Head of Upper School, Mr. McLane, offers Potomac students an apology for the pain caused by bias

The school promises that allegations of bias and misconduct will be investigated

Isabel Engel and Billy Marin

In a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, October 27, head of Upper School Doug McLane spoke to Upper School students and faculty regarding allegations of misconduct and bias that emerged over the past summer. The allegations made on Instagram and via emails or statements directed at the school included incidents of bias dating back years; they are finally being addressed. 

“This morning, I wanted to talk on a serious topic that connects conversations from this summer and fall. As I know many of you are aware, with the racial reckoning that our nation has been facing, Potomac heard from a number of alumni and students about instances in which our community has failed to live up to its ideals,” Mr. McLane said. 

Mr. McLane continued, apologizing directly to students affected by the alleged instances of misconduct and bias. “To any student who has experienced a bias incident or a comment about your gender, or sexual orientation, or religion, or skin color, or socioeconomic status, if you have been made to feel less than, in the past or more recently, I am sorry. I support you, and this community cares deeply about your success. Period. Every individual’s well being is our top priority.”

Mr. McLane’s apology echoed the historic apology of Potomac’s Head of School, Mr. John Kowalik, and Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Sameer Bhargava, when they wrote to the Potomac School community in an email on July 3 that “We are listening to all that is being said, particularly the stories shared by members of the Potomac community. Hearing these stories is painful and difficult. But how much more painful and difficult must it be to live such experiences? On behalf of The Potomac School, we offer a heartfelt apology for the ways in which we have failed our Black students, and we pledge to do better. We ask the members of our community to partner with us as we work to make Potomac a place where every individual feels respected and valued.”

Mr. McLane’s apology is one of many steps the school is taking to acknowledge and address difficult histories of institutional bias.

He explained that the school has taken action against such allegations by hiring a third-party investigator with previous experience working for the Potomac community. Mr. McLane emphasized that all allegations of misconduct and bias are taken seriously by the Potomac administrative team. 

Over the summer the messages of allegation took various forms, from Potomac-led forums to anonymous Instagram posts. While direct messages were easier to address, Mr. McLane explained the complexity of social media posts and the school’s ability to respond accordingly. 

“Anonymous reporting is challenging, as we don’t often have names, years, or enough context to follow-up fully. In those instances, we just don’t have rough information, at times, to take action. I regret that,” said Mr. McLane. 

Mr. McLane continued, underscoring the importance of trusted faculty in facilitating a positive environment. He emphasized that from the senior administration to teachers, advisors, and coaches, the Potomac faculty is there to listen. He noted, however, that Potomac employees may not promise confidentiality to students. 

“I want you to know that you can speak up, that you have the right, and I would say the responsibility, to tell a trusted adult when something is amiss, for you or for a classmate. I strongly believe that relationships are an essential thread that stitches together the fabric of our community. That thread builds a strong, trusting tapestry that makes up this diverse, eclectic, and beautiful Potomac community,” he said.

In closing, Mr. McLane conveyed his future hopes for the Potomac community: a commitment to doing better. “We must all, myself included, starting with me, do what we can to uphold the values of this community, to ensure that each person is treated with respect and dignity. And that hasn’t always happened, but it’s my hope and my expectation going forward.”