A former headmaster at Nichols School accused of failing to do enough about inappropriate relationships between teachers and students has resigned from his current job as headmaster of a boys school outside Cleveland, Ohio, school officials confirmed.
"With extraordinary sadness, I have realized that my ongoing presence has become a distraction to the important work of educating our students and a threat to the outstanding reputation of this fine institution," Richard Bryan said in a letter to the University School's board of trustees. Bryan left Nichols in 2013.
The University School in Shaker Heights was reviewing a report that Nichols School commissioned after a former student, Elizabeth Russ Mohr, told school officials last year that she had a romantic and sexual relationship with her physics teacher, Arthur Budington, starting in October 1993 when she was 17 and he was 48.
The report identified Bryan as one of three school officials "who knew and failed to act appropriately" about allegations of inappropriate teacher/student relationships.
In reacting to the resignation, Mohr said she wishes no ill will on Bryan or other individuals.
"I would never be happy about something bad happening to someone else. This was never about any individual. This wasn't about specific revenge for one individual. This was about making sure that the leaders of our institutions know that they are accountable for the safety of the children who are entrusted to their care," Mohr said.
When Bryan was asked in an email from The Buffalo News if he wanted to discuss his resignation, he responded: "I have no comment."
The Nichols report found Bryan was "told on several occasions of concerns about Budington’s ongoing inappropriate conduct" with two students and that he wrote a letter of recommendation for Budington after his retirement.
He was also cited for failing to investigate another teacher's conduct with students, premising her resignation on grounds other than misconduct and writing her a letter of recommendation as well.
Another former student told Nichols investigators that she brought her concerns to two of the school’s top officials: Bryan, who then headed the high school, and Mary Rockwell, dean of the senior class. Bryan later became headmaster of the school.
“I told Mr. Bryan that I thought there was something really wrong and inappropriate about Art and Liza’s relationship,” Abigail "Abby" Henrich told The News.
She said Bryan told her he would look into it, and asked her to be patient.
When weeks passed with no action or response, Henrich said she told one of her teachers – William Morris – about the situation. She said she also told Rockwell.
She said Rockwell reacted by telling her, “We know what you think, Abby. Be quiet.”
Soon after The Buffalo News initially reported the sexual improprieties, Rockwell announced her retirement as a Nichols administrator.
Henrich had said she was devastated by the administrators’ response and stopped raising questions.
“I was silenced. I was made to feel like I was a bad kid for bringing this up,” Henrich said.
Morris said he told Bryan that a concerned student had told him about an inappropriate relationship between Budington and Mohr.
“I said you’ve got to do something about this, at least investigate this,” Morris had said. “Rich Bryan looked at me and said, ‘You’re wrong, and I want you to tell Abby Henrich that she is wrong.’ ”
After that, Morris said he fell out of favor with Bryan and felt “vilified” by the headmaster. Morris left Nichols four years later.
Morris on Thursday said he was relieved to learn about Bryan's resignation.
"Mostly I feel happy that Liza and Abby have some confirmation that they were telling the truth all along and that other victims were too," Morris said, referring to Mohr and Henrich.
He added: "I went to him in 1994 and Rick Bryan said that meeting never took place. I had information that this relationship was going on and I wanted him to investigate it and he refused to. That night I told my wife about the meeting."
He said attorneys who conducted the Nichols investigation interviewed him and his wife, who were referred to in the report as the "reporter" and the reporter's "spouse."
When The News reached out to Bryan for a Jan. 5 article about Mohr's allegations, he firmly denied that anyone ever told him about any affair between Budington and Mohr.
“I cannot speak to what Ms. Henrich and Mr. Morris may now be saying after so many years, nor about the current status of the investigation, as my involvement is limited,” Bryan told The Buffalo News. “However, I can tell you categorically that I had no knowledge of the inappropriate relationship between a student and a teacher, as they allege. I would have acted immediately on a report of any such conduct.
“I first heard of these allegations during the course of the investigation last summer, long after they had occurred, and years after I, myself, had left the school. To my experience, the faculty was always dedicated to the school’s mission and I was proud to serve 31 years with them.”
Mohr said she learned of Bryan's resignation from parents at University School on Thursday morning. She commended them for taking a strong interest in what happened at Nichols and wanting to maintain the high standards of University School.
"This school is very highly thought of and I appreciate the parents' commitment to a school that their boys can be proud they graduated from," Mohr said. "I know this was a very difficult and very disruptive discussion for them to have."
"There is a reckoning right now for people who have done harm. We need to look at our institutions and the leaders of those institutions to see if they are doing everything they can to protect children," she said.
Here is a statement released Thursday by University School:
"Today Headmaster Rick Bryan let the executive committee of the University School Board of Trustees know that he decided to resign from his position. He did so because he was concerned that a report on events at his former school were threatening to distract US from fulfilling its mission. The Board is grateful to Rick for his many contributions and respects his decision. A committee of trustees, alumni, faculty and parents is being formed to begin a nationwide search for a new headmaster in the coming days."