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Transparency best approach on sex abuse

On a number of occasions we have been critical of Cranbrook Schools for lack of transparency but we have to hand it to officials there on how they have handled claims of sexual abuse on the part of former employees there.

Like everyone who heard about it, we too were stunned and appalled last April to hear from the Cranbrook Education Community that a Cranbrook graduate had informed the schools that while a student there he had experienced sexual misconduct by a former faculty member, who worked at the schools from 1946-1961.

Upon learning of the allegation, Cranbrook said they immediately reviewed the situation in accordance with their established protocols, and even though the allegation was over 60 years ago, they engaged the services of Linda Burwell, an independent investigator, to investigate the sexual misconduct, and asked anyone with information about an incident or situation involving sexual misconduct by any faculty or staff member at Cranbrook to confidentially contact Burwell.

In an astounding act of transparency, in mid-March, the board of trustees at Cranbrook and leadership released information about Burwell's independent investigation, which determined that two former employees had engaged in sexual misconduct in years past, but found no evidence that any current member of Cranbrook's faculty, staff or administration has engaged in any sexual misconduct with students.

Approximately 105 individuals, including alumni and former faculty, administrators, employees and third parties, were interviewed by Burwell and her team.

It is disturbing and horrible to read that former teacher, coach and athletic director Fred Campbell, at Cranbrook Schools from 1946 to 1961, engaged in sexual misconduct with at least 11 male students during his time at Cranbrook. Campbell died in 2007.

Burwell also discovered that a former maintenance staff worker, Daniel Deshetler, at Cranbrook from 1971 until 1986, sexually assaulted a minor male student in the early 1980s. The former student said he had never reported the matter to anyone prior to calling Burwell in 2022 and talking with the independent investigators.

Burwell learned that in 1986 Deshetler was arrested and convicted of criminal sexual conduct relating to a different incident on Cranbrook’s campus. He was incarcerated for several years, and is on the sex offender registry.

In addition to Campbell and Deshetler, Burwell found credible evidence verifying the allegations against eight other individuals – former employees and one spouse of a former employee – who engaged in some form of sexual misconduct during their time at Cranbrook.

All of these incidents are unacceptable and provide horrid memories for their victims. But, sadly, as we have seen from media reports around the country, they are not unique to Cranbrook. Private schools, especially those with boarding components, have been victims twice over – from those who sexually abused vulnerable youth being educated at premier institutions, yet had no one to report the misconduct to. Today's more open culture, which encourages explicit school policies prohibiting sexual misconduct, background checks on all employees, training for faculty and staff, as well as prompt investigations of any complaints, hopefully allows for both healing of old wounds and the prevention of further abuse.

We commend Cranbrook Education Community for the openness in sharing a difficult chapter in its history, and hope other schools learn from their modeling.


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