I-TEAM: Decades of sexual abuse at Nichols School

Report: Teachers abused, leaders looked other way
Posted at 6:35 PM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 18:35:22-05

Dirty secrets. A network of silence. A hidden culture of abuse.

Those words are straight from a devastating report released by the Nichols Schoolthat details "credible reports of sexual misconduct or inappropriate emotional relationships" with at least 10 former faculty members over the past four decades.

A Washington, D.C., law firm, hired by the Nichols board of trustees, described "predatory behavior" by faculty where "students were harmed," children were "distraught" and even suicidal -- all while administrators failed to act.

Alumna Elizabeth Mohr first broke the silence, telling The Buffalo News a gripping account of a sexual relationship with former science teacher Arthur Budington, who admitted to two sexual relationships with 17-year-old female students while he was in his 40s.

Budington is now retired. He came clean to investigators and apologized for the misdeeds, which the report said were an “open secret” thanks to the wall of female student pictures he kept in his office. One faculty member described them as a “shrine to American girlhood.”

Former teacher E. Webster Dann died last year, but from the 1970s to 2001, the report says he preyed on young boys -- one of them 12 years old -- giving them liquor, buying pornography, taking them to bed, and sexually assaulting them. The report said he told one boy he "aged out" when he turned 16.

The report says parents would tell their sons to be careful not to spend time alone with Dann, and one teacher said his abuse "was allowed to continue because he was an old Buffalo name" from a “prominent family.” The Nichols hockey rink is named after the family.

Two former female teachers -- Julie Jones and Donna Armistead -- were also named in the report for having sexual relations with students, which they both denied.

School leaders, the report says, who "knew" of the abuse "and failed to act appropriately" include Rick Bryan, the former headmaster who now runs a school in Ohio, and Mary Rockwell, his assistant who retired this morning.

Those who reported the abuse said Bryan told them to be "patient" and Rockwell urged them to "be quiet.” Both either denied wrongdoing or said they "had no memory" of the incidents, while parents say their concerns were "dismissed" or "blown off" by school leaders.

Leaders say Nichols is "a very different school now," noting that none of these teachers are still working at the school and the most recent allegation happened more than a decade ago.

Leaders say the school felt the need to create this report because of a belief that for many years, “the school was willing to protect its reputation at all costs” -- a strategy that seems to have backfired at immense cost to so many children.