Well-known San Francisco and Urban driving instructor accused of sexual misconduct

DISCLOSURE: When I was a sophomore in high school, Nelson Graves was my driving instructor for three two hour lessons.

On January 18, 2018, The San Francisco Chronicle broke a story about sexual misconduct allegations against a Bay Area driving instructor, Nelson Graves. Graves was the driving instructor for 3000 people including dozens of past and present Urban students.

Graves began teaching in 1994 and owns his own school, Native Nellie’s Driving School. Graves works alone but is sometimes accompanied by his assistant. According to the Chronicle, Graves said in the future he will only drive female students if his fiancée is in the car.

According to Graves’s website, his credentials include devoting “personal attention to each student to ensure they feel confident in the driver’s seat.”

However, several women have recently come out to say that Grave’s “personal attention” entailed groping and harassing. Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle pursued the story after the Chronicle received an anonymous tip, which led her to ten women, five of which were willing to share their stories publicly. Although no lawsuit has been filed, the Chronicle reported on the story.

“There was enough public interest in the case and the sense that this person was still giving driving instructions,” said Tucker in an interview with the Urban Legend.  

Several of the women who made allegations against Graves wrote and sent a note to four San Francisco private schools: University High School, Lick-Wilmerding High School, Convent of the Sacred Heart and The Urban School. They informed the administration of Grave’s action and asked that the schools do not recommend him to students.

Talia Missirlian, Urban (‘12) was one of the women who helped create and send the email to these private high schools. Missirlian was fifteen years old when her family hired Graves for driving lessons, and she told the Chronicle that Graves “rubbed her thigh” and “spanked her bottom as she walked to her front door.”

After the #MeToo movement sparked posts on Facebooks about inappropriate or unwanted sexual misconduct, Missirlian saw a post from a Hamlin classmate who shared a story about an inappropriate encounter with a driving instructor.

“We then saw the need to create a private group and after 3 days, around 30 girls had joined all saying that they were in some way harassed by Nelson,” said Missirlian in an interview with the Urban Legend.

They then created a support group to discuss their individual experiences and ultimately devised a plan to prevent the continuation of Graves’s behavior.

Although Urban did not recommend Graves to her, according to Missirlian, several other women in the group took classes with Graves upon suggestion from their various private high schools.

“Knowing that high school administrations were unknowingly supporting a predator, we knew the schools had to be notified immediately. We all came together, put our name, school, and graduating year, or remained anonymous, and sent out a note to all schools represented in our group,” said Missirlian.

According to Charlotte Worsley, Head of Student Life, Urban does not refer driving instructors, babysitters, or other outside services to Urban students.

“In any situation where a student is going to be one-on-one with an adult… I don’t refer because it’s the parents responsibility to do the background check to make sure the person is going to be safe and I don’t believe that the school should ever refer anybody for something where an adult is going to be alone with a student.”

Head of School Mark Salkind received an email just before Thanksgiving from one of the women, which, according to Salkind, asked for the school to look into this and if they were recommending to stop recommending.

Since Urban does not recommend anyone, the school did not respond, according to Salkind. In addition, since no alum or current student came forward with allegations, there were no police or Child Protective Services reports to make.

If a student or alum had come forward with allegations, Salkind said the school would have immediately filed a report.

When asked if the school would have sent a note to the community, even though no current students came forward to prevent students from using Graves in the future, Salkind said, “as a general practice we don’t do that. You hear lots of things and those are allegations. It’s tricky.” He continued that since the Chronicle article, he did not believe that Graves would be teaching.

Although Graves has not given lessons since the fall, Graves told the Chronicle that he plans to continue giving lessons in March.