Headmaster is out at Lawrence Woodmere Academy

Two incidents of long-term student sexual abuse at Woodmere school are made public

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Alan Bernstein, who was the headmaster of Lawrence Woodmere Academy in Woodmere for 14 years, resigned or was fired by the private school after the New York Post published a first-person account of a former student’s “inappropriate relationship” with an LWA teacher.

Bernstein, who lives in Woodmere, was replaced by Barbra Feldman, who is listed as part of the school’s administrative team and is its summer camp director. The administration sent an explanatory email to school parents on Jan. 25, the Post reported. Feldman, who has been at LWA since 2010, has an undergraduate degree from Brandeis University and a law degree from Hofstra Law School, according to LWA’s website. She had not returned a call requesting comment as of press time.

Samantha Farber, now 25, told the Post that although the relationship with her one-time male teacher was not sexual, the experience “haunted her for years.”

According to Farber, the relationship was flirtatious and involved a series of notes and emails that she came to realize were inappropriate for the teacher to have written.

Farber’s revelations came on the heels of the arrest of former LWA teacher Daniel McMenamin, who was charged on Oct. 18 with sexual assault. According to Nassau County police, McMenamin, 33, of Valley Stream, allegedly had a sexual relationship with another unidentified female student that began in 2014, when the girl was 14, and ended in July 2017.

McMenamin was charged with three counts of second-degree criminal sexual act, three counts of second-degree rape, 24 counts of third-degree criminal sexual act and endangering the welfare of a child. He is free on bail, and his next court date is Feb. 15. He left LWA in 2016.

Marathon Strategies, a Manhattan-based public relations firm, emailed a statement to the Herald on Jan. 27 on behalf of LWA. “The Lawrence Woodmere Academy puts the well-being of our students first,” it read. “Any inappropriate contact between teachers and students is unacceptable and has no place in any school. As such, the individuals referenced in news reports were no longer employed at our school.”

“New leadership is in place and we worked with an independent third party to develop additional training and protocols to help prevent unacceptable behavior from occurring. We are deeply committed to providing a safe, supportive and quality learning experience for our students.”

Sam Spokony, Marathon Strategies’ vice president of communications, did not return calls or respond to emails posing follow-up questions.

Not long after the Herald reported on McMenamin’s arrest, two former LWA students emailed the paper, but declined to be identified. One wrote, “. . . [I]t does not sit well with me that an equally horrible part of this story has not been relayed to the media . . . Not only was the sudden departure of [McMenamin] two years ago questionable to say the least, but the pretentious claims by the school that they are doing all they can to cooperate with the D.A.’s office are nothing short of a panicked cover up in the wake of such disastrous press.”

The former student was referring to a comment made by Lloyd Weinstein, an attorney representing LWA, when the Herald asked him about the McMenamin arrest. “Lawrence Woodmere Academy does not condone or tolerate any inappropriate conduct,” Weinstein said, adding that the school was cooperating with the Nassau district attorney’s office.

Another former student wrote: “The news [of McMenamin’s arrest] that broke today was not a surprise to the faculty or any former/current students. It was common knowledge to us that this had occurred. I enrolled in Lawrence Woodmere Academy in 2015. At this time there were also rumors that [another] teacher had engaged in inappropriate behavior with a student.” The former student questioned whether law enforcement had been contacted in a timely fashion.

To aid victims of sexual abuse, the New York State Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Child Victims Act on Jan. 28. One of its major provisions is a one-year period after the law takes effect during which statutes of limitations would be lifted to allow victims to sue for abuse that happened years ago. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law.

The Nassau County district attorney’s Special Victims Bureau prosecutes cases involving sexual harassment and assault. “The NCDA takes allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously, and encourages anyone who may have been victimized to contact our Special Victims Bureau at (516) 571-1267,” said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for the D.A.

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jbessen@liherald.com.