The embattled president and former principal of San Jose’s Presentation High School announced her resignation Wednesday amid a storm of allegations she covered up instances of sexual abuse over a period spanning nearly three decades.
Miller, with steadfast support from the school’s Board of Directors, weathered months of criticism and demands she step down from her role as principal. Her resignation, just weeks into a new role as the first school president, came as a shock to many Presentation parents. In a letter to the Board of Directors, Miller did not apologize or acknowledge accusations that she failed to protect students, instead referring to the allegations as a “distraction.”
“I have come to the realization my resignation is what is best for Pres,” Miller wrote. “This is an amazing school, and the work done here is changing lives for the better every day. But the allegations of past sexual abuse continue to be a distraction for the school and bring negative attention towards Presentation. It is my sincere hope that my absence will bring some peace and allow the staff and new administration to focus on the success and well being of our students -- which is our common goal. We cannot change the past, but we can and must dedicate ourselves to the future.”
Since last November, the Investigative Unit has reported on claims by more than a dozen former students who say administrators failed to report incidents of sexual assault, harassment, and other inappropriate behavior by teachers or staff to authorities. The San Jose Police Department also has an ongoing investigation into some of the claims.
Miller’s resignation brings relief to many of the former students who say Miller was complicit in covering up allegations of sexual abuse on campus in order to protect the school’s reputation.
“I don’t take pleasure in someone resigning, but I do think this was a critical step forward so that victims can heal and find some closure,” said former student Kathryn Leehane, whose Washington Post op-ed about being groped and shown a pornographic photo by a Spanish teacher nearly three decades ago spurred a flood of additional allegations by former students.
“I was disappointed there wasn’t an apology to the victims,” Leehane said.
Cheryl Hodgin-Marshall, another former student and a friend of Leehane’s, called it a good day. Her best friend says she reported to Miller being sexually molested by the same Spanish teacher during a summer trip abroad. Hodgin-Marshall said Miller never called police and shamed her friend into silence.
“Mary Miller told her unless you’re going to stand up in court and say it in front of your parents and [the teacher], then you need to stop talking,” Hodgin-Marshall said. “She made decisions on what she thought was good for the school, instead of compassion and the law.”
Many of the allegations were much more recent. Former student Grace Leonis says a Presentation water polo coach sexually abused her when she was a 14-year-old freshman. Several of Leonis’ friends say they reported the abuse to school administrators, but the school never called authorities.
Another former student sued the school last month, saying she was sexually abused by a teacher at the school back in 2003, when she was only 15-year-old. The lawsuit accuses Mary Miller of not reporting the suspected abuse to police, which allowed the accused teacher to later gain employment at a San Mateo School where he would be convicted of possessing child porn on his computer and exchanging sexual texts with a 14 year old. That teacher is now a registered sex offender in California.
Critics of Miller who spoke to NBC Bay Area suspect that lawsuit likely played a role in Miller’s resignation.
“Now Presentation is being sued, and having Mary Miller still there takes away from the bottom line,” said San Jose attorney Robert Allard, who has served as a pro bono legal advisor for many of the accusers.
“There is no way that this happens without the bravery of so many women, and it took great courage for them to come forward and tell their stories,” Allard said. “To them, I say, ‘this doesn’t happen with you.’”
After months of silence on the issue, the Diocese of San Jose released a statement from Bishop Patrick McGrath saying he hopes Miller’s resignation will give the school’s community an opportunity to heal.
“I commend the courageous women who have come forward over the past year to cast light upon the abuse that they and others experienced while students at Presentation High School,” McGrath wrote.
“Through these difficult times, they have stood with one another in solidarity. Over the past few months, I have met with some of the victims and listened to their stories and concerns. I hope that the announcement today by the Board of Directors of the change in school leadership will allow the victims, survivors, their families, and the Presentation High School community to take the next step on the path of recovery and wholeness.”
For the first time in nearly three decades, Presentation High School will be without Miller and former Board Chair Marian Stuckey at the helm. Stuckey, herself at the center of several claims she helped cover up allegations of abuse, retired from her Board position last spring.
The new Board Chair, Sister Pam Chiesa, said in a press release that it’s time to begin healing.
“We recognize that Mary has been the focus of criticism in her handling of reporting misconduct cases,” she said. “We also recognize that Mary has been an inspiration to many young women and helped guide them successfully in their lives and careers. Now is the time to refocus on our mission and begin healing our community.”
According to school officials, Presentation has implemented steps to better protect students since abuse allegations began surfacing last year. Those include staff-wide mandatory reporting training, the creation of the Office of Prevention of Student Bullying, Harassment and Abuse, and implementing new policy updates recommended by an ad hoc committee and approved by the Board.