ropesgray.com.

As mentioned above, abuse survivors from Portland, Oregon have themselves enlisted the help of separate attorneys for independent investigation of sexual abuse. If you are a victim in the ASIJ case, the telling of your case is free.  Tell both law firms!  Anonymity is respected, but you’ll still have to identify your year and enough information to know that you were indeed a student.  The investigators will decide on which accounts and details to use, so you don’t have to worry about what they need to hear or don’t–just know your case is welcome to be heard as is.

Here are the latest developments in the media about how the ASIJ case has been brought to the investigative stage:

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 9.29.13 PM   And news from the Japan Times: Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 9.34.18 PM

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You can still sign! (Click the image!)

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ASIJ Petition: St. Mary’s International School’s Twin Case of Abuse and Unaccountability

[UPDATE: on May 12, 2014, The Japan Times followed up the ASIJ case with a story on the school’s active alumni and alumnae’s petition to make admin accountable to the sexual abuse cases it has swept under the rug.  SMIS–you’re next!  Happy to say, we blogged it first!  But the more press, the merrier.  Click on picture to read:]

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We, from the St. Mary’s International School community past and present, want to take this opportunity to support the petition that ASIJ alumni, family and former staff have organized.  Many of us are / have been involved in both schools.  Please sign!

http://www.change.org/petitions/asij-board-of-directors-we-are-calling-for-an-independent-third-party-investigation

Share the short link: chn.ge/1iqeH52

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Such action and activism is the exact vigilance we admire!  When we supported a teacher with this blog, she had started out with a petition!  The alumni and alumnae of ASIJ want answers and redress from the admin of the school, which failed to protect them from sexual abuse over many years.  They want to know how many victims had come forward and were ignored.  Who ignored them?  What other bullshit had the admin swept under the rug?  The current admin’s no-further-comment about the sexual abuse cases since the story came out last month shows that they think they have no obligation to the past children who suffered under the school’s care.  What are the alumni supposed to do–continue to uphold the school’s reputation?  This scenario would be unacceptable in any other business: today’s GM CEO, Mary Barra, for example, has had to answer for the deaths due to malfunctions in the cars (now recalled), which were covered up in the years before she took office.  But girlfriend is cleaning up the mess of her predecessors Like a Boss.  Dare we ask for leadership from these admin?

Just a suggestion: ASIJ alumni and family: you need to CC a copy of this petition to the Ministry of Education in Japan, and the UN and the school certification associations–to encourage reaction.

How else can we help?  How can our story help reveal a deeper problem of jurisdictionally-gray-area international schools in Japan?

St. Mary’s community: how many brothers / instructors were sexual abusers?  Our count is four: Lawrence, Paradis, Marcel and Lessard.  We’ve learned, since Headmaster Kagei’s letter, that the school for years was a hunting ground for these predatory headmasters, teachers and VPs.  Who, in the school corporation, covered up these crimes?  How many sexual abuse victims have been paid off by the Archdiocese to keep quiet?

Let’s let the Ministry of Education and the UN know what havoc these potentially criminally unaccountable schools have been doing in Japan.  Let’s share what’s going on, on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  This blog is: bit.ly/1fOekqp.  Let’s let every new family and new teacher searching for an international school in Japan know exactly what kind of admin they are dealing with before they entrust their career, minds and tuition to them.  [Our family has withdrawn our sons–so our personal advice is to vote with your wallet].

The good reputation of a school is not an abstract legacy to be protected unquestioningly at all costs by all who attended–it should be an ongoing hard-earned privilege by stewards accountable to the people they represent, past and present.  

For six years running, we are proud to have shown up as a top, first page Google search for “St. Mary’s International School” and now for the ASIJ issue.  The site from Canada which blogs about sexual abuse within the Catholic church, has now even topped us with their reports on SMIS, because of us 🙂

Good on you, ASIJ alumni and alumnae.

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Be vigilant: if they are anything like the #$%^&* admin at SMIS, they will keep slipping back into the slime.  Also, ask the right questions.

 

 

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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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Update on Defamation Case Against Gregory Strong

[UPDATE added below in red] We were truly surprised by the news about the sexual assault allegations against Brother Lawrence at St. Mary’s, from a letter to parents sent out on January 31.  As we wrote in the last post, the least we could do to help members of the wider school community who may be affected, is to host and facilitate a(n anonymous) discussion, found in the Forum.  We are happy to use this blog’s established existence to do that.  Apparently, many of us are interested:

[UPDATE: Here is the world-wide readership for the past week, for example:Feb 11 Stats

Here is how people came to our blog (for the past 30 days–to include January 31st, the day the letter to parents came out).  Wow–is all we have to say about the power of Facebook–507 referrals, and counting:]

Feb 11 Referrers

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As for Ms. Tran’s case, because she submitted the overseas plaintiff deposit on time, the defense (Gregory Strong, Professor of English at Aoyama Gakuin) has had to submit arguments for the February session of the court  i.e. engage in the suit fully. That happened earlier this week.   Ms. Tran’s side will rebut the arguments for the next session, at the beginning of March.

The defense’s arguments are long and repeat much of what was said in the case with St. Mary’s earlier.  Namely, that Gregory Strong had no obligation to hire Ms. Tran at Aoyama.  Again, while this is true, the decision not to hire someone surely shouldn’t be followed by a defamatory rant to the person’s current employer, nor a written threat to stymie the person’s future chances of being hired elsewhere.  How about just not hiring the person, Mr. Strong?

We can only imagine that a small-minded, petty person with an inflated sense of self-importance and influence would bother to do that.

Upon checking out Gregory Strong’s CV, it seems he presents at McGraw-Hill Education Events at JALT, writes about EFL and ESL, and of course, is in charge of hiring for Aoyama Gakuin University’s English Department.  Thus, it is understandable why he wrote this email defaming a teacher in the “strictest confidence”: such a thing is, otherwise, utterly unprofessional to do.  Of course, there was an assumption of an unwritten Code of Silence and the support of a league of behind-the-scenes actors who have no qualms about damaging others.  It’s great that Ms. Tran’s employer at the time refused to participate.

It’ll be interesting to find out how the defense will argue that Mr. Strong felt it necessary to go the extra step of writing about fictitious court orders and settlement results against Ms. Tran in his infamous email.  And if St. Mary’s claims not to have fed Mr. Strong this information officially, then Mr. Strong needs to explain why he cited an authority at St. Mary’s.

*     *     *

We are not big fans of Codes of Silence and non-transparency.  These things may be useful for holding up reputations of institutions or the egos of those who run them, for a while, but ultimately, they create an environment full of unacknowledged cracks.  When the weakest member of a community is being punished for or prevented from speaking out, be it a new teacher, be it an isolated family or student, the community is an unsafe one.  These days we hear a lot about societies fighting to protect women, girls, minorities like the LGBT community, victims of sexual abuse (in India, Sochi, the world wide Catholic community…)–because when the weakest members feel safe and thriving, that’s when we can be assured a community is a solid one.

St. Mary’s International School was not a safe place for Ms. Tran to bring up, what should have been standard complaints: stop whispering in her ear Mr. Assistant Vice-Principal; acknowledge the test results of her students and stop closed-door meetings where a teacher is not allowed any advocate present.  It was surprising, instead the machinery that had been set up and waiting, to squash her speaking up.  In 2008, it was in the wording of the contracts that the school had set up with the teachers’ landlords, and the ambiguous wording of the employment contract itself.  These things could only be challenged in court, which took time and expense.  When the teacher overcame those, in 2010, it was the St. Mary’s admin, Linda Wayne, Curriculum Coordinator, who leveraged a network of friends in positions of power to pass on things that would damage the career of a teacher in a way that would not be visible to the courts.

Why is there machinery to quiet voices?  Why not deal with problems openly and transparently?  Is the brand of the school more important than the well-being of the individuals within it?  We are afraid so.

By the way, we don’t mean to attribute real “power” to people like Gregory Strong and Linda Wayne.  We feel like it is only applicable because in this small, claustrophobic context of international schools in Japan, and particularly at St. Mary’s — these individuals seem big.  Noting the ultimate pettiness of what was done to Ms. Tran, we know that her slanderers would not be considered worthy of their professions in a real context.  If Linda Wayne’s dinner conversation with Gregory Strong meant to excuse why St. Mary’s had to pay a settlement to Ms. Tran:

An Excuse

In our opinion, 25-30-years is much too long a tenure for people like Linda Wayne and Gregory Strong to ever be advocates of progressive education and teaching excellence.  Spotty-bottomed bureaucrats intent on reinforcing the brand of the only institution on their resumes?  That’s more likely.  Some international schools in Europe have a 7-year maximum on how long any teacher or administrator is allowed to stay.  What a great policy.

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The End of a Culture of Silence?

This message reached the school community yesterday:

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Needless to say, we are all shocked.  While this is not related to the purpose of the blog, in our course of contributing to it over the years, we have encountered several alumni who have followed these court cases, who have expressed regret over not having said more about transgressions they felt occurred during their time at the school.  While we can’t help them, we can’t imagine anyone keeping such a horrible secret for so long.  We at least hoped to demonstrate that bringing things to light can happen.  If you are an alumnus, please share this blog post in the case it may reach a person who really needs to know.  The shortlink is: http://wp.me/pn26e-9L

The implications of this letter are terrible, but at least they have opened the door for a victim or more victims to speak out about one of the hardest things to talk about.  As well, other (past, dispersed) members of the community may feel urgency and occasion to express concern, outrage, or sadness.  We wanted to help and offer the Forum page (at the top of the homepage) for people to write what they think about this matter.  In the past month, we’ve seen a sudden surge of readership and realized that many people concerned about the school community are sharing this blog on Facebook.  We will publish any comment except for profanity and personal attacks.  You can contribute anonymously.  Unfortunately, we cannot help with unfounded accusations.  If you are a victim of a crime, then we encourage you to speak to the police like this one did and cite this case (they have English interpreters).

While we applaud the full-disclosure and proactive response of the current Head Master, waiting for information when it’s clear that many of our children have been under the care and leadership of the alleged perpetrator, in recent times, is an unsettling prospect.  We personally do not feel the school counselors are qualified nor adequate in numbers to deal with a case of this gravity and potentially this many concerns.    There is nothing more important than the safety of the students.  We agree: no need to be alarmist until the facts are in.  But, if such a letter is going to be issued, then let’s talk about it!  The school would be wise to offer a school-wide dialogue about this.  Full knowledge of the extent of this allegation will come in time, but what a bomb to drop in the meantime, Mr. Head Master (!)  Thank you (?)

[Update: upon reading the letter to parents again, it looks like Br. L is prohibited from making any contact with the kids, but it doesn’t say that he was removed from campus, where he lives.  (So, it’s as if he has a cold.)  It’s also been suggested that Br. Michel actually learned that a boy was seriously sexually assaulted in the past, in August of 2013 when he handed the reins to Mr. Kagei, making this January 2014 announcement by the school administration disingenuous: “recent days”.  It also doesn’t make sense that the Archdiocese would be allowed to interfere with a police, criminal investigation.  This makes us doubt that there is one. ]

Some timely headlines: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26044852

UN to Vatican

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Litigating from Overseas

Overseas litigants taking up a case in the Japanese courts is nothing new.   The comfort women from the surrounding Asia-Pacific countries that Imperial Japan had once dominated, perennially sue the government for apologies and restitution.  The parents of murdered British teacher, Lindsay Hawker, somewhat successfully sought justice through criminal court by seeing through a life sentence for the killer.  However, unless the case is heart-stoppingly huge, we’ve often never heard of overseas litigation among regular circles.

In fact, at the first sign of meeting hardship in Japan, it’s not uncommon that unattached “gaijin” start shopping around for a ticket back to their home country to run away jurisdictionally and emotionally.

Japan is often over-sold for its planet-bizarro touristy goodtimes—and its (once) roaring yen.  Litigation here, there or anywhere is usu. considered a major downer.

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Japan = good times only!

In Ms. Tran’s case, who would want to get fired and have to deconstruct the systemic unfairness of it?  Who would want to see the aftermath?  Delve into labor laws, the plight of foreign workers, systemic abuse of power and meet the true stony-face of the Japanese working world and justice system?  If you don’t have a future here, why dig in your heels?

In fact, in Ms. Tran’s first case, the St. Mary’s admin had banked on the tried, tested and true behavioral gaijin flight pattern by:

  • reminding her that unless she took advantage right away of the free shipping back to Canada, organized by the school, of the allowable 1000 lbs of household contents, this very expensive option would be forever lost to her (knowing that they had induced her to ship about the same amount to prepare for a “life in Japan” just 2 years earlier)
  • giving her a goodbye card–colored black for demoralization, while other teachers who were retiring, moving on au naturel etc. had nice washi patterns
  • revealing at the last minute that her apt lease was actually the school’s lease and that she’d be considered a squatter if she stayed a minute longer

If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll know that Ms. Tran, instead of worrying about the fate of her closetful of fashionable dresses, or about the school’s stationery-as-emotional-weapon, just changed the locks and stayed in the country another 4 years  (continuing for 22 more months in the same apt, until the case resolved), effectively scrambling known patterns.

So, in this case now with the St. Mary’s defense case scapegoat, Gregory Strong, how does it work that Ms. Tran can litigate in Japanese civil court, from overseas?  A quick Google search will show that Tokyo has well-established bilingual legal services (Japanese-English) for foreigners–like, overseas foreigners:

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It probably made a difference that Ms. Tran had connected with her lawyer while still living in Japan (most offices require a face-to-face, paid consultation at the first meeting).  However, the logistics of payment and communication thereafter have been simple and seamless.

Ms. Tran has had to put up 150,000 yen as a deposit required for overseas plaintiffs, in addition to court fees and one-time legal fees, as requested by Gregory Strong’s lawyer, in case Ms. Tran poses some sort of flight risk!

By the way, after 6 years, how much did Ms. Tran eventually have to ship home?  I asked and it was less than half of what she had originally brought.  Apparently, the 2008 economic crash gave her “an epiphany about banks, their promotion of consumer spending to lock people into personal debt to them in order to rely on loans and credit cards, the mechanisms by which their top institutional investors reap ungodly profits, the main source of income inequality.”  Hmm.  500 lbs of clothes is still a lot of clothes!

And, why dig in your heels, Ms. Tran?  

1. Not standing up for yourself is a top 5 death-bed regret.  

2. Kurosawa did warn of brain-rot from simple narratives:

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3. “日本が大好き, OK?”

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