San Jose Bishop McGrath says he hopes Presentation High School president resignation brings healing

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SAN JOSE (BCN) The president of Presentation High School in San Jose stepped down today amid community allegations that she did not do enough to prevent sexual abuse and harassment at the private, all-girls Catholic School.

Mary Miller announced her resignation in a statement this afternoon, saying the allegations had become too much of a distraction to the school's mission and brought about negative press.

"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," she said in the statement. 

"We cannot change the past, but we can and must dedicate ourselves to the future."

Miller attended the school as a student before serving as a teacher, principal for 25 years and president, according to school officials, who will now begin the hiring process to replace her.

A woman who attended the school between 2002 and 2006 filed a lawsuit on Aug. 10 saying Miller knew theatre teacher Jefferey Hickshad allegedly sexually harassed the plaintiff, but failed to report it to police. 

"Miller also shamed and ridiculed the Presentation student into silence and made promises to help her, but never did," attorney Kenneth Turk said after the lawsuit was filed.

Kathryn Leehane, another alumna, first brought sexual abuse allegations against the school in October 2017 when she wrote about being an abuse survivor in the Washington Post, according to advocacy group Make Pres Safe.

Administrators acknowledged in August that they had become aware of several allegations, and were taking steps to make the school a "gold-standard" for safety. 

The newly-elected chairperson of the Presentation Board of Directors, Sister Pam Chiesa, said today that Miller has been embroiled in the controversy over the last year, but she has also been a role model to several students.

"Mary has been an inspiration to many young women and helped guide them successfully in their lives and careers," Chiesa said in the statement. "Now is the time to refocus on our mission and begin healing our community."

In a statement, attorney Robert Allard, who represented the victims for free, said, "True change cannot occur until those responsible for past transgressions are held responsible. This decision is the first of what we hope are several steps in that direction.

"There can be no doubt that Mary Miller enabled numerous predators to sexually abuse countless young girls. Going forward, we hope that the new leaders will make student safety, instead of image and reputation, their number one priority. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the young  women whose lives were devastated by the sexual abuse."

Bishop Pat McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose commented on Miller's resignation, saying he hoped the announcement would lead to positive recovery for victims at the school. He added that he has met with several victims over the last year to hear their concerns.

"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," he said in a statement. "Through these difficult times, they have stood with one another in solidarity."