Report: 10 teachers at Nichols had improper relationships with students

Posted at 11:18 AM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 14:22:15-05

Ten teachers at Nichols School in Buffalo had improper relationships with students over several decades, according to an 85-page report released by the school today.

The findings come from an extensive investigation conducted by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Crowell & Moring. The firm conducted 110 interviews with 76 people as part of its independent investigation, which was ordered last year by the Nichols School Board of Trustees.

According to the report, Nichols knows of no one working for the school today who is facing accusations of improper actions toward students. The most recent case of misconduct cited in the report dates back more than a dozen years. 

Four former faculty members accused of inappropriate conduct with students are named in the report, based upon "what we believe to be credible first-hand or second-hand reports, supported by extrinsic evidence or other compelling factors." The former faculty members are Arthur Budington, E. Webster Dann, Julie Jones and Donna Armistead. 

The report stated that Budington admitted that while a teacher at Nichols he had sexual relationships with two 17-year-old female students at the school.

Investigators received "what we determined to be a credible report of sexual misconduct" by Dann with three students. One of the students reported having a sexual relationship with Dann, while another said Dann "bought pornography for him, they looked at it together, and then he 'got to take it home'" during the student's eighth grade year. Dann passed away in early 2017 and was not interviewed as part of the investigation.

Jones, an Upper School science teacher from 1981 to 1997, was reported to have "flirted with male students, both during and outside class," and invited boys to her home for dinner on several occasions.

The report also discussed a "credible, first-hand report from a student of a brief inappropriate relationship," with Armistead, which she denied to investigators.

According to the report, no one working at Nichols today was accused of improper action toward students. The most recent case in the report is from more than a dozen years ago.

The investigation found "misconduct and lapses of oversight, but determined these were not 'systemic' over the period of the report."

In addition, Nichols has admitted it did not provide victims with the proper support and protection and has formally apologized to each of them. 

"From the outset of this investigation, motivated by two women with the courage to come forward with their stories, we aimed to do what was right through full disclosure of past misconduct," Board of Trustees Chairman Jeff Meyer said in a statement. "We achieved those goals through national best practices, and we are confident this was the proper course to take. Only through a transparent, independent process such as this can we come to terms with past misconduct at the school and move Nichols forward into the future."

Mary Rockwell, assistant head of school, suddenly retired this morning. She stood accused of taking no action after female students came forward in the 1990s. Rockwell told The Buffalo News she was not aware of the allegations. 

In a letter to the Nichols community, Jeff Meyer, the Chairman of the Board, and Bill Clough, the head of the school, say “We expect the report will drive all of us to revisit and recommit to our school’s core values.”

Further, the letter outlines best practice action steps that Nichols is evaluating and may consider implementing in the future, including:

  • expanding criminal background checks to include volunteers 
  • establishing an anonymous hotline for reporting
  • reviewing physical spaces (buildings, offices) to minimize opportunities for sexual misconduct.

Nichols is a private, college preparatory school with more than 550 students enrolled in grades five through 12 at its Buffalo campus. 

You can read the full report below: