BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — After weeks of controversy at Nardin Academy, both supporters and detractors of the school’s leadership eagerly await the release of a third-party report examining the administration.
The “Nardin Together” movement — those seeking a change to the administration — held three demonstrations in April in protest, including a walk-out, a walk-in in solidarity, and a candlelight march around the neighborhood.
Now, those opposed to Nardin Together are speaking out against the movement and what they believe its intentions to be, with calls for patience and civility.
In a letter sent to News 4 Monday evening by a group of alumnae who oppose the Nardin Together movement, the women claimed people are afraid to speak out in support of President Dr. Sandra Betters in fear of retaliation from the group. Additional alumnae have reached out with concerns regarding the motivations of those protesting Dr. Betters’ leadership, but did not want to be interviewed or give a statement on-the-record.
“While we do not doubt the good intentions of this group, we do doubt the motivations of some
involved,” the letter said.
The school addressed the third-party report in a release on April 17.
“When concerns about Dr. Betters were first raised by certain members of Nardin’s faculty and
other stakeholders, the Board acted responsibly to engage outside counsel to assess the basis
for the concerns,” the release said. “The Board agreed to a sound process for the completion of the assessment and the delivery of the final report of counsel, in accordance with customary protocols established by attorneys who specialize in this sensitive area.”
The release continued, saying that the members of Nardin Together “pressuring others for action before the assessment report is released is ill-advised and is simply poor governance.”
Sunday, after the candlelight demonstration, the school said the board will discuss the findings of the report “soon.”
“Many of us have listened to the complaints with open minds and open hearts coming from the faculty and parents,” it added. “Like the well-educated women that we are, we still have questions and reserve judgment until the facts are presented.”
In the letter sent to News 4 Monday evening, alumnae said the Nardin Together movement “has no patience for good governance and best practices,” referring to the third-party report of the school’s leadership that is being conducted, which will include input from over 100 members of the Nardin community. The letter also expressed concern that some members on Nardin’s board are breaching their fiduciary duty “to advance an agenda.”
Of the board members who voted to oust Dr. Betters and Board Chair Tish Van Dyke, six were men and three were women. Conversely, the group of trustees who did not sign the statement and deemed the call for resignations “rogue” included four men and 11 women.
The letter sent to News 4 Monday evening presented the group’s fears of what could be next, as well as charting an ideal path that they would like to see the school community take moving forward.
“We fear that much of this could end up in the courts, an eventuality that would surely destroy the school. We support the Daughters’ intent to bring Nardin more in line with its core values and to educate children and young women towards making a more just and equitable society,” it said. “In furtherance of that, we call on the alumni of all divisions to set aside their differences, put the children and young women of this school first, and support the Board in its deliberative process. Let the board receive the assessment it has commissioned, weigh its recommendations, and take appropriate action based the assessment.”
In addition to board members, the letter also took aim at teachers who are in support of the movement.
“We are concerned that the faculty shared with students their dissatisfaction,” the letter said. “To many of us, that is an abuse of the power dynamic between student and teacher.”
The third group of people the letter addressed was fellow alumnae.
“We are also concerned that there are personal vendettas at play by some bad actors,” the letter continued. “Words like toxic, harassment, and intimidating are thrown around, but we are never told what acts and words support these conclusions.”
Other than the firing of biology teacher Marilou Bebak, no specific concerns have been mentioned to News 4 by Nardin Together since the initial walk-out on April 13.
Students at the April 13 walk-out expressed their support for Bebak with chants and signs. Bebak, a 36-year veteran teacher at the school was escorted out earlier this year before being fired. The attorney representing Bebak’s said she believes these actions were taken “directly in retaliation for (Bebak) speaking out” against leadership.
The letter also spoke to the Oppressed at Nardin movement from three years ago, in which students of color spoke out against racial injustices at the school dating as far back as 1974. It questioned why there was not as much public support for that movement as there is for Nardin Together.
“We recognize that introspection is painful,” the alumnae letter said. “Change and growth can be difficult. However, we sit aghast at the vitriol and venom that has overtaken the Nardin Community as it grapples with difficult moment. We cannot sit idly by and watch our school get torn apart. We note that there was no commensurate outrage in the summer of 2020 when Oppressed at Nardin revealed the systemic and personal racism that Black girls and girls of color at Nardin suffered.”
Nardin Together responded to the contents of the letter on Tuesday evening, saying that the alumnae group “wholly mischaracterize(d)” the movement as “Nardin’s Critics,” rather than supporters of the school who are “deeply concerned about the education and well-being of our children, their school, and its legacy.”
“The Board of Trustees has completely failed Nardin stakeholders by wholly abandoning its fiduciary duties,” Nardin Together stated, criticizing the board and Dr. Betters for not responding to concerns they said they have brought forward. “We have asked for answers, none have been provided.”
The response continued, presenting the looming possibility of students leaving the school.
“The window of opportunity is closing this week for concerned parents who need to plan for their children’s future education and are unwilling to continue that education under Dr. Betters’ leadership,” the response said. “The continued inaction of the Board has compelled Nardin-devoted parents, all of whom are deeply committed to their children’s education, to consider a swift exit in light of so many unanswered questions and an uncertain future.”
Nardin Together clarified the deadline for its ultimatum: “We implore the Board of Trustees to take immediate action to remove Dr. Betters from any role within Nardin Academy and request that the Board of Trustees provide notification of Dr. Betters’s resignation or removal as President of Nardin Academy by Friday, May 5th at 9 am.”
The movement’s response concluded with a similar sentiment to one which was given in the alumnae letter it was responding to: assurance for a bright future at Nardin for the students currently in attendance.
“Undoubtedly, this situation is complex,” Nardin Together said. “The Nardin community and its most important constituents – current parents and students – deserve a modicum of assurance regarding the future of the school. Indeed, the Board must take this first critical step so that the Nardin community can rebuild, fortify, and uplift Nardin together.”
The petition that was part of the inception of the Nardin Together movement has received over 2,500 signatures to date. It refers to Dr. Betters as “detrimental to the entire school community” and says that its supporters believe Dr. Betters’ leadership style “is not in line with the values of a Catholic school, and her presence has dramatically hindered the school’s progress.”
The letter from the alumnae in opposition to Nardin Together deemed these critiques of Dr. Betters, board members, and their supporters “character assassinations.”
Additionally, the petition itself has drawn controversy, as one alumna had her name added to the petition without her knowledge.
Sally Benner, a former trustee at the school, was unknowingly added to the petition. Benner addressed the incident earlier this week in an Instagram post, accompanied by a photo of Nardin’s chapel. Nardin Together organizers have since apologized for the inclusion of her name.
“I graduated from this college prep high school. I served as a Trustee in the Aughts. Today a rogue group of parents, staff, Trustees, students, alumnae and, most embarrassingly, former leadership are protesting current executive leadership of Nardin,” the post said in part. “Today I was told my name was *falsely* added to a protest letter I haven’t seen. I reject this and have to write this post to go on record that the group behind this effort are frauds.”
Benner continued, calling the Nardin Together group “deceitful.”
“They lack the maturity to know their behavior makes them look as they are – the proverbial turnips on the truck who are amateurs, provincial, small and deceitful,” the post said. “They aren’t famed #NardinGirls who achieve for the betterment of our world … I will wait for facts. I will wait for governance to complete its assessment. Plagiarism still gets an F grade.”
The letter concluded with a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “May we each be a means of peace and sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy in our community.”
Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.