Project Description

Moses Brown School

Steeped in its Quaker values and commitment to integrity, the Moses Brown School in Providence, RI faced a crisis of confidence when it learned of allegations that its teachers had engaged in sexual misconduct with its students. The school received a letter from a man, who attended the school in the 1960s, detailing how he had been sexually abused by two teachers during his time at the boarding school. Head of School Matt Glendinning and his leadership team chose to face the allegations head on and communicate openly with the Moses Brown community and the news media.

The school engaged Ellis Strategies to help design the media strategy and make sure it was integrated with the school’s overall communications plan. We worked closely with the leadership and internal communications team to create a message that was thoughtful in tone, selective in detail and coordinated across all communications channels.

Before any news organizations learned of the story, Moses Brown’s internal stakeholders had already been informed; by the time any news vans could show up at the campus, classed were not in session. We issued a statement to all the local newsrooms, and a copy of the letter that had already been sent to the school’s community, in time for it to lead the 6pm news as a “breaking news” story. But the allegations of abuse were decades old, the accused teacher was deceased, the school was protecting the identity of the victim and there were no on-camera interviews. The story played prominently in two news cycles and in one major newspaper article and Moses Brown was portrayed favorably—and cited for opening a full investigation into this case and inviting others to contact investigators with their own stories. The school promised to release the results of its investigation once it had concluded.

In early 2020, Moses Brown completed reviewing the results of the investigation its outside firm had conducted. Ellis Strategies came on board to manage the release of those results to the news media and handle questions from reporters. The investigation showed four former employees of Moses Brown had engaged in sexual misconduct with students, but none were still there and all of their future employers had been contacted. As importantly, there had been no accusations of sexual misconduct on campus for more than 15 years.

Moses Brown prepared a carefully-detailed, four-page letter to its vast community of alumni, students, families, staff and donors. With assistance from Ellis Strategies, the school prepared responses to difficult questions it could face once those results were made public. The news was covered widely in Rhode Island, but did not receive national play. TV and radio stations kept the story in their newscasts for a day-and-a-half. The Providence Journal, Rhode Island’s flagship newspaper, ran two substantive articles on the Moses Brown story, but the coverage was fair and it portrayed the school as caring and transparent.

Moses Brown couldn’t hide from its past, but it wanted to make sure something terrible from its past wouldn’t hurt its reputation in the future. For that it partnered with Ellis Strategies, tapping a public relations firm – and its communications consultants – with insider’s knowledge of the local news market and experience to know how a major news story would be covered.