'We were all children.' What we know about allegations of sexual abuse of students at Mount St. Mary

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Multiple former students at Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City have accused top administrators, including former principal Talita DeNegri, of dismissing their reports of sexual abuse by other students.

The story was detailed in an exclusive report by The Oklahoman.

In the wake of the allegations DeNegri resigned and the school is bolstering its policies and procedures related to mandatory reporting of abuse.

However, alumni are demanding more answers from the school’s Board of Trustees.

An investigation into the school performed by The Oklahoman reveals multiple incidents of alleged abuse of students, by students, and at least one allegation of abuse by a coach.

Here's what we know about the allegations, how the school handled them, and the fallout so far:

What incidents of sexual abuse do students say happened at St. Mary High School?

Incidents of alleged abuse on school property include a male student masturbating in front of a female student, a female student forcibly moved into a stairwell where she was kissed and groped against her will, a sexual assault on a school bus returning from a baseball game, multiple male athletes groping women at school, and an adult coach slapping a female student's buttocks as she entered a classroom.

Multiple students told The Oklahoman they were victims of sexual abuse by fellow students or school staff, and one estimated there could be more than 30 victims.

Mount St Mary's High School in Oklahoma City
Mount St Mary's High School in Oklahoma City

The full story detailing many of the allegations published Jan. 23 and can be found on The Oklahoman's website.

Board of Trustees Chairman Daniel Carsey says internal investigation launched after alleged victims submitted letters to school board on Oct. 15

At that time, a student was removed from campus, law enforcement was notified and the board hired "very experienced sex crime detectives" to investigate, Carsey said.

“This is something that we’re addressing head on,” he said. “We have a very special, strong community and we’ll get through this."

Longtime principal Talita DeNegri tendered her resignation at end of 2021

Talita DeNegri served as principal for 19 years. On Dec. 29, she resigned her post, and shared a statement which The Oklahoman published on Dec. 31.

In letters sent to the school community, Carsey said the independent investigation revealed the school had failed to take action "consistent with its core beliefs and values" regarding allegations of sexual harassment and assault of a student.

In this 2017 photo, former principal Talita DeNegri is seen at Mount St. Mary's High School in Oklahoma City.
In this 2017 photo, former principal Talita DeNegri is seen at Mount St. Mary's High School in Oklahoma City.

Carsey said any victims who have not yet come forward are encouraged to contact Interim Principal and Director of Admissions Diane Floyd.

Dig deeper: Current, former Mount St. Mary students describe culture of sexual abuse that went ignored

A former student, and graduate of Mount St. Mary said she will live in fear the rest of her life as a result of her alleged assault.

“I know it’s not my fault, but it’s so hard to unlearn the damage that’s inflicted,” she said. “We were all children, I was a child when this happened each time. These were adults that were adults when I was there and they are still adults now.”

Mount St. Mary Catholic High School alumni and school community members seek more answers

On Jan. 3, alumni and others sent a letter to the Board of Trustees, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and The Sisters of Mercy — Mercy Education System of the Americas responding to Carsey’s letter to the school community.

The letter expressed “a unified and resounding outcry in support of of the ‘several current and former students’ who are survivors of sexual assault as referenced in Mr. Carsey’s letter.”

Among answers sought, school supporters wanted to know how many current and former students were sexually assaulted, who in the administration was aware of the matter and how were they informed.

Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.
Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

They also wanted to know to what extent “do such failures expose The Mount and its leadership to potential criminal and civil liability?”

Archdiocese of Oklahoma City issues statement, placing blame on administrative leadership at Mount St. Mary

On Jan. 12, The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said in post to its website that DeNegri “resigned after an independent investigation revealed The Mount administrative leadership failed to take action in response to reported allegations of sexual harassment and assault by students against other students.”

All findings from the investigation have been turned over to the Oklahoma City Police Department, the Archdiocese said.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese encouraged any alleged victims to report abuse, and praised those who already have.

“It is important when schools, businesses or churches receive allegations of abuse or harm that they follow the protocols and laws in place to protect children and the most vulnerable," Diane Clay, the archdiocese's communication's director, said in an email. "When those protocols are not followed, there must be consequences. The Mount students who came forward should be applauded for their courage.”

Mount St. Mary releases letter outlining plans to bolster policies to protect students from abuse

On Jan. 21, a letter was sent by Carsey and interim Principal Diane Floyd informing members of the school's community of new initiatives to train staff on preventing and responding to sexual harassment, updating the school's policies and procedures, providing counseling services to those involved in the school's investigation, and creating a task force to make recommendations on how to better align the school's practices with it's mission.

“Our policies and procedures that were in place were good, but they could’ve been better,” Carsey told The Oklahoman before the letter was sent.

Allegations of Mount St. Mary sexual abuse continues to be investigated by The Oklahoman

On Jan. 23, The Oklahoman published a report detailing multiple allegations by current and former students detailing the culture at the school. The Oklahoman interviewed multiple alleged victims, reviewed letters from the school and more.

Taken together, the interviews, letters and the allegations in the lawsuit describe a recurring narrative about how school administrators, led by DeNegri, responded to multiple reports of abuse over the course of several years with indifference, an attitude of victim-blaming, and a common refrain that “boys will be boys."

The Oklahoman continues to pursue the story and will monitor further developments. If you would like to speak to a reporter or editor regarding the story, or share your experiences at the school, you can reach reporter Josh Dulaney at jdulaney@oklahoman.com or editor David Dishman at ddishman@oklahoman.com.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Sexual abuse allegations at OKC's Mount St. Mary school: What we know

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